The Archaeology Fund

Islamic Period




South Arabia

Myths and Legends

Research Questions

About Us

   The Late Classical occupation of the sixth and seventh centuries AD of South Arabia have been documented on previous pages. It stands to reason that the Islamic conversion of the mid seventh century involved the same people. We are aware of these tribal groups principally through the reports of Al-Tabari. Subsequent Islamic historians such as Yaqut, Al-Idrisi, Al-Istakhri and Ibn-Khaldun accurately depict the geography, landscape and tribal groups of the region, principally known as Al-Akhaf.

   Archaeologically, our recovered sites fit into the larger chronological scheme proposed for the Islamic Period by Whitcomb and others into the commonly accepted tripartite arrangement. This chronology binds together both archaeological materials reflecting Arab empires as well as local sequences from South Arabia. For example, Early Islamic sites such as Jebel Qinqari and Khor Rohri are defined on the basis of Iraqi Abbasid wares of the eighth and ninth centuries AD. Later Islamic periods include the presence of Fatamid Lusterwares, Sgraffiato, underglazing, and Turkish greenwares. Locally our excavations in the Wadi Masilah revealed a continuous occupational sequence from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries as revealed by carbon fourteen dates and primarily local Islamic wares. We have therefore been able to isolate such interesting ceramics as Socotra polished blackwares to the Early Islamic period.

   The "Ubar" mystery as created by later romantic Islamic stories such as "The Thousand and One Nights" (see link) has a definite historical underpinning as described by both classical and Islamic historians. Such accounts undoubtedly have their origin in the thriving incense trade which bridged both the Late Classical and Islamic worlds. Both historical and archaeological data generally point to a continued thriving incense trade over not only the Arabian Peninsula but also as a link between East Africa, India and China. This Northern Indian Ocean trade was not to collapse until the arrival of the Portuguese and the Ottoman-Turks. To what extent climactic deterioration played a role in its demise remains elusive.

   The modern tribal groups which make up the MSAL classification (see link) are therefore a visible link to a long and distinguished historical and archaeological past. It remains for future researchers in the fields of biology, botany, linguistics, history and archaeology to shed light on this fascinating corner of the Northern Indian Ocean.

Dr. Eduard Reinhardt has analyzed some of lagoons along the Salalah plain through shallow corings. He has suggested based on the different types of formanifera that many of the lagoons were open to sea until the fifteenth century A.D. Thus, the closure of many natural harbors along the northern Indian Ocean rim, may have had both a natural and man-made cause.

Imported Ming period porcelains (1360-1640 A.D.) are well known from Al-Balid and illustrate a thriving trade beween the southern Arabian kingdoms and China.

The Shisur ceramic corpus included the well-known RPW's and open bowls with elaborate applique. Several black-burnished carinate ceramic vessels are best known from Socotra island parallels. The entire range covers the Late Iron to Early Islamic periods.

Sites along the Dhofar coast have yielded unique ceramic pieces which appear to be decorated by cutting out clay to create relief. This fragment from Mahalla is identical to pieces now found in the Wadi Masilah. A medieval Islamic date is suggested.

A thirteenth century depiction of ship travel in the Indian Ocean. Note the ship's construction, passengers and the Iron grapel anchor. Maritime trade on the Indian Ocean changed little from the Bronze Age (see Egyptian reliefs) to the advent of the internal combustion engine.

Islamic ceramics from coastal sites studied by Jana Owen demonstrate the international site connections between East Africa, southern Arabia, India, and China/SE Asia. The punctate, painted wares from Mahalla on the Mirbat coast illustrated here a good example of this large-scale trade.

The Ottoman Turkish railway system was designed to carry goods and pilgrims through the Hejaz to Mecca. Begun in the early twentieth century, the system was never finished interrupted by the first world war. The grand station in Medina remains as a witness to the entire system. This switching station in Medain Saleh was a key post in northern Arabia. The modern railway system undoubtedly followed the earlier Iron Age-Islamic trade routes.