ARTES CEEH Travel Scholarship Report: Material Culture of the Arab/Berber Conquest: Excavations at the fortress of Zorita Castle and Surveying the Museums of the thaghr al-awsaṭ, Sarah Slingluff (PhD Candidate, University of Edinburgh)

My first day at Zorita Castle in front of the reconstructed main 10th century entrance

Covid-19 threw a wrench in so many projects, including my planned trip the summer of 2020 to Zorita Castle and the museums of central Spain.  Thanks to the flexibility of the ARTES CEEH Travel Scholarship, I postponed my research to this past summer, and spent the greater part of July 2021 basking in the opportunity to work on the excavation of the necropolis of Zorita Castle, run by Dr. Dionisio Urbina and Catalina Urquijo of Archaeospain.  The finds of this year primarily dated to the 12th and 13th centuries, during which the fortress acted as a seat for the Knights of the Order of Calatrava.

Interior of the Recópolis Interpretation Center

Life on site involved early mornings, working until about 2 pm every day.  In my free afternoons, I documented the built landscape of the town of Zorita de los Canes, accessed local libraries, and recorded the ways in which the history of the fortress/castle of Zorita is told in the local museum at Recópolis.  Perhaps most useful were the books I found in the town of Zorita de los Canes, rare local publications printed by the province of Guadalajara that rarely achieve international circulation.  

Outside the Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid, facemask on and ready to enter!

I took advantage of the weekends to travel to sites and museums in Toledo and Madrid, notably the Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid (enthusiastic picture included), at which I spent a day documenting the artifacts on display as well as their descriptive labels and display strategies.  Highlights included seeing the Pyxis of Zamora, an object which I have studied for many years, as well as a beautiful astrolabe of Ibrāhim ibn Sa’īd al-Shalī, a student of the Córdoban master Maslama al-Majrīṭī which was shown in the round. I also benefitted from visits to the gift shops of many of these museums, which afforded me the chance to purchase books geared towards visitors of each institution.  These are crucial to understanding the ways in which museums present the history of their collections to a wider public.

I am thankful to the funding from ARTES CEEH that allowed me crucial research for my thesis.  I had written as much as I could about the fortress of Zorita without being to site. The trip this summer allowed me to complete the aforementioned chapter of my thesis, collect research for future chapters, and the treat of seeing in-person for the first time some of those objects that made me fall in love with Islamic Iberia.

-Sarah Slingluff

Zorita Castle at night, from further afield

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