Indian Ocean ceramic trade: 500-1000 AD
Project Leader: Seth Priestman
Department: Middle East
Project start: 2009
Project end: 2013
Other British Museum staff:
- St John Simpson, Middle East
- JD Hill, Directorate
- Dr. Lucy Blue, Centre for Maritime Archaeology,
University of Southampton (supervisor)
- Professor David Peacock, Department of Archaeology,
University of Southampton (advisor)
- Arts and Humanities Research Council
This project is examining long-term changes in the economy of the Indian Ocean around the time of the Islamic conquest in the Middle East. The period from 500-1000 AD represents a time in which the Indian Ocean emerged as a global commercial centre. By around 750-800 a sophisticated trade network had been established involving the movement of goods from Japan and China in the east, to southern Africa and Spain in the west. Merchants from the Middle East performed a particularly important role, handling much of the logistics and commercial enterprise involved.
What occurred in the lead up to this period, and how the Indian Ocean commercial system developed remains far less well understood. Unfortunately there are very few historical records which cover the centuries before the Islamic conquest in the seventh century, or the period immediately after this upheaval. This period represents a ‘dark age’ in the commercial history of the Indian Ocean.
The current project aims to document this phase of transition through changing patterns in the routine use of pottery. Pottery is one commodity which was traded very widely and consistently survives archaeologically.
An earlier study of the pottery found in the excavation of one of the leading Early Islamic ports in the Persian Gulf at Siraf, provides a useful overview of the range of trade ceramics that circulated within the Indian Ocean. These come from many different sources including China, Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East and East Africa.
By measuring the changing quantities of ceramics traded over a half-millennium period from port sites scattered across the Indian Ocean, a picture should emerge of the underlying changes in the balance of trade relations. This in turn provides a framework for understanding key historical processes that took place within the period, not least the rise and spread of Islam and the emergence of the Indian Ocean on the global stage.
S.M.N. Priestman, ‘The rise of Siraf: long-term development of trade emporia within the Persian Gulf’. In Proceedings of the International Congress of Siraf Port, November 14 - 16, 2005. Bushehr: Bushehr Branch of Iranology Foundation & Bushehr University of Medical Sciences, 2005, 137-56.
S.M.N. Priestman, Settlement and Ceramics in the Southern Iran: An Analysis of the Sasanian and Islamic Periods in the Williamson Collection, Durham University, Unpublished M.A. Thesis, 2005.
S.M.N. Priestman, ‘The British Museum Siraf Project’, British Institute of Persian Studies Newsletter, 32 (October), 2007: 5-6.
S.M.N. Priestman, ‘Islamic pottery in Oman’, in A. al-Salimi, H. Gaube & L. Korn (eds.), Islamic Art in Oman, Muscat, Mazoon Printing, 2008, 260-81.
S.M.N. Priestman, ‘Bushehr, Dashtestan and Siraf: the transformation of the Sasanian maritime trade network in the upper Persian Gulf’, in New Studies in Sasanian Archaeology: Economy, Industry and Material Culture, St J. Simpson (ed.), London, British Museum Press, in press.
S.M.N. Priestman, A Catalogue of Excavated Finds from Siraf in the British Museum, Oxford, British Institute of Persian Studies Archaeological Monograph Series, Oxbow, forthcoming.