'Becoming Muslim': The Archaeology of Islamisation and Trade in Eastern Ethiopia

Professor Timothy Insoll, University of Exeter
Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Why do people convert to Islam? The contemporary relevance of this question is immediately apparent. Equally significant are historical contexts of conversion. Why were certain sub-Saharan African cities key points for conversion to Islam, as for example Harlaa or Harar in Eastern Ethiopia? This seminar will present the results of research, including imported artefacts such as beads, sea shells, and glazed ceramics, as well as technological and architectural influences, and faunal and archaeobotanical remains from the abandoned medieval trading centre of Harlaa to suggest that trade and traders were initial agents of Islamisation. The Harlaa community appears to have been both cosmopolitan and entangled within regional and international networks. The archaeological record for Harlaa suggests that, as Islamic conversion increased, settlement patterns appear to have altered with saints and shrines becoming significant in the development of local Islamic practices. 

Timothy Insoll is Al-Qasimi Professor of African and Islamic Archaeology at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. His current research project investigates the archaeology of Islamisation in Eastern Ethiopia. Previously, he has conducted archaeological research in Mali, Ghana, western India, and Bahrain. He is the author or editor of 16 books, most recently The Oxford Handbook of Prehistoric Figurines (Oxford University Press, 2017).