Islamic archaeology in the Iberian peninsula and Morocco

Islamic archaeology in the Iberian peninsula and Morocco

By Johnny De Meulemeester

Antiquity, Vol.79:306 (2005)

Abstract: The author reviews the development of Islamic archaeology in Spain, Portugal and Morocco through its publications and fieldwork, identifying research themes such as ceramic studies, fortified settlement and landscape archaeology, irrigation and urban archaeology. Features excavated in Spain or Portugal can best be understood through ethno-archaeological studies of the Moroccan landscape and its living traditions.

Introduction: This short article outlines published sources for the study of the archaeology of the medieval Islamic period in Spain, Portugal and Morocco (Figure 1), and then highlights some of the themes of current research. Medieval archaeology in the region was born out of an art historical approach to monumental buildings, which in places still enjoys a leading role. For example, the Deutsche Archaeologische Institut (German Archaeological Institute) in Madrid recently published an overview of Islamic architecture and art objects (Ewert et al. 1997). The architectural history of the Moorish periods is also well documented (e.g. Barrucand & Bednorz 1992, re-issued by Taschen in 2002). But more recently, medieval archaeology has matured to a full discipline.

The regionalisation of the Spanish state, after the Franco era, created a direct stimulus for the new regional authorities to look to their roots and pay more attention to their own specific history than to their Roman or prehistoric past. Islamic archaeology has consequentially established itself as a part of the study of the peninsula’s eight centuries of Moorish rule (on the evolution of Spanish medieval and Islamic archaeology, see, e.g. Glick 1995: ch. XI-XXI [in English] and Salvatierra Cuenca 1990, especially from p. 69 onwards). The first investigations in medieval archaeology led to the publication of the Boletin de Arqueologıa Medieval (vol 1 in 1987) by the Asociacion Espanola de Arqueologıa Medieval. The development of the subject is also owed to the organisation of a regular conference, Congreso de Arqueologıa Medieval Espanola, which met for the first time in Huesca in 1985; the first conferences comprised three main sections: Visigothic (Reino Visigodo), Islamic (al-Andalus) and Christian (Reinos Cristianos) archaeology, although these subdivisions are now superseded. Since Huesca, different series of local, regional, national and international meetings have been programmed. The different colloquia give an overview of the activities in Islamic archaeology over the last 20 years: Madrid in 1987, Oviedo in 1989, Alicante in 1993 and Valladolid in 1999. References to work on Islamic period Spain can also be found in the al-Andalus section in the conferences on peninsular archaeology (e.g. Barroca et al. 2000), and since 1994, by the University of Jaen yearly edited volumes Archaeologıa y territorio medieval (Archaeology and medieval territory). An overview of Islamic rural archaeology in the peninsula is given in some articles in the Ruralia series (the Jean-Marie Pezes Conferences on Medieval Rural Archaeology; Bazzana & Poisson 1996 [with extensive bibliography]; Bazzana 1998, 2002).

In Portugal the growth of Islamic archaeology has been fairly similar, although chronologically speaking a little later, to the Spanish development. A journal for medieval archaeology, Arqueologia Medieval (vol I, 1992), was created by the archaeological centre in Mertola, one of the pioneers in Portuguese medieval and certainly Islamic archaeology, under the directorship of Claudio Torres (for an overview of the evolution of Islamic archaeology in Portugal, see Catarino 1997: 24-31). The universities of Coimbra (see Catarino 1997) and Lissabon have also delivered very important research programmes for the Islamic period, for example, Rosa Varela Gomes’s work (Lissabon) on the castle of Silves and its area, and her more recent work on the west coast of the Algarve (Varela Gomes 2002; Ferreira Fernandes 2002). A bibliography on Portuguese rural Islamic archaeology can be consulted in Boisellier (1996); see also the more historical, but for archaeologists important, publications of Boisellier (1999) and Picard (2000).

InMorocco, the study has developed from the Colonial period with a strong emphasis on ethnological parallels in which the country is exceptionally rich. Since the beginning of the colonial period, French scholars (and Spanish in the north) have studied Moroccan history through ethnographic research and through studies of material remains and buildings. The archaeologists of the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archeologie et du Patrimoine continue this tradition.

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