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Department of Archaeology

Friday, 10 May, 2024 - 13:15
Event speaker: 
Mark Davis, University of Cambridge

Title: Investigating early Islamic metalworking and the origins of a brass-making tradition

 Abstract: In the early part of the second millennium CE, brass emerged as a luxurious form of Islamic metalworking, with highly decorated objects inlaid with contrasting silver and copper designs. However, we know comparatively little about the background to this development, and in particular, the choice of brass for these new luxury objects. Limited identification and scientific analysis of metalwork from the Sasanian and early Islamic periods makes it challenging to assess metalworking practices of the time and connections with earlier brass-making in Europe and Asia.

 Securely dated archaeological finds from sites across the Middle East and Western Asia are providing new evidence and a new opportunity to trace the development of these traditions. For my PhD research, I have analysed hundreds of excavated artefacts dating from Late Antiquity to the early Islamic period, including from key sites such as the city of Merv and the Persian Gulf port of Siraf. Using XRF and SEM-EDS, I have been able to assess the different metals and alloys in circulation, as well as the different object forms and production methods associated with their use. By integrating this new information with a range of legacy scientific data from the eastern Mediterranean and Asia, I am discovering evidence for continuity and change, for regional consistency and for local variation and innovation. These findings highlight the role afforded to brass by contemporary metalworkers and consumers, and provide insight and context for its subsequent adoption as a prestige material.


Contact name: 
Rosie Crawford
Contact email: 
Event location: 
McDonald Seminar Room
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