Khurasan – Land of Rising Sun. A historical landscape as a core region in the formation of material culture in the Islamic World, and its place in museums and collections

Khurasan is a cultural landscape of major historical importance. The definition of its expansion varied over time. In early Islamic times Khurasan was bounded on the west by the Great Desert (Dasht-I Kavir), on the east by the Amu Darya river (Oxus), and on the north by the deserts of Central Asia; to the south it bordered the province of Sistan.

The environmental and geographical diversity of this vast territory is first and foremost shaped by the contrast between large zones of desert steppe and densely settled areas spreading around large urban centers. The most important among these were Marv, Nishapur, Balkh and Herat. A dense network of routes connected the cities and settled areas serving regional and transregional communication and transport. It was this role as a transit area relating Central- and East Asia and the West that had a decisive impact on the cultural history of Khurasan.

The research project aims at the identification of regional characteristics, the investigation of networks of transregional contacts and socio-economic contexts as well as the processing and  preparation of the resulting data for media and museum presentation. It is conducted in cooperation with the Islamic Art and Archaeology Department of Bamberg University and the Linden-Museum Stuttgart, Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde.

The Museum of Islamic Art holds a collection of some 15.000 ceramic sherds from various archeological sites in Khurasan that entered the collection at the beginning of the 20th century. This assemblage is complemented by a large group of complete vessels. The material will be submitted to systematic investigation based on the analysis of form, technique and decoration as well as archaeometrical analyses. Through comparison with data from archaeological excavations it will be possible to associate the objects with centers or areas of production thus enabling us to identify local or regional characteristics of the material culture of Khurasan. The comparative analysis of the material will be complemented by the investigation of written sources and theoretical texts in order to define the socio-economic and political context and to discuss further questions regarding the relation of material culture and the construction of space.  

Cooperation partners: Islamic Art and Archaeology Department, University of  Bamberg (Prof. Dr. L. Korn, project director) Museum of Islamic Art, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prof. Dr. S. Weber/PD Dr. U. Franke) Linden-Museum Stuttgart, Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde (Prof. Dr. I. de Castro/Dr. A. Krämer)
Project staff (Museum of Islamic Art): Dr. habil. Martina Müller-Wiener, Dr. Pierre Simeon
Funding: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung
Duration: March 2014 to March 2017