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Recent Advances in Islamic Archaeology – University of Copenhagen

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Recent Advances in Islamic Archaeology

A seminar on the archaeology of Levantine society in the Islamic periods

Organized by K. Cytryn-Silverman (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and K. Damgaard (University of Copenhagen) under the auspices of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem.

Held at the École biblique et archéologique française, 7th-8th February 2013.



7th February 2013
09.00-09.10 Introduction and welcome by Seymour Gitin (Albright Institute)

Session chair: Kristoffer Damgaard

09.10-09.30 Innovation, Continuity and Decline in the Agriculture of Early Islamic Palestine by Gideon Avni (Israel Antiquities Authority)

09.30-09.50 The Development of the Aqsa Mosque Area during the Umayyad Period by Marwan Abu Khalaf (al-Quds University)

09.50-10.10 Religious Change and the Early Islamic marketplace at Jarash by Ian Simpson (Stanford University)

10.10-10.30 Discussion

10.30-11.00 Coffee break

Session chair: Katia Cytryn-Silverman

11.00-11.20 Settlement Patterns in the Crusader Lordship of Transjordan by Micaela Sinibaldi (Cardiff University)

11.20-11.40 The Influence of Islam on Frankish Material Culture by Lisa Mahoney (DePaul University)

11.40-12.00 The Development and Distribution Pattern of Hand-made Geometric Painted Ware by Smadar Gabrieli (University of Sydney)

12.00-12.30  Discussion 

12.30-14.00 Lunch (Speakers only)

14.00-15.00 Round-table Discussion (Speakers only)
 Theme: The creation of an Islamic material culture and academia’s problems of classification and taxonomy


8th February 2013
09.00-10.00 Recent Conservation Work on the Qusayr Amra Murals by Giovanna De Palma (Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro, Rome) & Gaetano Palumbo (WMF)

10.00-10.30 Coffee break

Special session on Ariha/Jericho

10.30-10.50 The Jericho Mafjar Project: Archaeology and Conservation of a Palestinian Monument by Donald Whitcomb (University of Chicago) & Ignacio Arce (Spanish Archaeological Mission in Amman)

10.50-11.10 Archaeological Landscape Survey and Excavations in the Hinterland of Khirbat al-Mafjar, Jericho by Mahmoud Hawari (Oxford University)

11.10-11.30 Down to Downtown: Jericho in Late Antiquity and the recent excavations at Tell al-Hassan by Michael Jennings & Anthony Lauricella (University of Chicago)

11.30-11.50 A grape press at Khirbat al-Mafjar by Jehad Yasin and Awni Shawamra (Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage)

11.50-12.00 Discussion

12.00-13.30 Lunch (Speakers only)

Session chair: Donald Whitcomb

13.30-13.50 Early Islamic Industry and Urbanism: Rescue Excavations at Matzliah (South Ramla) by Amir Gorzalczany (Israel Antiquities Authority)

13.50-14.10 Recent work on Sinnabra by Tawfiq Da’adli (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

14.10-14.30 Qusayr 'Amra and the Archaeology of Construction in Umayyad period. An approach to the archaeology of production processes at Qusayr 'Amra, Hallabat, Qastal & Amman Citadel by Ignacio Arce (Spanish Archaeological Mission to Jordan)

14.30-14.40 Discussion

14.40-15.00 Concluding remarks by Katia Cytryn-Silverman (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) & Kristoffer Damgaard (University of Copenhagen)


Abstract Catalogue


Recent Conservation Work on the Qusayr 'Amra Murals

Gaetano Palumbo (World Monuments Fund) and Giovanna De Palma (Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro)

