Dr. Donald Whitcomb, editor of this publication, is looking for archaeologists willing to write articles on their work. This encyclopedia will present Islamic culture from the point of view of its material remains. The presentation of Islamic culture will concentrate on the lands of the Fertile Crescent, encompassing modern Egypt, Syria-Palestine, Anatolia, Iraq and Iran. Chronological limits will be one millennium, from 600 to 1600 A.D., from the beginning of Islam to the rise of modern nation-states. An examination of only the major monuments within these parameters is daunting and will be frustrating for the reader without a clear concept of the disciplinary focus, which is one of the aims of the encyclopedia. Therefore this encyclopedia will focus on the history of research on Islamic remains and specific entries will follow the research and publication of key Islamic sites.
Disciplinary parameters for Islamic archaeology may begin by drawing distinctions between archaeology and history and, more particularly, archaeology and art history. Archaeology, as defined here and by no means universally accepted, is a branch of history with its own research methods and evidential corpora. While historians rely almost exclusively on documentary evidence, archaeologists draw on aIl other categories of human artifacts, from ceramic bowls to town plans. Between documents and other artifacts there is an inverse relationship of quantity and specific meaning. Artifact study relies on comparison and normative relations in human activities; though less specific than documentary evidence, archaeology reveals often unrecorded and less obvious facets of a particular culture and even human society in general. No field of history, including Islamic studies, can feel so secure as to neglect information obtained from archaeological excavations.
Islamic art history is often confounded with Islamic archaeology, not unreasonably in that many early excavators were art historians by training. While there is often a significant overlap in subject matter, the art historian focuses on a artifact (monument or ceramic bowl) in terms of its specific aesthetic meaning for that culture and for art in general. The selectivity of aesthetic subject matter produces a special sort of history touching on philosophy and psychology. Needless to say, this is quite different from the economic and social orientation produced from other artifact categories. Text books on Islamic art history necessarily omit a wide range of information, ranging from non-aesthetic subjects to questions relative to less well-known monuments.
An Encyclopedia of Islamic Archaeology will contain historical information but will not duplicate the masterful "Encyclopedia of Islam" (Leiden, Brill, 1st ed., 1913-36, 2nd ed., 1954). Likewise the ready availability of art histories (Grabar, "The Formation of Islamic Art"; Diez, "Islamic Art"; Rogers, "The Spread of Islam"; et al.) will make aesthetic descriptions superfluous and copious illustrations unnecessary.
The method of entry selection deserves more explicit description. The main purpose will be to present the key sites from each geographic region, a selection based on importance to the development of Islamic archaeology. Excavations from the 1930s and more recent projects will be analyzed not only for specific results but with attention to theoretical background, methods, and purposes. For this reason, biographical sketches of early archaeologists will be included. One resultant advantage will be the presentation of a cumulative view of this field of study.
The core regions of Islamic culture are those of ancient Near Eastern development, that is, the two riverine systems of Egypt and Mesopotamia, the arc of Syria-Palestine, Anatolia inbetween and the eastern extension into Iran. Islamic history may be said to fill out this crescent with attention to the Arabian peninsula. Islamic archaeology must also consider a wider region, what the Muslim historians refer to as the Dar al-Islam, the territory once under Islamic administration. These include the Maghrib to the West (North Africa, Spain and Sicily), the land of the Zanj (east Africa), India and southeast Asia, and central Asia. The wider regions cannot be included with the same detail, though general articles are essential.
The artifacts of Islamic archaeology, beyond geography, reflect the cultural development of many disparate societies. It will be necessary to present certain categories of artifacts, e.g. ceramics (dearest to the hearts of archaeologists), glass, architectural decoration, etc. Other less traditional "artifacts" will also deserve entries, e.g. town planning, techniques of regional survey, etc. The intention, as mentioned above, is to define the parameters of a relatively new discipline.
Sorne caveats may be noted: a) publications in regional languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Persian) will not be consistently included, even though one readily admits that excellent research is increasingly available in these languages; b) the vast resources of unpublished research cannot be included and allusions (or even recognition) may be inconsistent. Islamic archaeology is a rapidly growing field of evidence and such a synopsis will become an important tool for future research.
Additional information may be obtained directly from Dr. Whitcomb (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, 1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, U.S.A.).