Book: Case Studies in the Silk Roads Archaeology
Chapter: 4. Reconsidering the Role of Central Asia in the Making of Islamic Glazes during the 9TH to 13TH Centuries CE
Islamic glazes are not only appreciated in museums worldwide, but they are also considered to have been the forerunner to the emergence of glazed wares as a global phenomenon since the medieval times. However, the current discussion on the development of Islamic glazes has largely overlooked the evidence from Central Asia, even though local glazed wares production did not begin until after the Arab conquest. Thus, this study will examine, for the first time, how glazed technologies developed in Central Asia, with special consideration to how such technologies might have transferred and exchanged through the region’s involvement in the trans-Eurasian Silk Road trade. Glazed ware assemblages from production sites in Bukhara, Samarkand, and Merv – which were major oasis cities participating in Silk Road trade – are the focus of this study. These assemblages comprise a wide variety of ware types, including monochrome or polychrome painted, monochrome glazed, and sgraffito, dated to the 9th to 13th centuries CE, the period when Central Asia was under the direct or indirect Islamic rule. Thin-section petrography and scanning electron microscopy energy dispersive spectrometry were used to reconstruct the range of technical practices characteristic of the local productions in Central Asia. The resultant data are then compared with the published ones on Chinese, Byzantine, and pre-Islamic Mesopotamian traditions to highlight the potential connections between the Central Asian technologies and established glaze traditions that can be found along the Silk Road. The new evidence from Central Asia is expected to contribute to redefining what Islamic glazes truly entail, both in terms of technological repertoire and craft organisation, and delineating the nature and extent of social processes and cultural interactions that stimulated technological changes.