Through a Glass Lens: Technological Innovation and Trade in Early Islamic North Africa
The Muslim conquests of the Mediterranean (7th – 8th centuries CE) resulted in an unprecedented movement of people, goods, and ideas. During this time and in the following centuries, North Africa was the fulcrum for the spread of new Islamic glass technologies between the eastern and western Mediterranean, in part due to this mass movement, but also due to an adaption of well-developed, pre-Islamic trans-regional networks for trade and communication within North Africa. As yet, scholars have neglected the evidence of the glass itself. Newly excavated glass assemblages from Morocco and Tunisia provide a unique opportunity to combine archaeological science techniques and Islamic archaeology for the first systematic compositional study of North African glasses of the early Islamic period (7th – 11th centuries CE). Using chemical and typological analysis, this research project will investigate the chemical compositions of early Islamic Maghrebi glasses and changes in their production and trade, including shifts in raw material sources and developments in recycling systems. The inclusion of trace element data, often not seen in chemical analyses of North African glasses, will allow us to fill in the gap that is North Africa in terms of glass provenance and raw materials for the early Islamic period. This comprehensive study will determine how diverse early Islamic societies transformed the manufacture, use, and trade of glass in the region and will provide a crucial dataset of lasting value for scholars exploring the global production and exchange of glass, particularly in the Mediterranean and West Africa.