2nd International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ) Medieval Period Working Group Conference, Sofia, Bulgaria (2-6 October 2024)

I am presenting a paper at the 2nd International Council for Archaeozoology Medieval Working Group conference, due to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria, from 2-6 October 2024.


Archaeozoological Studies of the Islamic Period in the United Arab Emirates: Past Work and Future Potential


This paper provides a synthesis of previous archaeozoological studies carried out on archaeological sites dating to the Islamic period in the United Arab Emirates. Most archaeozoological studies in the United Arab Emirates and Gulf region have concentrated on analysing material from prehistoric sites, and there has been a paucity of studies on the Islamic or Medieval period. This is a pity as there are many coastal sites, and even sites within the desert interior, dating to this period known in the region, but then only a few of them have faunal assemblages. This paper highlights a few interesting case studies and discusses what areas future research might cover. Our Abu Dhabi archaeology team was recently involved in the preservation of some Late Islamic period (18th to early 20th century) shell middens on Hudayriyat Island, which is immediately adjacent to Abu Dhabi Island, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.  These middens contain substantial quantities of pearl oyster shells, fish, turtle and dugong bones which have not yet been studied in detail. These were protected and a heritage trail was designed around them with heritage information signs. Some public art and other facilities were also introduced to complement the preservation of the archaeozoological remains. The establishment of the new Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi where I am currently working, which is due to open at the end of 2025, will provide new facilities and research collections which will benefit future archaeozoology research in the Middle East region.

Islamic, Medieval, Animal bones, Fish, Dugongs, Turtles, Marine shells, Ethnoarchaeology, Traditional Practices, Shell Middens, Cooking techniques

A long tradition of archaeozoological studies has widely proven that medieval societies can be fruitfully investigated through the analysis of animal remains, providing key information on a period which saw the birth and development of important economic models and socio-political structures. In the Middle Ages, with significant geographical and chronological variations, the establishment of different settlement types prompted the development of various mechanisms of animal exploitation, as well as of redistribution and consumption of their products; in addition, the basic principles of social differentiation were also applied through the procurement and intake of different – animal – food products. Such mechanisms of exchange, specialisation and socio-cultural differentiation often produced several defined patterns of animal use that can be detected by archaeozoologists.

Within this research context, the Medieval period Working Group (MWG) was founded in 2021 as an important platform where archaeozoologists dealing with the Middle Ages can present, share, compare and discuss their data. The Group is open also to researchers investigating geographic areas outside Medieval Europe but adjacent and/or related to it. Similarly, archaeozoologists working on the Late Roman period/Late Antiquity and the early post-medieval period, on topics relevant to the study of the Middle Ages, are encouraged to join; in this sense, the Medieval period Working Group complements well the work carried out by the Roman Period Working Group and the Zooarchaeology of the Modern Era Working Group.

The current coordinator of the MWG is Dr Veronica Aniceti (University of Bergen, Norway), and the ICAZ liaisons are Dr Idoia Grau-Sologestoa (University of Basel, Switzerland), Prof. Pam Crabtree (New York University, USA), and Dr Mauro Rizzetto (American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece).

Next meeting and contacts

The 2nd Meeting of the Medieval period Working Group will be held in Sofia, Bulgaria, between the 02 – 06 of October 2024. The event is co-organized by the National Museum for Natural History (NMNHS-BAS), The National Archaeological Institute of Bulgaria (NAIM-BAS) and the Regional history museum – Sofia.

The Organizing Committee consists of Dr. Nadezhda Karastoyanova (NMNHS-BAS/ NAIM-BAS), Stella Nikolova (NAIM-BAS), Dr. Petar Parvanov (NAIM-BAS), and Silvia Tosheva (NMNHS-BAS).

The Meeting will be held in person, and this is the preferred format. A Zoom online stream will be available for people who are unable to attend and would like to listen. The call for abstracts is open until the end of February and you can apply using our site https://mwgsofia2024.weebly.com/ or by emailing us on: mwg.sofia.2024@gmail.com.

If you need more information and/or would like to become a member of the MWG, please write to mwg.icaz@gmail.com . Updates and information are also regularly posted on the MWG Facebook page and Twitter account (@Medieval_ICAZ).

Our conference logo is based on a Medieval UNESCO Bulgarian landmark “The Madara Horseman”.