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Mining in Al-Baha region, south-western Saudi Arabia in Islamic-era : the archaeology of Asham

During the early Islamic empire, gold and silver were necessary for minting coins for the single currency of the Caliphate to facilitate trade from the western Mediterranean to eastern Persia. Iron, copper and tin were also necessary to equip the armies needed to defend and expand the empire, as well as for construction and domestic use. Although people have focused on the Arab-Islamic expansion in terms of military, religious and trade aspects, the internal production of the state has been largely neglected (i.e. mining and making things, the physical basis of the civilization). Thus, studying mining settlements as a model of internal production settlements is necessary to enrich our understanding of mining activity and its role in Islamic civilization and the medieval world. The importance of this study lies in studying the characteristics of the mining landscape in the region of Al-Baha, by analysing the mining activities taking place at the mining settlement of Asham, one of the most famous mining settlements mentioned by several classical Arab writers. These mining sites were surveyed generally and the mining tools examined. After completing the general survey, Asham settlement was surveyed intensively and excavated with six archaeological trenches to study the stratigraphy of the settlement in order to present an overview of the successive occupation levels and to expose more mining evidence. Materials recovered include over 1112 pieces of pounders and grinders, and 2153 fragments of pottery, soapstone and glass. The study of the mining landscape in Al-Baha region indicates that there were at least three metals mined there during the Islamic era: copper, gold and silver. These metals were processed in three patterns of settlements of different compositions and functions with evidence of state supervision and integration with regional and international trade routes. The research critically analysed the classical Arab-Islamic narratives with regard to the archaeological evidence of tools and facilities. The evidence confirms the extensive scale of mining activities in Al-Baha and its importance to the broader Arab-Islamic world. Rudimentary patterns of mining settlement were overhauled with extensive investment and state involvement during the classical Islamic civilization (c. 630-1100 CE), in the context of the great fillip Arabian trade received under the Umayyad and early Abbasid Caliphates which enabled full and stable exploitation of the natural factors amenable to mining in Al-Baha. The decline of the mining settlements was related to the political disintegration of the Abbasid Caliphate and the rise of a series of Turkic dynasties from the Seljuks onwards, reflected in the fact that the natural conditions still facilitate modern mining in the region, which poses a great threat to the important archaeological remains.
Date January 2014
CreatorsAlzahrani, Abdullah
PublisherUniversity of York
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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