Early Islamic Maritime Technology
Proceedings of the 7th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, Volume 2: Ancient & Modern Issues in Cultural Heritage, Colour & Light in Architecture, Art & Material Culture, Islamic Archaeology (2012)
In the ancient and medieval world, watercraft were amongst the most complex items produced by society, often requiring significant levels of investment to build and subsequently maintain. Changes to maritime technology have the potential to inform us about changes to the wider society in which such technology was created and used. This paper explores the extent to which the Arab conquest of the south-eastern Mediterranean in the 7th century AD led to rapid changes in the existing traditions of maritime technology in that region.
The statement by Muckleroy (1978: 3) that ships (and boats) were often amongst the most complex items constructed and used by pre-industrial societies is a well worn cliché within maritime archaeology. However, for many periods of history and prehistory it is a statement with a strong element of truth. The building and maintenance of ships, either for military or peaceful purposes, required a significant investment of time and materials. Added to this must be the complexity of the construction of such vessels, which often comprised a huge variety of component parts in both their hull and sailing rig. A change to the technology, technical make-up and outward appearance of a society’s watercraft has the potential to provide an indication of wider changes (social, economic or otherwise) to the society or culture in question.