The Department of Antiquities of Jordan, the Istituto Superiore per la Conservazione ed il Restauro and the World Monuments Fund have partnered to conduct urgent conservation works at the early 8th century Umayyad site of Qusayr 'Amra. The site suffered from water infiltration and the consequences of 40 year-old conservation interventions on its cycle of mural paintings. Compatible mortars were developed for the conservation of the exterior, while the careful cleaning inside has revealed the presence of previously invisible paintings, including new inscriptions. Site management planning activities aim at improving protection and presentation of the site, by also involving the local community in the process.
Qusayr ‘Amra is a residence and bathhouse built during the Umayyad period. The extant structure consists of a rectangular audience hall, a bath complex, and hydraulic structures. The interior of the qasr is decorated with an extensive cycle of mural paintings, which are extraordinary and unique in their style and representations.  Although mural paintings existed at other sites, and some fragments have also been found, Qusayr ‘Amra is the only site where the paintings are legible and largely preserved. They depict court scenes and leisure activities, including a prince on his throne, now identified as Walid Ibn Yazid.
The site was “discovered” in 1898 by Czech traveler and scholar, Alois Musil, who a few years later brought along an artist (Alphons Mielich) to record the paintings.  Since these were covered by thick layers of soot, Mielich applied large quantities of chemical products that allowed him to see the paintings in bright colors, before they started to flake off.  The most important restoration, in 1971-1974, was the intervention of a Spanish team who consolidated the building and cleaned most of the paintings, especially in the main hall and throne room. The products applied on the paintings in the early 1970’s are now affecting their stability: the main product used was shellac, which not only has altered the colors of the original paintings, but also the stability of the painted surface, which is detaching from its support.
In 2007 the Department of Antiquities sent an application to the World Monuments Fund for the site to be included in its list of the 100 Most Endangered Sites.  The site was included in the 2008 list and received initial funding.  The DoA and WMF approached the Italian Government who responded favorably by assigning additional funding and involving the Institute for Conservation and Restoration in Rome to head the team.  This allowed a series of exploratory missions starting in 2009-2010, which included condition assessments and the installation of monitoring devices to record temperature and moisture variations in the building. Conservation work began in early 2011 with a training course for masons and mural painting conservators. This was followed by two months of fieldwork that included the repair of wall mortars and stones gravely damaged by the 1994 flood, and a cleaning test on one of the murals. The latter revealed the existence of original Umayyad paintings under the heavy restoration done in the 1970’s, with the unexpected presence of brilliant colors (especially blue).  The conservation team returned in the fall of 2011, and again in the spring and fall of 2012. The most spectacular results of these first phases of the project are the discovery or previously unknown scenes, inscriptions, and in general of the unexpected good state of conservation of the original paintings.
Work in the areas surrounding the building included a complete revision of the topographic plan of the complex and a 3D laser scan survey of the building. A new archaeological survey has identified several new sites and features from the Umayyad and Paleolithic periods, and emergency soundings may have identified a service building connected to the use of Qusayr ‘Amra.


Session 1

Innovation, Continuity and Decline in the Agriculture of Early Islamic Palestine
Gideon Avni (Israel Antiquities Authority)

The publication of Andrew Watson's book, Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World (1983), marked a revolutionary change of attitude towards agricultural innovations in the Near East during the second half of the first millennium CE. In his meticulous discussion of plant species that were introduced to the region, Watson argued for an "Arab Agricultural Revolution". He suggested that it also included the introduction of new cultivation and irrigation techniques, as well as the utilization of new areas for agriculture. His new approach contradicted the traditional views that presented a sharp decline in agriculture following the Islamic conquest.
While Watson's conclusions were partially accepted by historians and Islamists, his research was practically ignored by many archaeologists working in the Near East, who adopted the traditional approaches of an overall decline in rural societies throughout the region following the Byzantine period. Based on new archaeological research of rural hinterlands, which included the dating of agricultural terraces in the Negev Highlands and the Jerusalem region using OSL (Optically stimulated luminescence) methodology, this presentation will discuss the processes of continuity, innovation, change and decline in the agricultural regimes of Early Islamic Palestine, suggesting a new chronological framework for their intensification and abatement.

The Development of the Aqsa Mosque Area during the Umayyad Period
Marwan Abu Khalaf (al-Quds University)

Jerusalem became an Islamic city in the first half of the seventh century CE, during the reign of the second Rashidi (orthodox) califph Omar Ibn al-Khattab. Later, in 660 CE, it came under the control of the Umayyads, who played a significant role in urbanizing the Aqsa Mosque area. The principal reason for this urbanization was to strengthen their political and religious relationship with the holy city. This can be seen in the layout and planning of the area, and was manifested by constructing and repairing the walls and gates, as well as in the extensive building activities, which included the Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the House of the Emirate in the south-west side of the Haram al-Sharif. This urbanization process executed by the Umayyads indicates a fundamental change in the layout of the Aqsa Mosque esplanade.

Religious Change and the Early Islamic Marketplace at Jarash
Ian Simpson (Stanford University)

This paper discusses how people experienced religious change and the spread of Islam. I ask whether the early Muslim social movement became widespread because markets and commercial products facilitated its spread. Were religion and market related in a way that facilitated people in learning the knowledge, experience and new forms of relatedness that are important for religious conversion over time? To investigate this question, I discuss the relationship between market and mosque in the early Islamic period at Jarash in Jordan. Studies of material assemblages from the marketplace shops at Jarash indicate an ambiguous and gradual process of change over time. I consider how productive it is to understand the archaeological evidence for change in diet, material culture and commercial practices as part of the social matrix that is related to religious conversion over time in the early Islamic period at Jarash. In a wider framework, my goal is to utilize the swell of recent research concerning formation of early Islamic societies to contribute more generally to studies of religious interaction and conversion as a social process.


