Mariners and Merchants: a study of the ceramics from Sanjan (Gujarat) (Sanjan Reports Volume 1/BAR International Series 2231) by Rukshana J. Nanji pp. 241, 10 b&w figs and pottery line drawings, 4 maps, 4 graphs, 11 table series; 18 colour plates. Additional full-colour images at http://www.wzcf.org/sanjan-excavations/pottery.html BAR, via Archeopress, Gordon House, 276 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 &ED, 2011, £45 (sbk), ISBN 978 1407307930
Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013
© 2013 The Authors. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2013 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 42, Issue 1, pages 220–221, March 2013
How to Cite
Tomber, R. (2013), Mariners and Merchants: a study of the ceramics from Sanjan (Gujarat) (Sanjan Reports Volume 1/BAR International Series 2231) by Rukshana J. Nanji pp. 241, 10 b&w figs and pottery line drawings, 4 maps, 4 graphs, 11 table series; 18 colour plates. Additional full-colour images at http://www.wzcf.org/sanjan-excavations/pottery.html BAR, via Archeopress, Gordon House, 276 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 &ED, 2011, £45 (sbk), ISBN 978 1407307930. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 42: 220–221. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12008_8
- Issue published online: 4 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013
This book represents the first in what is intended as a series on the 2002–2004 excavations at Sanjan conducted under the auspices of the World Zarathushtri Cultural Foundation and the Indian Archaeological Society. The importance of Sanjan to the history of the Persian Zoroastrians or Parsis cannot be overstated. The once coastal site, now buried and inland, has long been known through oral tradition and texts as the first Zoroastrian settlement site in India, in response to the establishment of Islam in Persia, during the Early Medieval period. While within the region of Sanjan there are Early Medieval copper plates that mention the site, and even earlier inscriptions, the oldest written account of their migration and subsequent dispersal from Sanjan, the Kisse-i-Sanjan (Story of Sanjan), is dated much later (1599 AD).
It is within this framework that the excavation at Sanjan was undertaken to establish a sequence for the site which could then be used to evaluate the reliability of the texts. The work on the pottery was therefore fundamental for dating the archaeological sequence and an extremely rich ceramic assemblage was excavated from the site. The ceramic study by Rukshana Nanji, which formed her PhD thesis granted by Deccan College, is here presented in four chapters and five appendices: 1) Introduction (pp. 1–22), 2) Sanjan Ceramics (pp. 23–168), 3) Data Analysis (pp. 169–211), 4) Evaluation and Interpretation of the Early Medieval Settlement at Sanjan (pp. 212–223).
In addition to setting the background to the study, ch. 1 describes the excavation, which was conducted in two main areas approximately half a kilometre away from each other: the Sanjan Bandar (port) and a mound adjacent to the Kolikhadi stream. A number of trenches were excavated in each locality with only one trench (TT4) providing a complete cultural sequence. Excavation of the Dokhma, or Tower of Silence, near the Kolikhadi stream is the feature most significant for Zoroastrian studies, and supports documentary evidence for site function. The pottery from this feature was quite mixed, but a large array of personal items such as bangles were found with the 350–400 individuals recovered (see V. Mushriff and S. R. Walimbe, 2005, ‘Human Skeletal Remains from Sanjan Excavations’ in Journal of Indian Archaeology 2, 73–92).
Within the study of the pottery two problems – repeatedly acknowledged by the author—can be identified. Firstly, a sizeable volume of pottery was discarded before the final study was carried out. This problem was overcome by constructing a methodology based on diagnostic sherds (rims, bases, handles) that compensated for this situation. The second problem is more fundamental, and this is the lack of a reliable stratigraphic sequence, explained in great detail in the volume.
The presentation and analysis of the ceramics comprise the bulk of the volume. In ch. 3, N. summarizes the ceramic types identified at Sanjan, including a description of their fabric (a petrographic study by K. Krishnan is integrated into this chapter and appears separately in Appendix 4, pp. 232–7), form, dating and distribution at Sanjan and other sites (particularly from the Gulf, Mesopotamia and East Africa). The pottery is catalogued according to internationally established classifications and is extensively illustrated, primarily line drawings (without scales), but with three pages of excellent quality colour photographs. Colour photography is especially important for many of the glazed pottery types represented at Sanjan, and the small quantity of colour photography in the volume is more than compensated for by a companion website (http://www.wzcf.org/sanjan-excavations/pottery.html), which cross-indexes many of the line drawings. The chapter is rich with information, but it is difficult to navigate between the various sections. More structure would have been helpful and probably cut down on repetition, which runs throughout the volume. Here as elsewhere thorough copy-editing would have been beneficial.
Chapter 3 presents the quantified data by count. The balance of the chapter consists of tables and graphs, which present the data in three different ways: by layer, by depth and by ware type—although given the problems, ‘layer’ could have been excluded from the publication. Ultimately from this data N. isolates three ceramic horizons: 1) Strong contacts with West Asia during the 7–9th centuries, with the first identification of Chinese pottery during the later stages of this phase; 2) Introduction of the Samarra horizon pottery from the mid-9th to the late-12th centuries; 3) An overall decline in pottery with West Asian wares almost absent and slightly more Chinese wares towards the end of the sequence in the early/mid-13th century.
In India Nanji's work is ground-breaking as the first study to classify rigorously Early Medieval pottery and quantify it. Without a reliable stratified archaeological sequence, the author has taken the only available course: to study the pottery by depth, which relies on an unfounded assumption of uniformity. Depth provided a framework for studying the pottery from the bottom up, but lacks the rigour imposed by a stratigraphic sequence. Because of the nature of the pottery found at Sanjan, a large proportion of which belongs to imported types that are very well dated from excavations in the Gulf, this approach was workable and enabled the identification of the three main ceramic horizons described above. A more detailed study of the Far Eastern wares—including porcelain—which has yet to be undertaken may further refine the dating of the assemblage. In any Indian excavation the dating of Indian coarse pottery provides the biggest challenge and Sanjan is no exception. Importantly N. has used the chronology of the imported wares as a framework for suggesting an evolution of the local pottery.
The final chapter compares Sanjan with Chaul and Khambat, rare examples of Early Medieval sites which are known archaeologically. By contrast the richness of the Sanjan assemblage is evident and attests to its importance as a distribution centre throughout the 12th century, declining in the 13th century. As noted above, this volume is not without fault, but it is the first study of this kind in India and represents an important achievement on the part of N. Hopefully it will act as a catalyst for Early Medieval studies in India.