Given the popularity of archaeology today and the prominence of the Muslim faith in contemporary world affairs, it is perhaps surprising that these two factors have not resulted in a flourishing discipline of Islamic archaeology. The reasons for this situation are diverse and complicated, and yet the material culture of such a great intellectual movement undoubtedly has much to tell us about its own and the other societies with which it has interacted over many centuries. For the purposes of our special series, 'Islamic archaeology' will be taken to describe the investigation of the material culture of Muslim peoples from the origins of Islam (c. AD 630) to the recent past. We shall show examples of fieldwork and interpretation in progress and hope to reveal something of the potential for new approaches and broader understanding that the subject undoubtedly contains.
The origins of Islamic archaeology have been investigated in some detail by Vernoit (1997) who has shown how it began with the collection of medieval Middle Eastern antiquities in the nineteenth century, later extending to the learned appreciation of Islamic architecture. The focus on Islamic Art (cf. Grabar 1987) and architecture (e.g., Creswell 1989) has meant that Islamic archaeology has, in the past, often appeared to be more concerned with the aesthetics of the buildings and objects than the societies which produced them (see also Rogers 1976). This brings us to the problem of how to best define 'Muslim society' for purposes of archaeological study. One approach, most recently exercised by Tim Insoll (1999), is to define the society by its religion, so that Islamic archaeology (such as 'Christian Archaeology', Frend 1996) is structured primarily as the archaeology of a religion. Others have interpreted 'islamic' more broadly to apply to a society where Islam is the religion of the ruling class, but may not be professed by a majority of the population. This appears to have been the case in Syria during the Umayyad period (AD 661-750) where the majority of the population were non-Muslim at least up to the end of the seventh century (see, for example, Schick 1995). Whilst not mutually exclusive in practice, these two approaches have focused on different themes, the one concerned with defining and understanding Muslim thinking and the other looking at structures of power in Muslim states. Within this special series it will be apparent that both approaches have been followed, and in some cases combined, producing a rich band of interpretation.
There have been several previous attempts to bring Islamic archaeology to a wider public starting with the publication of an issue of World Archaeology devoted to the subject in 1983. In 1990, the first journal devoted to Islamic archaeology was published in Paris under the title Archelogie Islamique, but unfortunately problems of distribution have meant that the journal has not achieved a wide readership outside France. More recently, the publication of Tim Insoll's book The Archaeology of Islam (1999) has provided a focus for debate on the scope and purpose of Islamic archaeology. In addition to these publishing ventures, Islamic archaeology has been the subject of special sessions at various conferences such as BANEA (British Association of Near Eastern Archaeologists) held in Edinburgh in 1990 and at sessions of ICNEA (International Conference of Near Eastern Archaeologists) in Copenhagen in 2001 and in Paris in 2002. A majority of these initiatives has understandably concentrated on the archaeology of western Asia (the Middle East) and north Africa. But sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian sub-continent and southeast Asia were fully integrated into the medieval Muslim world. This can be seen from the writings of Ibn Battuta, who in the fourteenth century AD travelled from West Africa to China staying predominantly within Muslim communities (Defremery & Sanguinetti ed. 1853-8).
The medieval Islamic world was more than twice the size of medieval Christendom (Figure 1), covering a huge area from Kazan in the north (on the same latitude as Moscow) to southern Indonesia (on the same latitude as northern Australia). Given its vast geographical scope, the question of why the archaeology of Islam is not better known outside the few specialists in the field initially appears even more puzzling. It could be argued that, despite its size, the Muslim world is of limited interest to British, European and North American archaeologists because it lies outside their cultural sphere. However, this has not prevented Egyptology from becoming a subject in its own right both on a popular and academic level. Even Assyriology (the study of the cultures of ancient Iraq) and Levantine/Biblical archaeology have had more popular coverage and considerably more academic resources than the archaeology of Islam whose heartland lies in the same areas (it is interesting to note that the Egypt Exploration Society specifically excludes the Islamic period from its area of interest). The reason for this focus on the pre-Islamic periods may appear to be promoted by famous and spectacular monuments (e.g. the Sphinx and pyramids at Giza, the Ziggurats of Iraq or the walls of Jericho) or on the contributions said to have been made by these societies to world civilisation. However, Islamic civilisation is not short of great monuments, for example, the 52m high minaret of Jam in Afghanistan or the ninth century town of Samarra in Iraq, currently recognised as the world's largest archaeological site, nor great intellectual achievements (for example, the invention of algebra). Other causes must be found for its relative neglect.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
One explanation may be connected with the relative status of archaeology and history. Islam has been a literate culture from its inception and consequently most academic inquiry has focused on written texts. But whilst the documents provide a wealth of information on many areas of life (see, for example, the documents of the Cairo Geniza published by Goitein (1967-83)), there are areas and periods for which there is little or no written documentation. It is equally significant that, as in other areas of historical archaeology, the information provided by written texts does not necessarily provide the answers to the questions in which we are interested. Areas of particular significance for which archaeology may be able to provide answers include the origins of Islam in Arabia, conversion to Islam in the early Islamic period (AD 630-750), trade in the Indian Ocean and the origins and development of cities.
