Department of Classics and Archaeology

Landscape, environment and ancient industry in Islamic al-Raqqa (Syria)

Project summary

This project focuses on the place of Islamic industries in the landscape. This has been a unique opportunity to study for the first time links between ancient technologies in the context of a massive (2km long) industrial complex at al-Raqqa. 

The medieval landscape of Raqqa revealed by a declassified carona satellite image (1967).

The medieval landscape of Raqqa revealed by a declassified corona satellite image (1967). Two urban foci are visible: al Rafica to the west and al-Raqqa to the east. To the south lies the relic course of the Euphrates. The extramural industrial complex lies to the north of al-Raqqa.


Project details

The extramural complex at al-Raqqa is set in the largest Islamic urban complex west of Baghdad, with two associated contemporary cities and 5 hectares of palace complexes. Here one of the most complete ancient glass workshops ever discovered and several pottery workshops, together with a full range of by-products and products from glass and pottery production have been found.

The project has involved the extensive use of historical research, satellite imagery, geographical information systems, environmental reconstruction, archaeological excavation, scientific analysis of glass, pottery and raw materials and ancient pollution studies. The results have formed the basis, and provided a model, for further research in ancient Islamic industries and for industries in other periods in a wide range of socio-economic contexts.

Project collaborators

Prof. Dr. Stefan Heidemann (University of Jena), Dr. Christina Tonghini (University of Florence), Dr. Marcus Milwright (University of British Columbia), Prof. Dr. Youssef Barkoudah (University of Damascus), Prof. Michael Tite (University of Oxford), Dr Chris Doherty (University of Oxford), Prof. Melanie Leng (British Geological Survey, UK), Dr. Jane Evans (British Geological Survey, UK), Prof. Sarah O'Hara (School of Geography, University of Nottingham), Keith Challis (Birmingham University)


C. Tonghini and J. Henderson 'An eleventh century pottery production Workshop at al-Raqqa. Preliminary report', Levant 30, 1998. 113-127. 

J. Henderson, 'Archaeological and Scientific Evidence for the Production of Early Islamic Glass in al-Raqqa, Syria', Levant 31, 1999, 225-240. 

J. Henderson, 'Archaeological Investigations of an Islamic Industrial Complex at Raqqa, Syria', Damaszener Mitteilungen 11, 1999, 243-265. 

Challis, K., A.R. Gardner, J. Henderson, G. Priestnall and S.L. O'Hara 'Corona Remotely-Sensed Imagery in Dryland Archaeology: The Islamic City of al-Raqqa, Syria' Journal of Field Archaeology, 29, 2004, 139-153. 

J. Henderson, S. McCloughlin and D. McPhail 'Radical changes in Islamic glass technology: evidence for conservatism, and experimentation with new glass recipes', Archaeometry 46, 2004, 439-468. 

J. Henderson, K. Challis, S. O'Hara,. S. McLoughlin, A.Gardner, and G. Priestnall 'Experiment and innovation: early Islamic industry at al-Raqqa, Syria', Antiquity 79, 2005, 1-15. 

Barkoudah, Y. and J. Henderson 'The use of halophytic plants in the manufacture of ancient glass: ethnographic evidence and the scientific analysis of plant ashes', Journal of Glass Studies 48, 2006, 297-321.


Department of Classics and Archaeology

University of Nottingham
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