Professor of African and Islamic Archaeology

Reconnaissance Survey of the Dahlak Islands, Eritrea (1996).

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In June 1996 a short reconnaissance survey of the site of Dahlak Kebir, on the Dahlak Islands off the coast of Eritrea in the Red Sea was completed (see Publications). The survey was permitted courtesy of the National Museum in Asmara. The fieldwork was funded by St John’s College, Cambridge, and the British Institute in Eastern Africa, and was undertaken with the assistance of Dr Charles Spence and Mr Yassin Adem.

The survey recorded a range of remains seemingly indicative of occupation at Dahlak Kebir from the Aksumite through to the Ottoman periods, hence perhaps from the first century BC through to the late sixteenth century AD. Possible Aksumite remains included a well-built structure situated on top of a small mound, and associated with examples of spiral carved marble columns, with one found in-situ and another nearby (see Eritrea – Dahlak Islands). This structure perhaps represents the remains of a small church or temple, and might date from the second to fifth centuries AD. Otherwise, the bulk of the visible remains appeared to date to later Islamic periods. These included extensive cemeteries with associated black basalt Kufic inscribed tombstones and collapsing above-ground tomb structures, as well as numerous rock-cut cisterns lined with plaster, and used for storing water (see Eritrea – Dahlak Islands). The cisterns are possibly testimony to the trade in slaves which the inhabitants of the Dahlak Islands were involved in. An extensive stone-built settlement area with possible associated harbour was also recorded. A wide range of archaeological materials were also present scattered on the surface of the settlement and adjacent areas. None of these were removed, but observations made in-situ indicated trade items such as various types of imported Chinese ceramics, Islamic glazed ceramics, glass and carnelian beads, coral fragments, and glass vessel and bracelet fragments (see Eritrea – Dahlak Islands and Publications).