Research Questions

The significance of this project is that the body of the Quseiri documents have never been thoroughly examined or catalogued. Their value lies not only in the linguistic and purely historical facets, but this site also offers an opportunity to explore new questions of religious and cultural interaction between people in the worlds of commerce and pilgrimage. Patterns of contact dealing with long-distance trade, local adaptation and land utilisation, questions as to all of these are posed by the excavations at Quseir.

One of the most interesting aspects of the documents is the information they yield on the harbour town and the information gained on both trade and pilgrimage routes. To appreciate the socio-historical value of the documentary material we are studying contemporary Arabic historical and literary sources which shed light on the international maritime trade and pilgrim traffic. We know very little of how the inhabitants lived at Quseir and such things as diet. The excavated site of the Islamic necropolis offers some new interpretations as to the reasons for the death of the occupants and burial practices. This is very exciting as archaeologists have always found it difficult to excavate areas where burial places are known to be Islamic. If the wider aspects of the excavations and the Arabic documents are studied and a holistic approach taken, a new dimension to the life of the common people, merchants and seafarers, domestic and international trade and provisioning of the pilgrim caravans and ships can be achieved.

The discovery of ostrich eggs buried in the necropolis is of interest and the finding of Arabic written on the eggshells is unique. The question as to whether such practice was prevalent in Quseir and elsewhere in Egypt is intriguing. Although the Arabic writing is Islamic in content, the underlying concept of writing and the choice of doing so goes back to antiquity: the spiritual and philosophical thinking of the symbol of death and life thereafter raises important questions as to Islamic burial practices.

There is certainly a wealth of information, which together with other findings will contribute to a fuller picture not only of Quseir but the Red Sea as a whole. This study is unique with respect to any appreciation of activities in the Red Sea region - a neglected area in general. The Geniza documents are recognised by many scholars to be of great significance to the economic, social and cultural history of Medieval Islam but the Quseiri documents take us further than this because the written evidence at Quseir is corroborated by the excavations and the material culture the site has recovered. The project under study will, therefore, provide us with a new interpretation of Mediterranean and Indian Ocean trade and culture.