Session 2

Settlement Patterns in the Crusader-period Lordship of Transjordan: An historical and archaeological study
Micaela Sinibaldi (Cardiff University)

This paper presents the methodology and results of a PhD thesis on the subject of settlement in Crusader-period Transjordan. This geographical area, much neglected by scholars of the Crusader period compared to others, has commonly been defined as peripheral and as a frontier. Moreover, former studies have been mostly concentrated on one specific kind of source, rather than working on a synergy of sources of various natures. Taking into consideration both documentary and material sources (archaeological excavations, pottery analysis, surveys, building techniques), it has been possible to reach conclusions which cast light on this part of the still understudied Middle Islamic period in Transjordan. Data have highlighted the importance of Transjordan in the 12th century and its connection with the neighboring regions, the forms and phases of settlement characterizing this period, the relationship of the Franks with the local population, and other socio-economic aspects.

The Influence of Islam on Frankish Material Culture
Lisa Mahoney (DePaul University)

Although the influence of Islam on the material culture of the Franks is assumed, studies devoted to its extent and meaning remain rare.  This is the result, in large part, of a perceived paucity of remains, especially in the realms of art and architecture.  This paper responds to this perception by bringing together the many, various, and even hidden ways in which Islam can be seen to affect the objects and monuments built by or for the Franks.  In so doing, the influence of Islam is shown to be fundamental and pervasive indeed, and of persisting importance in articulating a relationship to this place.  

The Development and Distribution Pattern of Hand-made Geometric Painted Ware
Smadar Gabrieli (University of Sydney)

Within a few generations of its first appearance during the 12th century, the Hand-Made Geometric Painted Ware (HMGP) spread throughout Bilad al-Sham. The reason for the rapid expansion of a ceramic corpus whose mode of production is usually considered to signify strictly local and largely non-professional industry, and the mechanism of its distribution, are still open questions. The long-term, massive production of hand-made wares in tandem with wheel thrown industries, its ubiquity, and specific gaps in its distribution, all mark HMGP as a tool for studying settlement pattern and socio-economic processes. The absence of a chronological framework of development, however, has left this potential unfulfilled.
Using archaeological evidence from northern Israel, Jerusalem and Hisban, this paper will propose some outlines for the development of HMGP, and re-examine questions of production and distribution. The methodology used will be described, and associated problems highlighted.


Special session (3) on Ariha/Jericho

The Jericho Mafjar Project: Archaeology and Conservation of a Palestinian Monument
Donald Whitcomb (University of Chicago) & Ignacio Arce (Spanish Archaeological Mission to Jordan)

The Umayyad palace complex of Khirbet al-Mafjar, located near Jericho, is the most important cultural symbol of the early Islamic period for Palestine, comparable to Samarra in Iraq and Fustat in Egypt.  As with many famous sites, this monument suffers from misunderstandings and distortions of its archaeological evidence.  The Jericho Mafjar project is a research initiative on behalf of the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
This paper addresses concerns for the stratigraphy of the site.  Beginning with Baramki’s article on the ceramics in 1944, one can see clear evidence for a continuation from the Umayyad well into the Abbasid periods, with some later Ayyubid occupation.  This chronology has been subjugated to a more popular description that one may call “Hamilton’s short chronology,” the 25 years from Hisham’s accession to the Caliphate in 724 until the earthquake of 748.  This may be accurate for the duration of the bath hall, but runs counter to the archaeology of that same building, to be found in Baramki’s unpublished reports (V and VI).  The new excavations of 2011 through 2013 corroborate Baramki and lead to a new periodization of the occupation of Khirbet al-Mafjar.
This review of the stratification and periodization affects the architecture as well. Not only the recent discoveries involving post-Umayyad occupation of the Northern area, but the Umayyad buildings themselves. The stratigraphic review of the structures excavated in the 30’s and 40’s clearly shows different phases of a complex history during the very first stages of the complex and its monuments.
The preservation work necessary is closely linked to the built stratigraphy of the complex. The traces and evidence of structures should be preserved, enhanced and not obscured as a result of any intervention, as they are the best evidence that the intervention is not cancelling the authenticity of the site. Thus, it is the preservation of historical evidence (its “historical depth”) that makes the building significant, and which is the best record of its history. To achieve this aim, more detailed documentation is required, so as to properly record all these lines of evidence. This documentation will be also the first step in preparation of a virtual model, which will help us to better understand the complex history of this site, and to convey it to visitors and the general public alike.

