Aylah Archaeological Project – University of Copenhagen

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Aylah Archaeological Project

The walled town of Aylah dates back to the mid 7th century and is thus one of those unique archaeological cases that allows us to delve into the most formative stages of Islamic urbanism, and follow this process for the first four centuries of Islamic civilisation. Aylah is, however, far more than that and in its development are reflected some of the crucial trends and processes that characterise the post-classical worlds of thought and action.

Under the sands of Aqaba lies buried the remains of a Red Sea port that flourished during the initial centuries of Islam (7th-12th centuries CE), and which engaged in an array of mercantile ventures that reached almost global proportions. Aylah’s international profile is reflected in the material culture, which includes finds from distant locations such as Yemen, Africa, India and China, but aspects of localised initiatives and activities are equally telling of society, which in spite of a diminutive size appears to have highly cosmopolitan in both character, connections and outlook.

Nevertheless, even though excavations have confirmed its commercial ties, important aspects of the town’s role in the proto-globalised trade networks of Early Islam remain murky and uncharted. The AAP is exploring Aylah’s hitherto unexcavated southwest quadrant in an attempt to clarify and explain how the movement and exchange of goods, ideas and people were facilitated in the context of this Muslim emporium. This constitutes the first step in a broader scientific exploration of exchange and the associated cultural contact across the Red Sea and its associated waters and littorals. A central tenet of the research is an endeavour to understand the interface of terrestrial and maritime networks as manifested in the coastal zone of interaction.

Aylah Archaeological Project is a completely paperless dig and all recording of data (including scaled drawings progress photography) in done on iPads. The AAP wishes to acknowledge the C.L. David Foundation for providing the necessary funding to fully digitalise the project.

The project is executed in cooperation with University of Chicago and the Department of Antiquities in Jordan. A full publication of the site, which combines the results from the American excavations (1986-95) with those of this project, is planned for 2016.

Director:         Kristoffer Damgaard, University of Copenhagen
Co-Director:  Michael Jennings, University of Chicago

Archaeologist: Patrick Lorien, University of Copenhagen
Illustrator:      Alex Wood, University of Copenhagen
Ceramicist:     Lena Tambs, University of Copenhagen
Photographer: Henrik Brahe, independent

Consultants:    Donald Whitcomb, University of Chicago
                      Alan Walmsley, University of Copenhagen
                      Enrico Cirelli, University of Bologna

From 2013 the AAP will be complimented by an independent but highly relevant series of archaeological surveys, which will be conducted in the wadi systems behind Aqaba. The Coastal Connectivity Survey Project (CCSP) will serve to contextualise how the interface of land and sea was materialised through the conceptualisation and creation of highly flexible coastal nodes that were oriented in multiple directions simultaneously.

The CCSP is planned to begin in 2013, and a separate web profile for the project is currently under construction. The CCSP surveys are generously funded by The Danish Council for Independent Research in the Humanities.