New Paper on the Muharraq, Bahrain, Excavations Published

Some of the results of the fieldwork in Muharraq, Bahrain, described previously in this blog have just been published in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy (2021, https://doi.org/10.1111/aae.12173). Excavation of a large building, probably Christian, possibly part of a monastery or large house complex, and seemingly abandoned in the eighth century, are presented. This is important for understanding Islamisation not just in Bahrain, but in relation to processes of Islamic conversion more generally. 

– Tim 

Excavated building complex at Samahij. Building 1 (red) is earlier, probably a Christian structure, and Building 2 (yellow), an abandoned later mosque and shrine (photo. T. Insoll)  

New Paper on the Marine Shell from Harlaa

Just published is a new paper exploring the large assemblage of worked marine shell from Harlaa. Initially, it was thought that species such as the cowries were imported from the Indian Ocean. Subsequent research has found that all were available from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, c. 120 km east of Harlaa. This suggests that a hitherto largely unrecognised source of marine shells was available, and the Red Sea might have supplied not only the Horn of Africa, but other markets, potentially including Egypt, and from there, elsewhere in North Africa and ultimately West Africa via trans-Saharan routes, as well as Nubia and further south on the Nile in the Sudan, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Arabian/Persian Gulf. The details are, Insoll, T. 2021.Marine Shell Working at Harlaa, Ethiopia, and the Implications for Red Sea Trade. Journal of African Archaeology 19: 1-24. The paper is available open access at this link.

– Tim


Cut and pierced shell and ancillary material from Harlaa. (1) Monetaria annulus opened using the ‘popping the cap’ technique with entry point indicated by arrow (HAR17-B-22). (2) Cypraea dorsa created by ‘popping the cap’ (HAR17-B-4). (3) Deeply cut Cypraea after the dorsal ring has been cut off (HAR17-B-14). (4) Examples of obsidian flakes and blades. A fragment used as a ‘drill’ is second left (HAR18-B-9). (5) Pteriidae sp. with cutmarks indicated by arrows (HAR20-G-11). (6) Part of iron knife (HAR17-B-4). (7) Part of an iron awl (HAR18-E-5). (8) Saw marks on copper strip indicated with arrows (HAR19-E-28). (9) Strombus tricornis with sawn straight edge (HAR16-B-11). (10) Strombus tricornis fragments with more jagged cut edges (HAR19-F-6) (photos by the author). 

Publication of The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Archaeology

After several years of work and patience on behalf of the editors and contributors, Oxford University Press has finally published The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Archaeology. This substantial volume of 775 pages provides a global perspective on Islamic archaeology covering the central Islamic lands, the Islamic west, Africa, and Central, Southeast, and South Asia. Besides surveying the main sites, each of the regional chapters draws upon new research in exploring topics such as rural and urban landscapes, the archaeology of religion, burial, gender, and diet. Further chapters also consider the practice of Islamic archaeology today, the representation and perception of heritage, and heritage management in the Islamic world, and the impact of development and conflict upon cultural heritage. I edited the sections on Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia and contributed two chapters on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, and West Africa.

– Tim


The Handbook cover

Conversations in Archaeology and Heritage

Two well-attended webinar conversations were recently held with leading heritage professionals on Islamic and African archaeology and heritage. On 1st December, Dr Venetia Porter, Curator, Islamic and Contemporary Middle East in the British Museum, and Prof. Timothy Insoll talked about Venetia’s career and contemporary issues in representing and interpreting Islamic culture and the Middle East in the museum context. On 9th December, Dr Gertrude Aba Mansah Eyifa-Dzidzienyo, Lecturer, Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, University of Ghana, Dr Shadia Taha, Wolfson College, University of Cambridge, and Prof. Timothy Insoll talked about a range of themes including perceptions and repatriation of African heritage, gender in archaeology and heritage, and prospects and challenges for the future.

– Tim

The poster for the conversation with Dr Venetia Porter (design F. Insoll)

The poster for the conversation with Dr Gertrude Aba Mansah Eyifa-Dzidzienyo and Dr Shadia Taha (design F. Insoll)

Presentations on the ‘Becoming Muslim’ Research

Over the past four months, I have given presentations, online via Zoom in this pandemic situation, at the Impact of Islam in Changing Cities and Landscapes between 7th and 11th c. CE conference, Escuela de Estudios Árabes, Granada, Spain, and for Silsila, Centre for Material Histories of Islamicate Cultures, New York University, as well as in the seminar series at the Department of Archaeology, Durham University, and to the Oxford University Undergraduate Archaeological Society.

– Tim

New Article on the Isotope Analysis from Harlaa and Sofi

A new paper presenting the first direct analysis of strontium isotope ratios in human remains from an Islamic site in Ethiopia has been published. It indicates that the Muslim community was well-established in Harlaa, and among families living in the surrounding rural environment within a few km of Harlaa. This is significant for it suggests a religious community that was not purely focused inside Harlaa, an urban population directly involved with and influenced by the international trade networks. Rather, those following Islamic practices were also fully integrated among the local indigenous rural community, suggesting either that immigrants following the Islamic religion had settled throughout the area near Harlaa, or that members of the indigenous population had converted to Islam (p. 131).

