Hannah Parsons-Morgan

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

Project Summary

Chinese Ceramic Consumption Practices in East Africa: Past Materialities, Entanglements, and Identities (8th-17th Centuries AD)

This Ph.D. seeks to reassess and develop current understanding of the different ways in which Chinese ceramics have been consumed throughout East Africa from their introduction in the 8th century AD to the period of Portuguese colonisation beginning in the late 15th century AD. Chinese ceramics were consumed in diverse ways on the East African Coast, most often as serving items, objects for display, architectural features, bridewealth, and funerary goods. Chinese ceramic sherds were also re-worked as items of jewellery and adornment as recent excavations in eastern Ethiopia attest, and even ground down as medicine according to early Portuguese colonial accounts. They were also extensively repaired and curated, sometimes over several centuries. 

Research Goals/ Questions

The primary research aim is to build a fuller understanding of the consumption of Chinese ceramics across East Africa, focusing on the Horn of Africa and the Swahili Coast over a 1000 year period. More specifically, research questions include:

  • How were Chinese ceramics used from the 8th-17th centuries in East Africa?
  • Do consumption patterns change through time/ space?
  • Do consumption practices reflect those in the wider Muslim world?
  • Are there consumption practices/ ceramic forms absent from East Africa that we would expect to see in a Muslim context?
  • Are the types of modification found at Harlaa, Ethiopia, present elsewhere in East Africa?
  • Are there consumption practices/ ceramic forms present in East Africa that are unusual in an Islamic Muslim context?
  • Are Chinese ceramics found in non-Islamic contexts in East Africa?

Supervisory Team

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

Dr. John P. Cooper (Senior Lecturer in Arabic Studies and Islamic Material Culture)


Wider Research Interests

Indian Ocean Archaeology, Islamic Archaeology, Chinese Ceramics, Asian Archaeology, African Archaeology, Experimental Archaeology, Material Culture Studies, Art History, History, 

Authored Publications/Reports

Insoll, T., Khalaf, N., MacLean, R., Parsons-Morgan, H., Tait, N., Gaastra, J., Beldados, A., Pryor, A. J. E., Evis, L., Dussubieux, L. (April 2021) Material cosmopolitanism: the entrepot of Harlaa as an Islamic gateway to eastern Ethiopia, Antiquity, Antiquity , Volume 95, Issue 380, pp. 487 - 507.

Hannah Parsons-Morgan (2021) The consumption of Chinese ceramics as architectural features on the Swahili Coast: examples from the Zanzibar Archipelago, Tanzania, Storie [di] Ceramiche, 7: Bacini Ceramici, 13-21