Archaeological Landscape Survey and Excavations at the Hinterland of Khirbat al-Mafjar, Jericho
Mahmoud Hawari (University of Oxford)

Hisham’s Palace, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 749, is one of the most important of the 8th century Umayyad palaces found in the Levant. The published results of the 1930s and 1940s excavations at the site focused solely on its architecture and decorative arts. Yet these excavations fell short from providing clear answers to fundamental issues, such as the function of the palace, the pattern of settlement and its relationship to the contemporary urban centre of Jericho; who really built the palace and when; and the complex water management system associated with the palace.
The ongoing archaeological landscape survey and excavations in the area of Khirbat al-Mafjar, which were initiated jointly by Birzeit University and University College London in 2010, are of great importance. Their aim is to achieve better understanding of the Umayyad palatial complex within the context of its cultural landscape, and indeed of the phenomenon of the qusur as a whole. The elucidation of the hydrological system that supplied the palace, its baths and agricultural estate within a large enclosure wall (hayr), of the water mill and the large reservoir on the aqueduct to the west, begins to give context and raison d’etre for Hisham’s Palace. No less important is the identification of a new Umayyad settlement on the aqueduct further west of the palace.

Down to downtown: Jericho in Late Antiquity and recent excavations at Tell al-Hassan
Michael Jennings & Anthony Lauricella (University of Chicago)

In September 2012, the Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage (DACH) conducted four weeks of excavations at the site of Tell al-Ḥassan, located circa 500 m north of Jericho’s city center. Before the recent excavations by the Department of Antiquities, Tell al-Ḥassan was the subject of archaeological investigation in 1934, after a farmer by chance discovered a mosaic pavement in the course of digging a drainage canal.  This led to excavations by Dimitri Baramki, under the aegis of the Mandatory Department of Antiquities. In an article published in 1936, Baramki discusses two strata of occupation, Byzantine and early Islamic.  A basilica that is 25 m long by 20 m wide, with a central nave and two lateral aisles highlights the Byzantine period. 
The Tell al-Hassan Project’s (THP) 2012 season was carried out just south of the basilica discovered by Baramki.  Two areas on either side of Qasr Hisham Road were excavated.  Area 1, east of the road, exposed a large building with four internal rooms (as visible at the end of the season). Along the southern edge of the building, there appears to be a portion of a street running in an approximate east-west orientation, which is paralleled by a water delivery system.  Area 2, west of the road, exposed a structure of at least three rooms, two of which were paved in simple white mosaic.  Attached to one of the rooms was a small basin with an outlet.  Ceramic finds were predominantly of local production dating from the 5th to 7th centuries, with continuation into the early Islamic period.  There is little difference between the two areas.  In addition, large quantities of coins were found (over 200).  Initial analyses show that the majority of these are 6th century Byzantine, with so-called ‘Arab-Byzantine’ and post-reform Umayyad issues as well.
Overall, the THP’12 season continues the Palestinian Antiquities Authority’s commitment to the systematic exploration of Byzantine and early Islamic Jericho; a period that remains enigmatic especially because of a paucity of reliable historical sources.  Our knowledge of Jericho’s urban history has come largely from archaeological investigation, and the THP is a continuation of this tradition.

A Grape Press at Khirbat al-Mafjar
Awni Shawamra and Jehad Yasin (Palestinian Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage)

The 2012 season of the Jericho Mafjar Project, a joint Palestinian-American archaeological investigation of Khirbet al-Mafjar (Qasr Hisham), uncovered a large grape press of the Umayyad period.  The press is situated in the southwest corner of the site's Northern Area.  The Jordanian authorities first excavated this enigmatic set of ruins in the 1960s, but nearly all associated records and reports have been lost.
The press is of exceptional quality; constructed of well-faced stone blocks similar to those of the palace and bath (indeed some of the blocks feature the same craftsmens’ marks found in the palace), and white mosaic pavements. While wine presses are found throughout Bilad al-Sham, for example at Khirbet Yajuz in Jordan and Khirbet Shuwayka in Palestine, the perfectly symmetrical plan and quality of construction are unusual for the period. It is certainly the most elaborate known press associated with the so-called ‘desert castles.’  Such presses are usually dated to the Byzantine period, but this one is clearly Umayyad.
The discovery of the press at Qasr Hisham complicates our understanding of the site within its broader landscape.  Its large scale suggests the press played an important role in the economics of the complex, which should no longer be understood simply as a palace and bath, but rather as part of a larger settlement.  Qasr Hisham was clearly linked economically to the city of Ariha in both the local market and beyond.


