Anne Haour (University of East Anglia), Global Networks and the Trade in Cowries, 800-1400. Co-sponsored by the Committee on Archeology and the Committee on Medieval Studies. This talk will take place on the Zoom platform; please click here to register.
Abstract: Almost seven hundred years ago, North African traveller ibn Battuta described the use of cowrie shells as adornment and currency in both the Maldives and Mali. Though these regions were a quarter of a world apart, they were linked by networks that moved people, things and ideas over long distances. This talk will draw on archaeological and museological work in the Maldives and West Africa that aimed to explore the chronology and channels of the distribution of cowrie shells. One big question mark here surrounds the routes along the Red Sea. Although the Red Sea has long linked the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean, and its ports tied into terrestrial routes into the interior of Africa and Arabia, its role in the medieval period is only patchily known. An examination of the evidence on cowrie trading networks naturally involves a consideration of other items which may have moved along these routes, most particularly low-fired cooking wares and high-status metals. In the final part of the talk, I will propose general ideas on the overlapping cultural worlds and processes of global connectivity which moved cowries and other items in the medieval period.