The answer of course, as with medieval archaeology in general, is to create a forum of study in which both written and material evidence are equally respected, but equally subjected to source criticism (Carver 2002). A fine example of such research is given by Watson's (1983) thesis which, noting that the orange, the lemon, spinach and other foodstuffs were Arabic words, studied their provenance and incidence in literature and on the ground. He showed how the deeply rooted love of poetry and gardens amongst the early Caliphs allowed fruits such as the orange to migrate as gifts from caliph to caliph from their point of discovery in the vegetation of Burma to the groves of Seville, making use of the qanat (invented in Persia) to provide irrigation in desert lands. This, and the cultivation of the cotton plant, provided the lands of the Maghreb and al-Andalus with an affluent industrial base not seen since the Romans.
A more serious obstacle to the archaeological study of Islam may be connected to the problem of western academic and popular attitudes. Unlike many of the foreign cultures studied by western archaeologists, Islam is a living project that is still developing. Analysing an area of suspicion between west and east, and defining it by the term orientalism, Said (1978) drew a contrast between the cultures of Islam and the more ancient cultures of western Asia which had occupied the same areas. Western historians and archaeologists adopted the more ancient peoples as ancestors of their own, and so belonging to the 'Western' heritage. By contrast, Muslim civilisation has been regarded as a recent development, a later overlay by communities having no connection (neither cultural nor genetic) with the ancient civilisation. Western orientalism is a negative attitude which characterises Islamic civilisation as backward, changeless, cruel and corrupt.
In the modern academic world, this attitude easily provokes a high sensitivity among Islamic thinkers, as among those of many other non-western cultures, in the matter of investigatory science. On the one hand, there need be no necessary acceptance of the primacy of scientific scrutiny--as though the ineffable could be reduced to the simplistic explanations of the western enlightenment. On the other hand, over the past few decades the western archaeological project has been especially militant, substituting for its previous hunger for exotic artefacts an equally domineering belief in its epistemological powers. Fortunately, modern archaeological theory has already taken several steps towards softening and broadening, and thus enhancing, the manner of its study. Approaches to interpretation now invite us to appreciate not only the intelligence expressed by the makers of buildings, tombs and artefacts, but the dangers of failing to reflect on the views of modern 'descendant communities', often strongly held in the case of Islam, and the weakness inherent in our own potential lack of understanding of their values and perceptions (Hodder 1992; Smith 2004).
For all that, we believe that scientific archaeology, properly and respectfully positioned, has much to contribute to the understanding of Islamic communities, and that Islamic archaeology has a great deal to contribute to the understanding of world history, and perhaps in particular the history of the medieval West. Through its oriental ancestry, western Islamic archaeology has, up to now, been confined in the field of Oriental Studies thus separating it from mainstream archaeological theory and practice. The consequences of this situation have been that access to Islamic archaeology at an undergraduate level has been restricted to those few universities which have Oriental Studies Departments and that there has been very little theoretical cross-fertilisation with mainstream archaeology. But whilst this may be true on the institutional level (there are very few university posts in Islamic archaeology), it is less true when we look at the actual research and fieldwork carried out. It is this new location in the mainstream of archaeological research that we hope the articles in our special series will demonstrate.
The guiding ambitions in selecting articles for this special series were that they should be based on recent fieldwork, they should reflect the diversity of the Islamic world and they should employ a variety of approaches. All of the articles fulfil the first criterion: the majority are based on fieldwork carried out since 2000, indicating a significant number of ongoing projects. The diversity of the Islamic world is reflected in the wide geographical range of the articles, from Morocco to southeast Asia. Within this wide array of sites there are certain areas which stand out. For example, it is noticeable that three of the articles relate to eastern Arabia, which reflects the continuing rapid economic development of this area in the wake of the mid-twentieth century oil boom (see Potts et al. 2003). At the same time, it acts as a corrective to Creswell's famous dismissal of the Arabian peninsula as a source for Islamic architecture (for a discussion of this see King (1991)).
We begin with three papers which well reflect the spirit of the new inquiry: an investigation of the Gulf states in the pre-Islamic period, a topical survey of Samarra and the large-scale excavations of the early glass industry in Syria. In June, we focus on origins with recent work in the Umayyad period in Jordan and Syria. The September issue offers a sample of current research widely spread in time and space; and our envoi in December provides thoughtful overviews on current and future work in the Iberian peninsula, the Gulf, south-east Asia and Israel.
That future agenda undoubtedly promises some exciting and important topics: the conversion to Islam, too often over-simplified in terms of conquest, the growth of the Islamic world trading system or the construction and development of the Islamic town. Such studies might advance understanding of early and modern societies in both east and west, and perhaps, at the same time, make a small contribution to their further mutual understanding and appreciation of each other.
