Three new PhD students in the Centre for Islamic Archaeology

And we also welcome three new PhD students to the Centre for Islamic Archaeology. Samantha Dobson who is working on her thesis, “Pearl Fishing, Commerce, and Identities in Muharraq Town, Bahrain”, generously funded by the David Higgins PhD Studentship in Islamic Archaeology, Hesham Nasr working on his thesis, “Religion in Eastern Arabia in the 6th-8th c. AD. An Archaeological and Historical Study”, and Yiying Li working on her thesis, “Reconstructing Identity. An Archaeological Study of Muslim Communities in Tang China”.  

– Tim


Welcome event for some of the new (and older) members of the Centre for Islamic Archaeology 

Successful Completion of Two PhDs in the Centre for Islamic Archaeology

Two new PhDs have recently been awarded in the Centre for Islamic Archaeology. Dr Nathan Anderson successfully defended his thesis, “The Materiality of Islamisation as Observed in Archaeological Remains in the Mozambique Channel”, and Dr Alessandro Ghidoni his thesis, “The Ship Timbers from the Islamic Site of Al-Balid: A Case Study of Sewn-Plank Technology in the Indian Ocean”. Congratulations to them both. 

– Tim 

New Article on the local ceramics from Harlaa just published in “African Archaeological Review”

Nick Tait, former ‘Becoming Muslim’ project PhD student and I have just published a paper on the analysis of the locally made ceramics from Harlaa. The article explores the value of these ceramics as chronological markers, and for understanding regional and long-distance contacts, cultural innovations, processes of Islamization, and foodways. The details and link where it can be found are –

Tait, N., and Insoll, T. 2021 Local Ceramics from the Islamic Trade Centre of Harlaa, Eastern Ethiopia: Markers of Chronology and Contacts. African Archaeological Review.

– Tim


Examples of local ceramics from Harlaa. A) large red/brown earthenware/plainware storage vessel with flat in-turned rim (HAR17-B-6-27); B) light brown burnished carinated bowl with simple rim (HAR17-B-18-8); C) black/brown burnished simple rim with roughened line decoration (HAR17-B-14-2); D) earthenware/plainware stand base (HAR15-A-2-6); E) black/brown burnished bowl with simple rim and grooved decoration(HAR17-B-5-8) F) black/brown burnished out-turned flat lipped rim with roughened line decoration(HAR17-B-8-6) (photographs by N. Tait).

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)