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Exploring the Faculty’s depots: ‘What's an Indian type of cooking pot doing in Jerusalem?’

In the depots of the Faculty of Archaeology, many artifacts, accumulated after decades of fieldwork across the world, are stored. A new project, the Leiden Inventory Depot (LID), aims to unlock this wealth of information to the outside world. Our Master’s students Sam Botan and Rishika Dhumal are currently exploring the wide diversity of ceramics from Jerusalem, and placing these in a global context.

Mapping out trade routes

We speak with Sam and Rishika in the laboratory, where they are hard at work. ‘At the moment, we are looking at the ceramics of different regions in the Near East, with the main focus on Jerusalem,’ Sam says. ‘We are helping out drawing and taking pictures of the sherds.’ One of the goals of their research, which is part of Marike van Aerde’s Ancient Silk Roads project, is to map out potential trade routes. ‘We are trying to find out if there are different imports from the Arabian Peninsula and Indian subcontinent to see how trade developed and if there are interesting and new routes we are not aware of connecting Jerusalem to the middle east.’

Documenting ceramic sherds

Diversity

‘We have found a lot of diversity in these ceramics,’ Rishika adds. ‘Greek pottery, Roman terra sigilata, and cooking vessels, that seem to be Indian. These cooking vessels are very similar to cooking vessels found in the Western Indian region of Gujarat.’

These Indian type ceramics are certainly striking. ‘This is going to be interesting to investigate further,’ Sam nods. ‘These vessels are not, let’s say, prestige wares. It’s your average cooking pots. Makes you think: what is an Indian type of cooking pot doing in Jerusalem?’ He lists some potential explanations. ‘Perhaps with Indian travelers bringing with them their own cooking pots? Was there a specific market for these cooking pots? Did the people of Jerusalem like these types of cooking pots?’

Sam taking pictures

Omani tombs and Indian trade

Both students are nearly finished with their MA theses, and the topics overlap with their new endeavors here in the depot. Sam studied a ceramic dataset from Oman. ‘My Master’s thesis is on Omani tombs, related to the project of Bleda Düring.' Rishika, on the other hand, focused on western India. ‘My thesis is related to Marike van Aerde’s project, and explores the connection of the Indian Ocean trade and the Silk Roads trade around 300BC-300CE, specifically focused on the region of Gujarat, a western Indian province.’

Publication

So what is next? ‘We hope to publish an article on the Jerusalem finds,’ Rishika says. Sam adds: ‘In this we plan to bring up new ideas about possible trade routes that were hitherto unexplored.’ And that will hardly be the end of it. ‘It is a project of several years, I am guessing.’ Both Sam and Rishika have plans to continue studying the archaeology of trade routes and ancient ceramics following their Master’s. Rishika recently received a LeidenGlobal grant to write her PhD proposal, which will expand upon her MA research and will include more work at the Leiden depot as well.

Great value

The Ancient Silk Roads project, led by Marike van Aerde, uses a bottom-up approach to the archaeological data of Afro-Eurasian trade networks to raise wider questions about processes of exchange and connectivity in the ancient world. ‘The ceramics studies undertaken by Rishika and Sam are of great value to the project overall,’ Marike explains. ‘They are bringing together large datasets from different regions that have so far only been studied separately. Quite a large part of the material is still unknown or has only been partially documented, as well. And their analysis of the Jerusalem ceramics will be a particularly interesting case study.’

Marike van Aerde, Sam Botan, Rishika Dhumal, and Mink van IJzendoorn investigating ceramics in the Faculty's Depots.

About the Leiden Inventory Depot

The Leiden Inventory Depot (LID) project aims at documenting and archiving all artefacts in the Faculty’s depots. Many staff members and students are involved in this project, transcending the departmental boundaries, bringing together digital archaeologists, material culture experts, as well as heritage specialists. The first recording of the LID database of the pottery depot was started by Dr Marike van Aerde and some students in January 2019. Now all projects related to LID are coordinated by Professor Joanita Vroom, with the help of Professor Annelou van Gijn and Loe Jacobs who are in charge of the depots.

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