Archaeological time frame c. AD 570-632 Life of Muhammad, the Prophet. 610-628 Taught in Mecca. 628-632 Resided in Medina 628-632. The Hijra, or migration of Muhammad and his Companions from Mecca to Medina took place c. AD 615 (ascribed to 622). 661-750 Umayyad dynasty, a Sunni Caliphate active in Syria and Jordan, centred on Damascus. 691 Dome of the Rock (Qubbat al Sakhra) constructed. 7-8th centuries 'Desert castles' palatial, semi-fortified sites of the Umayyads constructed in Syria and Jordan. 712 Sind (India) conquered. 715 North Africa (the Maghreb) and Spain (al-Andalus) conquered. 750 Abbasid dynasty, a Sunni Caliphate based in Iraq, ruled eastern half of Islamic empire for nearly 200 years. 762 Baghdad constructed as Abbasid capital. 836 Samarra founded as new Abbasid capital. 892 Samarra abandoned as imperial capital, caliph returns to Baghdad. 909-1171 Fatimids: a Shi'ite dynasty active in North Africa, centred on Cairo. 1062-1147 Almoravid dynasty in North Africa and Spain. 1130-1269 Almohad dynasty in North Africa and Spain. 1171-1250 Ayyubid dynasty rulers of Syria, Egypt and Yemen. 1250-1517 Mamluk rulers of Egypt and Syria. 1281-1924 Ottoman Turkish dynasty active. 1453 Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. 1526-1858 Mughuls Muslim emperors of India. 1631-48 Taj Mahal constructed. For more detailed information about dynasties and chronology, see Bosworth (1996).
al-Aqsa: the great Mosque of al-Haram al-Sharif, Temple Mount, Jerusalem
caliph: originally political and religious leaders of the Muslim world, later this role was reduced to symbolic quasi-religious leadership
caravanserai, khan: hostel, lodging for travellers and merchants
dikka: raised platform in front of the mihrab
Dome of the Rock: octagonal Muslim shrine in Jerusalem
jami: the principal 'Friday' mosque in a city
Ka'aba: the large cubical structure containing the Black Stone in the centre of the Great Mosque at Mecca
Kufic script: Arabic decorative script originating in al-Kufa, Iraq
masjid: local mosque
maydan: open square in front of a mosque or palace
mamluks: slave soldiers of non-Muslim origin
mihrab: niche in the wall of a mosque indicating the direction of Mecca
minbar: pulpit in a mosque
musalla: the space for the congregation in a mosque
qal'a, qasba, husn: citadel or fort
qanat: underground aqueduct
qiblah: direction of prayer for Muslims (towards Mecca)
Qur'an: the sacred book of Islam
ribat: fortified monastery
Sunni: followers of Muhammad
Shi'ite: followers of Muhammad's son in law, Ali, murdered 661.
For further architectural terms see http://archnet.org/library/dictionary
Dates: Islamic scholars use the dating convention A.H. (after the hijra) so that 1 A.H. = AD 623. In these papers, we have used the BC/AD terminology simply to achieve consistency with the rest of the journal and no disrespect is intended.
Spelling: Transliteration of names and places follows the usage in Freeman-Grenville and Munro-Hay (2002).
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BOSWORTH, C.E. 1996. New Islamic dynasties: a chronological and genealogical guide. New York: Columbia University Press (paperback edition 2004)/Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
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KING, G.R.D. 1991. Creswell's appreciation of Arabian architecture, in O. Grabar (ed.). Muqarnas VIII: An annual on the visual culture of the Islamic World. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
POTTS, D., H. NABOODA & P. HELLYER. 2003. Archaeology of the United Arab Emirates. Proceedings of the first international conference on the archaeology of the UAE. London: Trident Press.
ROGERS, M. 1976. The spread of Islam. Oxford: Elsevier-Phaidon.
SAID, E. 1978. Orientalism (Peregrine edition 1985). Middlesex: Penguin.
SCHICK, R. 1995. The Christian communities of Palestine from Byzantine to Islamic Rule: an historical and archaeological study (Studies in Late Antiquity and Islam 2). Princeton (New Jersey): Darwin Press.
SMITH, L. 2004. Archaeological theory and the politics of cultural heritage. London & New York: Routledge.
VERNOIT, S. 1997. The rise of Islamic archaeology, in Gulru Necipoglu (ed.). Muqarnas: An annual on the visual culture of the Islamic World, vol. XIV: 1-10.
WATSON, A.M. 1983. Agricultural innovation in the early Islamic world: the diffusion of crops and farming techniques, AD 700-1100. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Andrew Petersen, Department of History and Archaeology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, UAE University, P.O. Box 17771, al-Ain, UAE (Email: email@example.com and Petersena@cardiff.ac.uk)…