Navigated Spaces, Connected Places: Proceedings of Red Sea Project V held at the University of Exeter, 16–19 September 2010 BAR International Series 2346 & BFSA Monograph 12 edited by Dionisus A. Agius , John P. Cooper , Athena Trakadas and Chiara Zazzaro (Eds) with many Contributors 249 + xvii pp., 143 b&w figs, 12 tables Archeopress for BAR, Gordon House, 276 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 7ED, 2012, £42 (sbk), ISBN 978-1407309293
Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
© 2014 The Authors. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2014 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 43, Issue 1, pages 207–209, March 2014
How to Cite
Searight, S. (2014), Navigated Spaces, Connected Places: Proceedings of Red Sea Project V held at the University of Exeter, 16–19 September 2010 BAR International Series 2346 & BFSA Monograph 12 edited by Dionisus A. Agius , John P. Cooper , Athena Trakadas and Chiara Zazzaro (Eds) with many Contributors 249 + xvii pp., 143 b&w figs, 12 tables Archeopress for BAR, Gordon House, 276 Banbury Road, Oxford, OX2 7ED, 2012, £42 (sbk), ISBN 978-1407309293 . International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 43: 207–209. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12050_5
- Issue published online: 10 FEB 2014
- Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
The series of Red Sea conferences, from the fifth of which the volume under review emanates, was initiated in 2002 by the Society for Arabian Studies (now the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia—BFSA). The motive behind the series was to look at the world beyond the immediate Arabian peninsula, in particular to links with Africa, with the Mediterranean and with the Indian Ocean, thereby establishing the waterway's crucial role in bringing the Arabian peninsula into a wider geographical context. It has proved immensely stimulating in bringing together scholars of a wide range of disciplines—archaeology, prehistory, history, marine culture and the environment.
The title of each volume has always remained loose, dependent on the papers submitted and accepted for publication (‘conference themes are best worn lightly’, apologize the editors in the ‘Introduction’). In the case of Navigated Spaces, Connected Places, the editors themselves represent a range of disciplines: marine societies today and yesterday, marine archaeology, and an occasional touch of environmentalism. Papers are grouped analytically: recollections; early navigation and contact; the sea in classical antiquity; from the Classical to the Islamic; a whole section on the one-time-major African port of Suakin; and, finally, people and the environment in the Red Sea region. ‘Recollections’ includes a paper by Jennie Balfour Paul comparing her experiences on a modern container vessel with those of the mid-19th-century traveller Thomas Machell, giving us an absorbing insight into the mechanics of life at sea today as well as setting the scene for far older experiences. The bias has tended to be towards the African seaboard, the Arabian historically less accessible, less explored, although this slant is beginning to improve as Saudi institutions become more receptive to foreign scholarship and field research, and thereby also encouraging Saudi nationals to participate.
Studies of the Red Sea tend to fall into one of two categories: a more local one concerned with contacts between either shore; and a wider regional one concerned with communications between Indian Ocean and Mediterranean. In the latter case, links between Red Sea and Nile are significant because prevailing northerly winds led to the development of alternative routes via the Nile (see Facey, Proceedings I, pp. 7–18). Excavators at Old Cairo for instance, well described by Peter Sheehan in his paper on Egyptian Babylon, found a wide range of ceramics from the Aegean, Syria/Palestine and Phoenicia.
The long-term rise and fall of actual Red Sea ports are described in several papers in the ‘Early Navigation’ section. A major site, where archaeological investigation has been stimulated by the search for the incense-producing Land of Punt, has been Mersa/Wadi Gawasis on the Egyptian coast south of the Gulf of Suez, used in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC; Andrea Manzio summarizes ceramic finds from there, the majority from the region, either Nubian or the south Arabian shore; while in another paper archaeologists have established a sea-going Egyptian vessel (until recently it was assumed the Egyptians kept their sailing to the Nile). Cheryl Ward discusses in detail the construction of a 30-ton vessel (in Rosetta) using Lebanese cedar and ancient Nile boatbuilding techniques, based on material excavated at Gawasis, the vessel was then carried across the Egyptian desert to be proved seaworthy in a week of sea trials. Ancient Egyptians were clearly capable of long-range sea voyages. Another ancient harbour on the Egyptian coast is Ayn Sukhna, a hot-spring harbour excavated from 2001 by a French team, here described by Pierre Tallet that is very roughly dated 3rd–2nd millennium BC. A fragmentary inscription of that date plus the remains of boats there indicate the harbour may have been used to cross the Gulf of Suez to turquoise mines in the Sinai peninsula.
Leading on from these discussions of the northern Red Sea, Rudolfo Fattovich provides a seminal overview of the southern Red Sea in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC and interactions between Africa and Arabia over that timescale. An ‘uncertain’ pattern of African obsidian trade emerges in south-west Arabia but not much else largely, however, due to limited archaeology from either side. The Eritrean port of Adulis is now under excavation (it featured in the 6th Red Sea conference held in March 2013 in Saudi Arabia). A map of the whole region would have been useful here. Slowly, thanks to archaeological labours, a picture is building up of historical activity up and down the waterway, these Red Sea conferences helping to publicize a chronology of mostly economic activity.
Roger Blench looks at the ‘semiticisation’ of the Arabian peninsula. He notes the diversity of languages spoken by early (6th millennium BC?) inhabitants, through the medium of livestock names outlined in a series of comparative tables. Possibly migrants from the north-east into Arabia culturally transformed the language of the local population. A lot more work is being done today on the early spoken languages of Arabia, although rather sadly epigraphy is not represented in these Proceedings.
‘Classical antiquity’ includes a review by Oscar Nalesini of Greek texts referring to Red Sea coastal cultures, concluding that a network of continuous cultural exchange existed around the Arabian peninsula even before the development of long-distance trade of the first state societies. Maritime trade in antiquity has been relatively well explored but increasingly benefits from the exploration of shipwrecks; alliances with recreational deep-sea divers are always useful and encouraged by various centres for maritime archaeology (notably in Alexandria and Southampton).
Papers on the medieval period include ‘The Fatimids and the Red Sea’, illustrated with an excellent map that highlights the better-watered African littoral compared with the Arabian. The author, David Bramoullé, asks how much the Fatimids of Egypt in the 11th century were interested in the Red Sea for trade or for proselytising their particular version of Imamate Islam; he concludes that the Fatimids began with ideology but by this time they were going all out for trade.
Boatbuilding and ‘navigation’ practices have been a valuable part of these Red Sea conferences, here described by Julian Whitewright, in particular the lateen sail; he also applauds the master navigators/mu'allim especially the 15th-century navigator Ibn Majid (he who led the Portuguese into the Indian Ocean). These were the professionals, here given due credit for their mastery of the waterways. Another whole section is devoted to the (now Sudanese) port of Suakin; this is very much an on-going project, partly financed and supported by the Sudanese government, and once again a topic in Red Sea 6.
It is difficult in a review of this nature to do full justice to all the papers. There are so many facets to the story of the Red Sea as a major link between Arabia and Africa, as well as between the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean worlds; conferences such as Navigated Spaces add a whole range of new dimensions to the study of the region and it is satisfying to look forward both to publication of the Red Sea 6 Proceedings, as well as to the promised Red Sea 7 conference in Naples in 2015. Two small quibbles for the attention of the next lot of editors: MAPS, MAPS, MAPS and at least one with all major sites marked. And, Egyptologists, please note that not everyone knows the dates of pharaonic dynasties and kingdoms!