Session 4

Early Islamic Industry and Urbanism: Rescue Excavations at Matzliah (Ramla South)
Amir Gorzalczany (Israel Antiquities Authority)

The city of Ramla was established as the capital of Jund Filastin under Umayyad rule. The construction was a carefully planned enterprise that included the mosque, the palace and markets. Water supply was guaranteed by means of a sophisticated aqueduct that conveyed water to pools and cisterns through intricate pipelines and channels systems. Historical sources and archaeological research show that the economic prosperity of the city was assured through the establishment of numerous industrial installations and workshops, which answered to the city's demands and allowed for a dynamic trade.
Commerce and industry had a predominant influence in the urban planning. Approximately 196 archaeological excavations were carried out so far within the city and in its environs since J. Kaplan’s pioneer project in 1949. Files stored in the IAA archives were checked by the author during the present research, in a quest for all available sources of information in the archaeological record regarding the various industries during the Early Islamic period (Umayyad to Fatimid dynasties). Thanks to efforts carried out by the IAA to attribute to every issued license excavation a precise map reference, it was possible to locate a substantial part of the spots on GIS generated maps.  The location breakdown of the industrial areas discovered in Ramla precludes the option of random distribution. Moreover, it is possible to point out changes and developments that occurred during and after the construction of the city. Urban development and location of industrial quarters are inherently linked and reciprocally influenced.
The city of Ramla constitutes a good case study for the research of early Islamic urbanism, because it was set up on vacant ground, with no previous developments that could have limited the planning. Thus, it seems that given the right conditions, the Islamic builders were able to plan in advance, foreseeing challenges and difficulties such as water delivery and ecological concerns.

Recent work on Sinnabra
Tawfiq Da’adli (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

Arab historians mention a site named al-Sinnabra as a place where a few Umayyad caliphs, among them the first caliph Mu’awiyya, used to spend time. However, as is the case with other sites where the name exists in the texts, but does not have any relation to modern topography, it is hard to locate the exact location.
In 2002 a small article was written by Donald Whitcomb in which he identified the well-known Early Bronze site of Tel-Beyt Yerah or al-Karak with al-Sinnabra. Whitcomb suggested that the building identified as a synagogue actually is the Umayyad palace mentioned in the historical sources. Following Whitcomb’s suggestion, the Beyt-Yerah expedition directed by Prof. Rafi Greenberg from the Tel-Aviv University, went out in 2009 to track some finds on the ground. In the following talk, I would like to present some of the last excavation seasons, the historical evidences related to the site, as well as describe two main features: the fort and the bath, and discuss them briefly against other sites from the Umayyad period.

Qusayr 'Amra and the Archaeology of Construction in Umayyad period. An approach to the archaeology of production processes in Umayyad sites.
Ignacio Arce (Spanish Archaeological Mission to Jordan)

A recent survey carried out at Qusayr Amra to help fix the boundaries of the World Heritage Site, has identified the production infrastructures used in the construction of this famous monument. Among the identified features are quarries, heaps of rubble, pits for slaking lime and what seems to be the service building that hosted the masons and workers involved in the construction of the complex. This building, which apparently hosted the workers, was partially excavated. It contained thousands of glass tesserae and a furnace that could have been devoted to industrial uses or to the production of bread to supply a large demand (tannour).
This discovery serves as a starting point to focus the discussion; firstly, on the archaeology of production – in particular the archaeology of building processes in the Late Antique and Early Islamic periods; and secondly, on the transformation of Umayyad buildings before 750. The short span of the Umayyad caliphate has usually led to the common assumption that the buildings built in this period were only refurbished in later periods, but not during the Umayyad period. However, in many cases Umayyad architecture shows evidence of multiple phases of construction and refurbishment that occurred during the Umayyad period. This remodeling was related to the evidence of building activities, as well as to relevant political changes throughout this period.
The study of the required infrastructure and logistics for the construction of buildings in the Early Islamic period, but also for this enhancement of extant Umayyad complexes, has been neglected despite the evidence. In spite of being available for archaeological exploration, the infrastructure of construction is usually not well documented, loosing relevant information on the construction, physical transformation and changing uses of these structures.