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Pieces of Change: Uncovering the Material Networks that Transformed Ancient Eurasian Interactions


Even in today’s world, money is not just about finance. Money has arranged social relations and powerfully connected people across continents for well over a millennium. This work explores museum-based materials currently housed in collections in the Middle East and Europe, including the movements of itinerant Islamic coins and worked pieces of ivory, each influenced by global exchanges centered in the Islamic World. When examined with digital archaeological tools, these assemblages of itinerant materials reveal previously undetected and under-explained global networks. Not least, Islamic coins reflect past Arab and Islamic encounters with Eurasian communities thousands of miles away from the Arabian mainland. These coins from the ‘Abbāsid Caliphate have been uncovered across Eurasia, including in modern-day Northern and Eastern Europe. The archaeology of these coins reveals a global economic system based on Arab silver that transformed ancient Eurasia to the global space that it remains today. Previously, these materials were largely studied as site- or region-based phenomena without a comprehensive study that investigates how they operated trans-regionally as networked assemblages, beyond their influence on economic systems and interactions. Nor have they been investigated as points of cultural connection to contemporary local communities. Consequentially, these important objects of archaeological and cultural heritage value remain largely inaccessible to source communities. To address these issues, this dissertation applies digital technologies in Archaeology, including network analysis, Assemblage theories, as well as consultation with local stakeholders to reveal this understudied multicultural past and its enduring legacy. This dissertation seeks to explain how itinerant objects inform global social relations and how materials often operate in unexpected, unintended ways. The cultural heritage represented in museum-based material assemblages cuts across national borders, languages, and far distances. These materials thus remind us that today, as in the past, social distance does not always correlate with physical distance.

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