The full publication details are:

Pryor, A., Insoll, T., and Evis, L. 2020. Laser Ablation Strontium Isotope Analysis of Human Remains from Harlaa and Sofi, Eastern Ethiopia, and the implications for Islamisation and Mobility. STAR – Science and Technology of Archaeological Research 6: 113-136.

– Tim



One of the medieval cemetery areas at Harlaa (photo. T. Insoll)

GIAS – Global Islamic Archaeology Showcase

This was a great success, in bringing together, literally, a global range of presentations on Islamic archaeology. The review below was written by Hannah Parsons-Morgan and Awet Teklehimanot Araya and more details on the conference can be found at https://www.islamicarchaeology.co.uk

– Tim

The Global Islamic Archaeology Showcase was an online conference initiated and organised by Hannah Parsons-Morgan and Awet Teklehimanot Araya, two Ph.D. candidates from the Centre for Islamic Archaeology, based in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS), University of Exeter. Held on 26th and 3rd October 2020, GIAS was a free online conference aimed to bring together Early Career Researchers who are working within the field of Islamic archaeology regardless of geographical or chronological focus.

​We are thankful to all those who participated and contributed, and we are pleased that GIAS achieved its central aim of providing a platform for those in the early years of their academic careers to share their research and to connect with scholars at all levels of their careers. GIAS has helped foster a wide network of scholars from around the world and we were joined on the day by audience members from the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia, all of whom made the conference successful.

Presentations were made by Ph.D. students and Early Career Researchers, as well as those studying for an MA by Research, whose research focus is Islamic archaeology and material culture in the broadest sense. We heard about research on a wide range of topics, including ceramics, trade goods and maritime networks, landscape archaeology and architecture, and so much more, from the Balkans to Ghana, Sudan to Java, and ranging in date from the 7th to 20th centuries”.


Map of GIAS registrations and participants (photo. H. Parsons-Morgan and A.T. Araya)

National Museum of Ethiopia, Islamic Archaeology Section in the Historical Archaeology Gallery

The first ever section on Islamic Archaeology is being included in the new Historical Archaeology Gallery in the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. I am very pleased to be co-curating this with Mr Solomon Kebede, Head of the Historical Archaeology Directorate in the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, Addis Ababa. It will include a range of material from the Becoming Muslim project, particularly from Harlaa. The overall Historical Archaeology Gallery re-display is being directed by Dr Clément Ménard, Scientific Project Manager of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies, also in Addis Ababa.

– Tim

Figure 1. Mr Kebede outside the main entrance of the National Museum of Ethiopia (photo. T. Insoll)

Figure 2. The current Historical Archaeology gallery in the National Museum of Ethiopia (photo. T. Insoll)

“Antiquity” Medieval Ethiopia Special Section

A special section on Medieval Ethiopia that I have guest edited has been accepted for publication by “Antiquity”, and will appear, likely, in early 2021. This provides a comprehensive review of recent research completed on the post-Aksumite period in various parts of Ethiopia and gives excellent comparative context to the BM research, and Harlaa in particular. The papers it will include are:

Timothy Insoll – “The Archaeology of Complexity and Cosmopolitanism in Medieval Ethiopia. An Introduction”

Marie-Laure Derat, Claire Bosc-Tiessé, Antoine Garric, Romain Mensan, François-Xavier Fauvelle, Yves Gleize, and Anne-Lise Goujon. “The Rock-Cut Churches of Lalibela and the Cave Church of Washa Mika’el: Troglodytism and the Christianization of the Ethiopian Highlands”

Timothy Insoll, Nadia Khalaf, Rachel MacLean, Hannah Parsons-Morgan, Nicholas Tait, Jane Gaastra, Alemseged Beldados, Alexander J.E. Pryor, and Laura Evis – “Material Cosmopolitanism: The Entrepot of Harlaa as Islamic Gateway to Eastern Ethiopia”

Julien Loiseau, Simon Dorso, Yves Gleize, David Ollivier, Deresse Ayenachew, Hiluf Berhe, 

Amélie Chekroun, and Bertrand Hirsch – “Bilet and the wider world. New insights into the archaeology of Islam in Tigray (Ethiopia)”

– Tim

Map of the locations discussed in the Medieval Ethiopia Section (prepared by N. Khalaf)

Postgraduate Student and Early Career Researcher Online Event – Global Islamic Archaeology Showcase

Two PhD students in the CfIA, Awet Teklehimanot Araya and Hannah Parsons-Morgan, are organising an exciting online event for postgraduate students and early career researchers on 26th September 2020. This provides an opportunity to present current research within the field of Islamic archaeology to a global audience. Registration is free and open to all, and the organisers are particularly keen to encourage researchers based in Africa and Asia who may not ordinarily have the means to attend a conference in Europe. Please see https://www.islamicarchaeology.co.uk/ for full details.

– Tim