Thursday, August 13, 2009

Still digging

After some delay due to a cut cable line off the coast of West Africa, the internet is now working more regularly and I can report on the recent weeks of fieldwork.

We have spent the last two weeks testing archaeological village sites located in the outskirts of Cana, a precolonial town on the Abomey Plateau and the focus of my research since 2000. Most of these sites are small and relatively ephemeral, marked by a few ditches and/or sacred trees. Excavations provided little evidence for European trade goods in the era of the slave trade, confirming some ideas about the extent to which Dahomean kings monopolized access to such goods in the past.

We were also graced with visits by Kenneth Kelly, Chris DeCorse, and Merrick Posnanky over
last few weeks. Merrick has stayed on with us and has been a wealth of knowledge, giving lectures
on African Archaeology and providing guidance in the field.

After testing four sites in the southern region around Cana, we were met with the opportunity to do some salvage archaeology in the palace of a late-19th century king named Glele. The current kin of Cana is in the process of rebuilding a section of the structure and has allowed
us permission to excqate around the impacted area. So far we have found evidence for the 1894
invasion of General Dodds in the way of burned building remains and artifacts.
The local TV crew is even coming out tomorrow to observe the work.

Everyone is healthy and in good spirits. Photos will follow soon.

J. Cameron Monroe
Bohicon, Benin

Monday, July 27, 2009

Despite a few hiccups in people’s travel plans, everyone arrived in Cotonou last weekend in good spirits and ready to start the field program. We stayed in Cotonou until Monday. Students were able to relax by the hotel pool, visit the lake village of Ganvie, and we even found an amusement park in Cotonou which was great fun (the bumper cars was a particular favorite).

On Monday, we travelled west to Whydah, where we toured the Portuguese fort (now a museum), the Huedan Python Temple, and the beach from whence human beings were exported by the kingdom of Hueda first, and later the kingdom of Dahomey.

Later on Monday, we were able to hike out to the royal palace precinct of Savi, excavated by Kenneth Kelly in the 1990’s. The site is a great introduction to what archaeological sites in Benin look like, as is Ken’s collection of artifacts from Savi, which is on display in the Whydah museum.

Later that day, we made our way up to Abomey, and from Tuesday through Wednesday we settled into our dig house. During the day students were introduced to the history of the region and the archaeological field methods used by the projects and were able to explore Abomey a bit at night. I am pleased to report that this is a very eager group of students, and everyone is absorbing all I am throwing at them at a very fast pace.

We started excavation on Thursday, focusing on an area discovered during survey in 2007 which contained a number of large architectural features (two large building mounds, and two large depressions which may be trash pits). The cluster of features is located around 400 meters south of an eighteenth-century royal palace at Cana. We think this may reflect the southwestern border of the town in that period and we are hoping to clarify the chronology of this area through excavation.

Everyone launched right into the work eagerly. Days filled picking, hoeing, carrying buckets, and note-taking haven’t phased anyone yet, and we are starting to trace the outline of one of the main buildings at the site. We are starting to recover some interesting artifacts which will help us understand the site better, and we anticipate interesting finds to come in the coming days.

J. Cameron Monroe
July 26th 2009
Abomey, BĂ©nin