I am pleased to report that a new article has just been published, to which I contributed, and which has analysed some of the glass beads from excavations I completed a long time ago (1993 and 1996) in the Islamic trade centre of Gao, Mali. Although on the other side of Africa, there are resonances with the Harlaa glass beads, chronologically, but also in the central role beads appeared to have played in value systems and their importance as trade items. The sources of the Gao beads are also interesting, being from Iraq, Egypt or the Levant, and Ile-Ife in Nigeria. The latter are particularly exciting as it goes toward substantiating a hypothesis myself and the late Thurstan Shaw proposed for trade between Gao and Nigeria along the River Niger.
Two new results have come out of the research in eastern Ethiopia. Nick Tait has successfully defended his PhD thesis, “Archaeological ceramics as chronological markers on Islamic sites in Eastern Ethiopia” (University of Exeter, 2020), and a paper has just been published examining the faunal remains and their implications for Islamic conversion at Harlaa, Harar, and Ganda Harla. The full details of the paper are – Gaastra, J., and Insoll, T. 2020. Animal Economies and Islamic Conversion in Eastern Ethiopia: Zooarchaeological Analyses from Harlaa, Harar and Ganda Harla. Journal of African Archaeology 18: 1-28.
Six weeks of archaeological fieldwork were completed in eastern
Ethiopia, ending in early March, fortunately just before the COVID-19 shut
down. This was focused on Harlaa with an emphasis upon exploring architecture
and developing the community museum and heritage trail. A large stone building
was investigated and three adjoining rooms excavated. These were very
well-preserved and preliminary interpretation suggests that they were a kitchen
and storage room with an in-situ hearth, with next to it a room with an
industrial purpose, possibly for cloth production, with a grinding/processing
installation and several pits inside it. This room was originally entered
through a series of stone steps. The third room was a living room with a raised
bed/sitting area. Radiocarbon dates are awaited, but the ceramics found
indicate occupation between the 12 to 13th centuries AD, i.e.
the highpoint of Harlaa.
This site, through the
kindness of the land-owner, and with the co-operation of the Dire Dawa Culture
and Tourism Office (DDCTO) and the Authority for Research and Conservation of
Cultural Heritage (ARCCH), has now been permanently protected with a zinc roof
and presented for the public. Interpretation boards will also be installed as
soon as possible. The building forms one component of the Harlaa heritage trail
which will also incorporate a mosque excavated in 2015, and start with a small
community museum near the main Harar to Dire Dawa road. The objects for the
museum have been collected from local villagers by the DDCTO and the local
administration, and interpretation of these is again in progress. Besides the
kind help of our Ethiopian partners at the DDCTO and ARCCH, represented by Mr
Abraham Yaregal and Mr Temesgen Leta, we also benefited from the input of Mr Malik
Saako Mahmud, Principal Curator at the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, and
this provided a very worthwhile instance of inter-African and international
The inaugural IOW-ARCH conference was hosted by the Centre for Islamic Archaeology, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, over the 10th and 11th January 2020. We welcomed nearly 70 delegates from various countries including, besides the UK, France, Switzerland, USA, Sweden, Germany, Bahrain, China, Japan, and Malaysia. A very varied and interesting programme of papers was presented ranging from new archaeological investigations through maritime archaeology, ceramics, manuscripts and epigraphy, and regional sessions on the Red Sea and East African coast. It was a very good start to what is hoped will be a biennial even with the next held at Durham University in 2022.
The ‘Becoming Muslim” project conference was held this week and was a great success. Two days of presentations accompanied by several networking events took place between the evening of the 16th December and the final conference dinner on the evening of the 18th December. Speakers from the UK, as well as Belgium, Germany, Madagascar, Mali, and Poland gave fascinating papers on material from the whole of the continent as well as providing views from a historian and anthropologist on the conference theme. Thirty seven delegates and guests, including from Ethiopia, Italy, Eritrea, Madagascar, Spain, India, and Sudan, joined in extended debate over concepts ranging from the material and archaeological indicators of Islam, the concept of Islam, syncretism, the complexity of African Islamic practices, and future directions in research. I will be editing the papers as a conference proceedings.
A very successful field season was completed on Muharraq Island in
Bahrain in November, with direct relevance for the BM project. What appears to
be undisturbed Umayyad occupation was recorded in-situ at one site, and further
evidence for African connections found in the form of African origin/inspired
ceramics, including roulette decorated and Tana Tradition/Triangular Incised
Wares from East Africa. Several sherds of black burnished wares were also
recovered, possibly also of African (Ethiopian?) provenance. This material is
the focus of PhD research by Awet T. Araya looking at African-Gulf connections
in the Islamic period through ceramics analysis.
Just before leaving for fieldwork investigating early Islamic sites on Bahrain as part of a long-running project, I gave a well-attended lecture at the Society of Antiquaries, London, about the BM research. The Bahrain research has become particularly relevant to BM as we are finding East African ceramics and, potentially, Ethiopian ceramics as well. Material evidence attesting the historical references to contacts between the Gulf and these regions.
Yesterday I presented a paper at the African Archaeology Research Day held at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. As always, the annual AARD conference was an interesting day filled with a variety of talks on archaeological research being carried out throughout the continent. I spoke about the work I have been conducting on using open source satellite imagery on Islamic sites in Ethiopia and the potential of its use across Africa.
Just published in the Journal of Islamic Archaeology is a new paper I wrote with Ahmed Zekaria from the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University, describing the results of the excavations in Harar in the 2018 field season. The full details are – Insoll, T., and Zekaria, A. 2019. The Mosques of Harar. An Archaeological and Historical Study. Journal of Islamic Archaeology 6: 81-107.