Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Award: Conquest and Conversion in Historic Islamic Iberia: A Bioarchaeological Approach

Project: Research project

Project Details


Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Award: Conquest and Conversion in Historic Islamic Iberia: A Bioarchaeological Approach Doctoral Dissertation Research: Conquest and Conversion in Islamic Iberia (AD 711-1492): A Bioarchaeological Approach. Contact between distinctive ethnic and religious groups often results in tense social boundary negotiations, persecution, and even genocide and war. The major religious groups in modern conflicts have a deep history of tense cultural negotiations, and close study of past social interactions will provide crucial new perspectives on modern issues. The 8th century conquest of Iberia by Muslim Arab and Berber forces from North Africa, and the subsequent 800-year period of religious, political, and social change, offers an ideal context for such research. The dynamics of the 'Islamization' of the Iberian Peninsula in this period remain contested and poorly understood. Migration of Islamic peoples to the peninsula once was invoked as the primary vehicle of Islamic influence, but religious conversion increasingly is regarded as a key component of those changes. This project proposes that conversion, whether a prelude to or a component of Islamization, altered social group affiliations and interactions among those living in southern Iberia. Such changes in social relations and the resultant patterns of intermarriage will be recognizable by means of altered biological patterns of phenotypic variation. The proposed research will employ biological distance and mortuary analyses in tandem with historical sources to investigate the degree to which conversion, as opposed to migration, contributed to the spread of Islam in southern Iberia. Through the examination of 1,000 individuals from both Iberian and North African skeletal collections, this project will identify the segments of the population in southern Iberia that appear to have converted to Islam, the general timing of these conversions, and the degree to which intermarriage contributed to this process. Intellectual Merit. Though recent research has begun to produce general interpretations of population composition, activity, and health in Islamic Iberia, issues of migration and conversion have not yet been confronted through bioarchaeological analysis and comparison of Iberian and North African dental samples. The results of this unprecedented study will provide crucial context for the social changes resulting from the Islamic conquest and occupation. By utilizing microevolutionary and social theory in the examination of historical experiences that affect human biology, this project advances the integration and application of research methods from specialized fields in the pursuit of anthropologically driven questions. Further, the proposed project directly responds to recent archaeological and historical calls for further exploration of religious and gendered identities in the past through an examination of conversion in this period. The proposed project will expand the scope of bioarchaeological research through the development of an approach to religious identity and conversion, encouraging the engagement of sociological models of contact and conversion in such approaches. Broader Impacts. Recently, practitioners of the social sciences have been challenged by the public to demonstrate the applicability of their research to todays global world. This project will demonstrate that a better understanding of historical contexts and deep time perspectives is keenly relevant in our current era of migration tensions and conflicts between ethnically distinctive religious groups. This project will provide training in biodistance data collection and analysis for the female co-PI, a Spanish graduate student, and several ASU undergraduates. Data collection will contribute to the effort to analyze and house the collections in cija, Cordoba, Granada, Seville, and Paris, securing them for future curation and research by partnerships of local and international entities. Data will be recorded using the Smithsonian Institutions Osteoware software for future collaborative research. Finally, this nuanced approach to the negotiation of social identity in instances of contact and conflict will be presented at international conferences, in peer-reviewed publications, and through collaboration with local and international museums and organizations such as the Foundation for Inter-Cultural Dialogue.
Effective start/end date11/15/1510/31/16


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $24,885.00


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