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The David Higgins PhD Studentship in Islamic Archaeology. Pearl Fishing, Commerce, and Identities in Muharraq Town, Bahrain.


College of Social Sciences and International Studies

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Prof Timothy Insoll No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)
Exeter United Kingdom African Studies Ancient History Archaeology History Anthropology

About the Project

This PhD research studentship, starting in September 2021 for three years, and generously funded by Mr David Higgins, alumni of the University of Exeter, seeks to explore the dynamic activity which led to the flourishing of Muharraq Town, the main settlement on Muharraq Island, Kingdom of Bahrain. Recent excavations at multiple locations in Muharraq Town have uncovered extensive evidence for a sustained economic boom from the late 18th century through to the early 20th century, and the collapse of the pearl industry following the development of artificial pearls. Your research will examine why this activity occurred in Muharraq town specifically, and how this relates to and compares with contemporary archaeological evidence from elsewhere in Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, eastern Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, so as to contextualise late Islamic Muharraq Town within the wider Arabian Gulf.

Your research, based on analysing the material from the excavations, will be completed both in the dedicated facilities of the Centre for Islamic Archaeology within the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, and in the project laboratory in the Bahrain National Museum, where the excavation collections are held. The Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies (IAIS) at Exeter is the leading centre of excellence for research in Middle East, Arab and Islamic Studies in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1999 to consolidate existing strengths in the study of the Greater Middle East, the Muslim-majority world, and Islam.

The Institute has the strongest REF2014 results of any Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies department in the UK submitted to the Area Studies Panel, and they establish Exeter as the leader in the field in terms of research quality, impact and environment.

This exciting PhD research studentship, starting in September 2021 for three years, and generously funded by Mr David Higgins, alumni of the University of Exeter, seeks to explore the dynamic activity which led to the flourishing of Muharraq Town, the main settlement on Muharraq Island, Kingdom of Bahrain. Within Arabian Gulf and Islamic archaeology, later historical periods have been largely neglected, and in Bahrain entirely, making this project both ground-breaking, and intellectually innovative.

Recent excavations at multiple locations in Muharraq Town have uncovered extensive evidence for a sustained economic boom from the 18th century through to the early 20th century, and the collapse of the pearl industry following the development of artificial pearls. Significant wealth is attested over this period by glazed imported European and Japanese ceramics, unglazed wares from elsewhere in the Gulf, stone and glass beads, coins, metal jewellery, and the remains of large courtyard style houses, predecessors of the standing architecture of Muharraq Town today. Copious pearl shell, other marine shell, fishbones, and maritime related artifacts such as net weights and bitumen caulking from wooden sailing vessels signify the economic importance of marine activities based on fishing and commerce, to the former inhabitants. Ethnographic and historical sources indicate these were people of varied origins and backgrounds; Arabs, Persians, Africans, Indians. The archaeological evidence adds a material dimension to exploring these cosmopolitan identities. Your research will examine why this activity occurred in Muharraq town specifically, and how this relates to and compares with contemporary archaeological evidence from elsewhere in Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, eastern Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, so as to contextualise late Islamic Muharraq Town within the wider Arabian Gulf.

This research will suit someone interested in historical archaeology, archaeological materials analysis, and Islamic archaeology. The successful candidate will participate in the excavations on Muharraq, be part of a talented team of both early career and established researchers, and complete analysis of all aspects of the material generated from the excavations, relevant to your research. You will benefit from the supervisory experience of Professor Timothy Insoll, Al-Qasimi Professor of African and Islamic Archaeology, who has worked in Bahrain since 2001. Your research will be completed both in the dedicated facilities of the Centre for Islamic Archaeology within the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, and for certain periods in the project laboratory in the Bahrain National Museum, where the excavation collections are held. The research results will also have impact in feeding into the UNESCO inscribed Pearling Path (see https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1364/) developed by the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities.

For more information about the project and informal enquiries, please contact the primary supervisor Professor Timothy Insoll https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/iais/staff/insoll/


Funding Notes

UK tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate of £15,285 (for 2020/21 entry) per year.


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