Nick Tait

Department: Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies
Discipline: Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies
Research Centre/Unit: Centre for Islamic Archaeology

Project Summary

Archaeological Ceramics as Chronological Indicators on Islamic Sites in Eastern Ethiopia

Until recently archaeological research on Islamic sites in Ethiopia in general has been limited. This research aims to fill part of this omission through the analysis of previously unstudied local ceramics from the site of Harlaa. Harlaa, Eastern Ethiopia, shows strong evidence for links with Indian Ocean trade networks and for the presence of Islam from the 12th century CE. Over 16,000 local ceramic sherds from the 2015 to 2018 seasons at Harlaa, recovered from both excavations and a field walking survey form the core of the PhD research.
The primary research goals were:

  • To identify the local ceramics and produce a typology, identifying any chronological changes in the form, style, and manufacture of ceramics at Harlaa
  • To consider the chronological changes identified and the extent to which they can be used as chronological markers both at Harlaa and in the wider region
  • To consider the local ceramics and their chronological developments with regards to Islamisation and the development of Islam region, assessing how the introduction of Islam may have impacted, and be visible through the local ceramics
  • To situate the local ceramics from Harlaa within the wider region, identifying potential links and trends with other sites that were part of the Indian Ocean trade network, be they Islamic, Christian, or of indigenous beliefs

Supervisory Team

Prof. Timothy Insoll, Al-Qasimi Professor of African and Islamic Archaeology

Dr. John P. Cooper, Senior Lecturer in Arabic Studies and Material Culture

Dr. Emily Selove, Senior Lecturer of Medieval Arabic Language and Literature

Wider Research Interests

Archaeological Ceramics, Islamic Archaeology, African Archeology, Archaeology of Trade and Contact, Indian Ocean Archaeology

Authored Publications/Reports

• Insoll, T., Khalaf, N., MacLean, R., Parsons-Morgan, H., Tait, N., Gaastra, J., Beldados, A., Pryor, A., Evis, L., & Dussubieux, L. (2021) Material Cosmopolitanism: The Entrepot of Harlaa, an Islamic Gateway to Eastern Ethiopia, Antiquity, 95, 487-507 DOI:

Tait, N.M.T, & Insoll, T. (2021) Local Ceramics from the Islamic Trade Centre of Harlaa, Eastern Ethiopia: Markers of Chronology and Contacts, African Archaeologial Review, 32:2, DOI: