Archaeometric Study of Amphorae Assemblages from the Red Sea Coast of Eritrea

This research centres on a comprehensive archaeometric study of amphorae assemblages recovered from excavations in the archaeological site of Adulis in the Red Sea Coast of Eritrea. The study of the so called Ayla-Aksum amphorae, which are among the most widespread vessels for trading products in the Red Sea region between the 4th and 7th century CE, is tackled for provenance attribution. These amphorae assemblages are presumed to have been produced in the kilns of present day Aqaba in Jordan and yet due to their wider circulation in the Red Sea ports in antiquity compelled archaeologists to hypothesize other production centers might have existed elsewhere. At present, a comprehensive archaeometric study of amphorae assemblages from the African side of the Red Sea is lacking. Adulis was the major trading hub of the Red Sea's African coast during the late Roman and the Byzantine Periods, providing a context to study patterns of pottery production, distribution and exchange in the Red Sea world during the 1st millennium CE. The frontiers of contact between the Roman and Byzantine worlds to the civilization of southern Red Sea, have been approached from multiple proxies and archaeometric studies of pottery assemblages are least understood.

A large corpus of Ayla-Aksum amphorae has been uncovered from different archaeological contexts in the on-going excavations at Adulis. Fabric variability and multiple stratigraphic contexts offer the opportunity to study these amphorae assemblages. Archaeological contexts that span from the 5th -7th century CE at Adulis correspond to the major epoch of the circulation of Ayla-Aksum amphorae in the Red Sea ports in antiquity. A substantial number of Ayla-Aksum shreds have been obtained for this study together with different classes representing Late Roman 1 amphorae, local pottery and clusters of dolia and brick samples. The study of raw local clay samples is also sought. A multi-analytical approach that combines optical microscopy, XRD, SEM-EDS, PIXE and ICP-OES is adopted in this research for mineralogical and geo-chemical characterization. Moreover, the use of FT-IR and GC-MS is required for organic residue analysis on selected samples. Access to different analytical facilities is sought in collaborating institutions.

The main collaborations are with Centro Ricerche sul Deserto Orientale (Ce.R.D.O), Centro Conservazione e Restauro La Venaria Reale, TecnArt S.r.l., Geosciences Department at University of Padova and IGG-CNR (Lara Maritan), the departments of Chemistry (Monica Gulmini and Patriziz Davit) and Earth Sciences (Roberto Giustetto) of University of Torino.

In the figures are shown respectively: the geographical position of the Adulis site and an Ayla amphorae from the Red Sea coast of Eritrea.