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Exhibition Resources: Crossroads of Empires

Crossroads of empires: archaeology in West Africa is an exhibition which presents the work carried out by a team of archaeologists in West Africa as part of a UEA-based project. It shows the objects excavated by the team in northern Benin, which are between 1500 and 200 years old. It also explains – through photos, objects, text and films – how archaeologists try and piece together the past of this region of the world where (as in many parts of the world), there exists no first-hand historical written evidence.

Crossroads of empires is an archaeological project researching an area of West Africa which has seen little previous study: the north of the Republic of Benin. It focuses in particular on a region along the banks of the River Niger, one of the largest rivers in Africa.

Since 2011, Dr Anne Haour from the Sainsbury Research Unit and a team of researchers from various countries in Europe and Africa – Belgium, Benin,  Niger, and the United Kingdom among others – have been conducting yearly field trips to this area of Benin to record and excavate archaeological sites, as well as to collect historical traditions from people in the region. In between field seasons intensive lab-based work takes place to make sense of the field results.

This exhibition seeks to share the experience of this research by displaying some of the objects discovered and some of the photographs taken during the field trips, and showing the work that happens in Norwich and elsewhere to try and interpret them. The exhibition also shows how this work fits into the bigger picture of the rich history of West Africa and its rapidly changing modern landscape.

The Crossroads of empires project is a European Research Council-funded project (Grant 263747 to Dr Anne Haour). It has also been supported by the Sainsbury Research Unit and the Natural Environment Research Council/Arts and Humanities Research Council through the National Radiocarbon Facility.