Materials and Industries of the Ancient and Medieval Middle East
(NMC 369H)

Materials and technology help to define the cultures and civilisations that used them, especially for archaeologists. This course is aimed at promoting understanding of the nature of materials used by the peoples of the Near and Middle East from earliest prehistory until recent times. Essentially following the chronological development for each material, we shall in turn examine stone and mineral raw materials, ceramics and glass, metals, and organic raw materials. Each raw material group will be discussed throughout its period of use. For example, stone will start with the raw materials of struck lithics, through Mesopotamian cylinder seals and ancient Egyptian statues, to medieval Syrian architecture. Ceramics will cover the manufacture of pottery from cooking pots in the Neolithic to polychrome Iznik ceramics, and include glass, ancient Egyptian faience, and stonepaste, together with plasters and other non-metallic pyrotechnologies. Metallurgy will cover copper-alloys from Chalcolithic axes to Islamic brass bowls, through ferrous metals from the first iron knife to "Damascus" steel blades, to precious metals. Organic materials will start with Palaeolithic bone barbs, pass through ivories from Nimrud, to the construction of ships. Each section will cover sources of study (textual, analytical, archaeological), explore the context of each material and technological development, and their social and cultural impact.

Syllabus: a two-hour class each week will heavily involve use of the ROM collections.

Class 1: Scope of course, methods of study.

Class 2: Geology and geography of Middle East (assumes complete ignorance of geology). Stone, its properties for various uses (struck stone, building stone, vessels)

Class 3: TEST - 10% on classes 1-2. Precious and semi-precious stones (focus: Cylinder seals)

Class 4: Building - stone, mud-brick, fired brick - regional resources and styles, plaster

Class 5: Ceramics I: principles of clay and firing, forming processes

Class 6: Ceramics II: glazed wares, siliceous bodies

Class 7: TEST - 20% on classes 3-6. Glass

Class 8: Metals I: metals principles - precious metals,

Class 9: Metals II: bronze, iron and steel - the development of the sword

Class 10: TEST - 20% on classes 7-9. Vegetable materials: wood (architecture, shipping, etc), nuts, paper.

Class 11: Textiles. Animal materials: bone, ivory, leather.

Class 12: ESSAY DUE - 25%. Focus study: bows and arrows

Class 13: FINAL TEST - 25% on entire course.

Suggested reading:
P. R. S. Moorey, 1994, Ancient mesopotamian materials and industries : the archaeological evidence, Oxford : Clarendon Press.

Paul T. Nicholson and Ian Shaw, 2000, Ancient Egyptian materials and technology. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Ahmed Y. al-Hassan, Donald R. Hill, 1986, Islamic technology : an illustrated history, Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York : Cambridge University Press ; Paris : Unesco.

Return to HOME