Archaeological Texts And Contexts On The Red Sea: The Sheikh’s House At Quseir Al-Qadim

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Division of the Humanities in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

By Katherine Strange Burke

© 2007 All Rights Reserved
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago
Committee: Fred Donner, Li Guo, David Schloen


ABSTRACT

Except in the cases of wills, deeds of sale, waqfiyya, and other similar documents that provide descriptions of property, most archaeological texts do not illuminate the physical context in which they are found so much as the persons that once inhabited that context. The same can be said of the documents from the Sheikh’s House at Quseir al- Qadim, which provide profound insight into the social and commercial activities at Ayyubid Quseir while never referring directly to the house in which they were found, even though the business letters are often addressed “to the storeroom of Sheikh Abu Mufarrij.” Perhaps only the common directive found in the shipping notes regarding merchandise and other goods to “put it in a safe place” extends to the archaeologist the invitation to describe that place. This tendency of archaeological texts not to specifically describe their contexts is characteristic of archaeological data generally, which does not produce specific information on events or persons, but rather reveals patterns. It can both illuminate broad questions of social and economic history, and “provide information on a microsocial level,” that of households, which is not always found in historical documents (Rautman 1990: 151). In using both primary and secondary modes of analysis, the textual and archaeological evidence from the Sheikh’s House together provide a microsocial context detailing the economic activities of a small group of people. They also supply information relevant to Ayyubid social and economic history in the evidence of far-flung trading contacts with India and China via the Yemen, and in the port’s position as provisioner of the Haramayn, the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, as well as a node on the hajj route. This contextualization of Quseir al-Qadim links it to the wider world of the Red Sea littoral and Indian Ocean trade under the Ayyubids.



Katherine Strange Burke ©2007
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations