The Raqqa Ancient Industry Project is concerned with the investigation, using a range of different archaeological and scientific techniques, of the comprehensive evidence of the production of mainly pottery and glass. Raqqa is located in northern central Syria close to the confluence of the rivers Euphrates and one of its tributaries, the river Beliq.
Raqqa was an important Islamic centre during both the Abbasid and Ayyubid caliphates. It was an administrative and industrial centre, especially for the twelve year period that Harun ar-Rashid, the famous caliph of Baghdad, resided there. During this period a new city, al-Rafica, was built (next to al-Raqqa), a series of palace complexes were constructed, a canal system was built and an industrial complex of c. 3 x 2 kms. constructed. The Raqqa ancient industry project focuses specifically on the nature, distribution and interaction of these industries as revealed by excavation, survey and scientific analysis.


stratified industrial deposits

J. Henderson. Raqqa : stratified industrial deposits revealed during the excavations of an Ayyubid pottery making site at Tell Fukhkhar.

The project is an international one involving colleagues from various Universities in the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy and the USA. Given the high degree of preservation of a range of industrial evidence, we have focused our efforts on a range of specific research aims: (1) to investigate archaeologically and scientifically the seminal evidence for ancient glass and pottery production; (2) to investigate the technological links between contemporary industries and (3) to reconstruct through excavation and survey the spatial organisation of an Islamic industrial complex at Raqqa dating to between c. late 8th - mid 11th centuries. It is hoped that the degree of industrial specialisation will be defined and used as a model for industrial organisation in the Islamic world. The last aim (4) is to assess how the industrial complex made an imprint on the landscape by assessing which raw materials were drawn from the immediate environment of the industries and also the extent to which the industries polluted the environment in which they were located.
The remains of this massive industrial complex are today being threatened with the development of the modern town of Raqqa, which has the fastest growth rate of any town in Syria. The six seasons of rescue excavations have revealed one of the most complete glass workshops ever found in the Islamic world, and amongst the most complete range of industrial evidence for ancient glass production.

The glass workshop

The workshop included three almost complete 3-chambered glass-making furnaces and a series of associated structures which were probably used for fritting and annealing. It also incorporated a centralised forced draught system which is unique in ancient world. The robbed floor of the glass workshop sealed the remains of a series of podia which were part of the remains of an underlying Abbasid hypercaust into which the glass workshop floor was inserted. Scientific analyses have shown an unusual correlation between the chemical composition of the glass and the use to which it was put (blown into vessels, moulded into blocks or made into window glass). This appears to be is a reflection of the degree of industrial specialisation in Abbasid Syria.
The discovery of glass frit (the first stage in the manufacture of glass), its identity confirmed with scientific analysis, almost complete glass furnaces and a centralised forced draught system appear to be the first time these have been discovered anywhere. The workshop has been dated using some 600 coins, some bearing the name of Harun-ar Rashid, by the presence of Abbasid pottery in the last fill of the underlying hypercaust and by the pottery and glass in the primary fill of the workshop to the late 8th-early 9th centuries. It is therefore probably contemporary with the time when the Abbasid caliph Harun-ar Rashid resided in Raqqa (AH180/ 796 to 192/ 808).

The evidence for pottery production

Excavations of another Abbasid site revealed a square kiln with pottery wasters in situ. This appears to be one of a number of kilns in the same area and therefore probably constitutes a potter's workshop (of c. 200 square metres). Future excavations will examine the range of processes represented and the way in which such a workshop was structured.
In 1998 excavation of a another tell took place. Here the remains of another kiln was found. This is of an Ayyubid date (11th-12th century). Although only a small segment of the circular kiln has so far been revealed (along with wasters and under-fired pottery in situ), it is clear that the kiln was c. three metres in diameter.
Excavation of a fourth industrial tell has revealed a series of industrial tips which contained the first evidence of the 11th century manufacture of the famous early Raqqa fritware to be found in Raqqa, including wasters and kiln bars and for the evidence for other local pottery (the so-called Tell Shahin ware). In the tips we also found evidence for enamel-working and iron smelting.


north south section through glass furnace

J. Henderson. Raqqa : Tell Zujaj, north-south section through glass furnace (dans brochure)


The importance of the project

The importance of this project falls into two inter-related areas. Firstly the excavations have produced evidence for the full range of technological processes involved in glass, glazed fritware and unglazed pottery manufacture including both glass furnaces and pottery kilns. The evidence we have found is broadly applicable to other ancient periods and therefore has a significance which can be attributed to more than simply Islamic industry. Secondly the excavations are already contributing substantially to models of how industrial complexes operated, providing some evidence for the spatial relationships between industrial locations and living quarters. In addition, uniquely, the technological links between contemporary industries in the same material and between different materials can be investigated. The sharing of ceramic materials and the fuels used for kiln and furnace construction are obvious characteristics to be investigated. In turn, it is hoped that the research will contribute to discussion on the relative status of Islamic artisans associated with the range of industries represented.