In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islamic Archaeology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Collected Works
  • Regions
  • Historical and Dynastic Periods
  • Historiography

Islamic Studies Islamic Archaeology
Marcus Milwright
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0029


Islamic archaeology is a specialism within the discipline of archaeology. The term Islamic archaeology may be broadly defined as the examination of the physical remains of human activity and of the wider environment in regions of the world where the ruling elite professed the faith of Islam. Thus, archaeologists concern themselves with the material record of Muslim and non-Muslim communities in any given area or time period. This definition is sometimes extended to include the study of Muslim communities living under the dominion of non-Muslim elites. While the methods and analytical procedures followed in this specialism generally derive from other branches of archaeology, scholars have debated the extent to which Islamic archaeology should be defined specifically as the study of the material record of Muslim faith and practice. Islamic archaeology can be considered an historical discipline in the sense that it is the interpretation of the physical remains from periods for which there exist contemporary textual sources. The chronological boundaries are from 622 CE to the present, although many Islamic archaeologists also study the relationships between the material records of pre-Islamic and Islamic phases. It is often difficult to delimit the boundaries between Islamic archaeology and Islamic art history, and in some phases, particularly the early Islamic period (usually defined as 7th–10th centuries), there is considerable overlap in the objects of study (see also Walter Denny’s separate article, “Islamic Art”). Archaeology encompasses a wide range of activities in the retrieval of data (such as excavation, field survey, environmental sampling, photography, and remote sensing) and at the level of analysis (ranging from conventional concerns with dating, sequencing, typology, and distribution to the numerous forms of scientific testing). Archaeological projects involve specialists from many disciplines, and this multidisciplinary character is often reflected in published reports. Islamic archaeology has yet to develop an agreed corpus of “canonical” publications, and the selection given below is meant to introduce the reader to the main strands of recent research across most parts of the Islamic world.

General Overviews

Introductions to Islamic archaeology (or a combination of Islamic art and archaeology) were written by scholars such as Ugo Monneret de Villard (b. 1881–d. 1954), Oleg Grabar (b. 1929–d. 2011), Richard Ettinghausen (b. 1906–d. 1979), and Michael Rogers. References to these are given in Vernoit 1997 (cited under Historiography). The massive expansion of archaeological research from the 1980s onward has rendered these surveys largely obsolete. At present there are two introductory books, Insoll 1999 and Milwright 2010, which attempt to address all or most of the chronological and geographical range of this area of study.

  • Insoll, Timothy. The Archaeology of Islam. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.

    An examination of the ways in which the faith and practices of Islam can be manifested in physical evidence from the 7th century to the present day. Offers a global scope, dealing with material from all over the Islamic world and discusses briefly Muslim communities living in western Europe and North America.

  • Milwright, Marcus. An Introduction to Islamic Archaeology. New Edinburgh Islamic Surveys. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748623105.001.0001

    A critical survey of the major developments of Islamic archaeology from the Iberian Peninsula to Central Asia. Organized thematically with chapters covering aspects of Late Antiquity and early Islam, the countryside, urbanism, religious life, craft activities, trade and travel, and the archaeology of the Islamic world after c. 1500.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.