Workshop - Materials and Technologies in Late Antique and Islamic Art (Oxford, 10-11 July 2019)

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Materials and Technologies in the Age of Transition: The Byzantine, Sasanian and Islamic Near East

Wolfson College, University of Oxford, 10–11 July 2019

Organisers: Moujan Matin ( and Alain George (

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Between the late seventh century and the so-called Golden Age of Islam in the ninth to tenth centuries, the patronage of Islamic courts promoted the establishment of learned circles, observatories and semi-public libraries, the conduct of scientific research, and a translation movement from Greek and Sanskrit into Arabic. Various aspects of the transmission of knowledge in this period and the development of more abstract sciences of mathematics and astronomy, as well as medicine, have been discussed in the scholarly literature. However, very little is known about the development of materials technologies in this period, such as metalwork, ceramics, glass, manuscripts, textiles and cosmetics, that originated in the experimentation and hands-on knowledge of miners, smiths, scribes, potters and other craftsmen. Scientific analyses of archaeological materials in recent decades have produced a large body of scientific data on methods of production and technological links. Despite their crucial importance, these archaeological scientific projects tend to focus on only one type of material – e.g. metalwork, or pottery – and hence fail to provide a broader historical perspective on the development and spread of technologies and the cross-technology interactions. This symposium will provide a rare occasion to bring together historians and researchers engaged in scientific study of different materials, and to help transform their respective outlooks on the Byzantine-Islamic transition in different artistic media. This one-and-a-half-day symposium will be divided into six sessions:


DAY 1 (10 July 2019)

GLASS (9.30–11.00)

Sasanian Glass - St John Simpson (British Museum)

Mechanisms Underlying Early Islamic Glass Productions - Nadine Schibille (CNRS Orléans)

Chair: Beatrice Leal (University of Oxford)

TEA/COFFEE (11.00–11.30)

CERAMICS (11.30–13.00)

Late Antique Glazed Wares: Ceramic Glazing Traditions and Cultural Interactions - Moujan Matin (University of Oxford)

The Commodification of Ceramics During the Early Islamic Period - Seth Priestman (British Museum)

Chair: Oliver Watson (University of Oxford)

LUNCH (13.00 –15.00)

METALLURGY (15.00–16.30)

What Do We Know About Crucible Steel in the Late Antique Era: Evidence and Origins? - Brian Gilmour (University of Oxford)

Copper-based Metal Technologies at the End of Antiquity: Continuity and Change - Matthew Ponting (University of Liverpool)

Chair: James Allan (University of Oxford)

TEA/COFFEE (16.30–18.00)


Metallurgy and Provenance of Early Islamic Silver: Current Results and Future Questions - Stephen Merkel (University of Oxford)

The Impact of Raw Material Supply on the Development of the Early Islamic Relief Carved Rock Crystal Industry (9–11th c.) - Elise Morero (University of Oxford)

Chair: Jeremy Johns (University of Oxford)

DAY 2 (11 July 2019)

TEXTILES (9.30–11.00)

Early Byzantine, Sasanian and Near Eastern Silks: Design and Technical Cross-Currents as Symbols of Cultural Exchange - Anna Muthesius (University of Cambridge)

Sasanian Silk Textiles in Samite Weave– Their Origins and Afterlife - Hero Granger–Taylor (Independent scholar)

Chair: Jonathan Shepard (University of Oxford)

TEA/COFFEE (11.00–11.30)

MANUSCRIPTS (11.30–13.00)

Books and Bees: Material Culture from the Standpoint of the Natural History - Matthew Collins (University of Cambridge and University of Copenhagen)

The Technology of the Codex in Late Antiquity and its Sources - Georgios Boudalis (Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki)

Chair: Alain George (University of Oxford)