Reconstructing the Quseiri Arabic Documents

Summary of the Project

The RQAD project is designed to study a number of Arabic documents (paper fragments, coins and an ostrich eggshell) unearthed by the University of Southampton archaeological team at the harbour of Quseir al-Qadim on the Egyptian Red Sea Coast (1999-2003) and to evaluate the Arabic texts combined with archaeological inquiry. A number of the documents have been deciphered and translated with a commentary; they reveal a network of commercial and pilgrim activities at Quseir but also trade links with the hinterland and the Red Sea. Archaeological context suggests that these fragments date from the late Ayyubid to the Mamluk Islamic periods (13th 15th centuries) while the gold and silver coins are from 12th to 13th centuries, some of North African provenance. To appreciate the socio-historical value of the documentary material our study includes contemporary Arabic historical and literary sources which shed light on the global Islamic maritime trade. Our findings show a wealth of information which will contribute to a fuller picture not only of Quseir but the Red Sea as a whole. On publication of different aspects of this project, researchers would be able to use the material and comparative work will be possible in subsequent research.

The Significance of RQAD

The significance of this project is the information on the Arabic documents, they yield on the harbour town activities of Quseir al-Qadim, trade and pilgrimage. This wealth of information is corroborated with the Southampton archaeological findings, such as the harbour site, the Islamic necropolis and artefacts: textiles, leather, timber, glass, beads, seeds etc. Our knowledge on the inhabitants of Quseir al-Qadim is now enhanced though the readings of the paper fragments and coins and together with the excavated site of the necropolis we have a better understanding of the reasons for the death of the occupants and burial practices. One significant contribution is the study of the Arabic writing on the ostrich egg which raises important questions as to Islamic burial practices, the spiritual and philosophical thinking of the symbol of death and life thereafter. All this now provides a fuller picture not only of Quseir al-Qadim but the Red Sea as a whole an area greatly understudied. The study offers newer data on the economic, social and cultural history of Ayyubid and Mamluk Egypt; reinforces the study conducted by the Chicago and Southampton research teams, moreover it offers a new interpretation of trade links from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean.

Project Hosts and Partners

The RQAD project is part of the Department of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies and the Centre for Mediterranean Studies.

The RQAD Project at Leeds is partnered with the Quseir al-Qadim project at the University of Southampton.

The University of LeedsThe Centre for mediterranean studies at the University of LeedsThe Quseir al-Qadim project at the University of Southampton

Arts and Humanities Research Board