31
October
17.00
Cost: Free

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‘Al Habasha: Recent Research on the Archaeology of Trade and Islam in Eastern Ethiopia’

‘Al Habasha: Recent Research on the Archaeology of Trade and Islam in Eastern Ethiopia’


Lecture by Professor Timothy Insoll FSAInsoll - Harlaa

 

Until recently Islamic archaeology was almost completely neglected in Ethiopia, with related research instead focused on late Aksumite, and Christian kingdoms. The place of Ethiopia in the medieval Islamic World was largely unknown beyond limited textual references to sultanates and kingdoms such as Ifat and Adal, and the recognition of the city of Harar as an important Islamic centre, and acknowledgement that the coastal ports in what is now Eritrea and Somalia were active participants in Western Indian Ocean and Red Sea trade. Since 2015, excavations in the abandoned city of Harlaa located 120 km from the coast, and occupied between the 7th-15th centuries AD, have provided significant new information on the role of Ethiopia in the medieval Islamic World. Harlaa was an important gateway for Islam, and an entrepot supplying maritime and land-based trade networks, based on industries such as mining, and jewellery production in dedicated workshops. The wealth of Harlaa appears to have been immense with elaborate stone-built architecture, and material such as glass vessels, glass and semi-precious stone beads, copper and silver coins, Chinese and Middle Eastern ceramics, and shell imported, from India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iran, Central Asia, and Yemen. Burial, dietary, and epigraphic evidence indicate a cosmopolitan community, Muslim, and non-Muslim, and one that was instrumental in the gradual Islamisation of eastern Ethiopia, and which also seems to have been responsible for the founding of Harar. Archaeology is indicating that rather than being peripheral, medieval Ethiopia had an important role within the Islamic world.