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Recovering Rayy

Session III-18, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
The site of Rayy was excavated in the late 1930s by a team lead by Dr. Erich Schmidt, and supported by funds from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. While half of the excavation finds have remained at the Muze Iran Bastan in Tehran according to the then existing rules of ‘partage’, the other half was divided among the four American institutions supporting the project. Apart from one short article published in Ars Islamica, Erich Schmidt never published anything else on these finds.
  • Given the number of excavated materials, it is important to establish definitively that, while Rayy was second only to Baghdad as an urban center during the centuries of its flourishing with a very extensive ceramics industry, its kilns were not the producers of either lusterware or mina’i, the two best- known and most studied luxury wares of the 11th- early 13th cc. CE in the Middle East. Analysis of all excavated materials held by the Penn Museum at the Center for the Analyses of Archaeological Materials, and also materials found at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Oriental Institute at University of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC will begin in Spring, 2022. Materials from Rayy found at the Muze Iran Bastan in Tehran remain inaccessible to this project. Erich Schmidt and his team, however, kept very careful records of the excavations, so we have been able to reconstruct the periodization of the site, its markets, housing, garbage pits, etc. without problems and without access to the Tehran materials.
  • The textiles recovered from medieval Rayy, Iran, constitute the only corpus of Islamic funerary garb to be found in Iran, let alone outside of Egypt. In addition, most of the corpus has an archaeological context, documented in situ by Erich Schmidt’s joint expedition in the 1930’s. Their manufacture spans a wide variety of geographic sources in the Middle East and beyond. Likewise, their dates of production cover the period of later Abbasid reign (ca. 950-1250 CE), despite belonging to a distinctly Seljuk sepulchral context. These facts alone charge the Rayy corpus with extreme importance, but the significance of their rarity is dwarfed by the insights the silks and other textiles reveal about Seljuk customs, religious beliefs, identity, and administration. While previous scholarship has cast the Seljuks in extremes, either as nomads eschewing orthodox Muslim practices in favor of Turkic customs, or else as patrons under whom pre-Islamic Persian ideals were to flourish, the textiles reveal a picture encapsulating the complexities of Seljuk reign. The inclusions made in the funerary space can, at Rayy, be uniquely contrasted against discarded elements; where practices seem to deviate from Muslim norms, the sheer quantity of the finds reveals context and well-reasoned intentions; and although artistic innovation is observed, it is balanced within a keen awareness of caliphal precedent. The proposed paper, then, will address the nature and extent of the textile finds from Rayy, the methods and limitations in their analysis, and the findings of the research conducted across dozens of museum holdings associated with Rayy, most particularly the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the archaeological textiles have remained largely unexamined. Key among these findings is evidence linking textiles worn and used in Rayy to local networks of makers and traders. This evidence, in turn, traces Seljuk dependence on artisanal classes in establishing their right to rule the surrounding region of Jibal, as well as the Abbasid empire more broadly.
  • Dr. Rocco Rante
    This first occupation of the site of Shar-e Rayy, today Shah abdul ‘Azim, can be dated to the Chalcolitic. It was followed by occupations dated to the Iron Age I and II, with some indices of Iron Age III, which can be quite well located in the area where the city of Rayy later raised up. The current fortified city corresponds to the city in the Parthian period, probably already in the era of Mithradates I (171–138 bce). In this period the Parthian occupation extended over the fortified city, Češmeh ʿAlī and the tepe further to the west, Ḥussaynābād and Bībī Zubayda, as observed by Pascal Coste in 1840–41. In the Sasanian period some structural interventions have been identified within the fortified city, but a denser occupation raised up south of the early settlement, at Tepe Mil, Čāl Ṭarḫān, ʿEšqābād (ʿIšqābād) and Niẓāmābād. During the first years of Muslim rule, Rayy was a main military outpost for the conquest and the control of the eastern provinces of the Islamic empire. At the end of the 7th century, different Arab communities were transferred to Rayy. During the following decades Rayy expanded. The citadel was reconstructed with stones and mortar, and a mosque has been discovered in the šahrestān and dated to the 158 H/775 ce. During this early ʿAbbāsid period, Rayy underwent considerable restoration and expansion resulting in the creation of a new town called Muḥammadiyya. In the Buiyd period, Rayy was one of the most important political and economic centres of the Jibal with Isfahan, Shiraz and Hamadhan. During the Seljūq period Rayy expanded beyond the ramparts. Small rural agglomerations surrounded the city and a large necropolis developed to the eastern side. During the 12th century, Rayy must have extended over approximately 1,000 hectares, intra and extra muros. The inner city also developed, as can be observed by the discoveries realized in the shahrestan. A madrasa was identified during excavations because of the discovery of eywan opening off from a central court and small chambers flanking them. Another madrasa, also dated to the Salğūq period, was later found by the Archaeological Services of Iran. The Mongol invasion has been observed through the thick layers of burnt material and ground over the Salğūq occupations. Above them, no other layers can be observed, the city partially moved to Varamin.
  • When the results of Erich Schmidt’s excavations of the city of Ray (Rayy) conducted between 1934-1936 were dispersed to various collections around the world, the Penn Museum acquired the meticulous archive of his team’s work. Among the materials on file, are a set of ground plans of excavation sites that show the built features of the sites as well as indications of the locations where excavation into lower strata were conducted. Alongside these maps, depth measurements are provided for each excavation pit. Using these graphic renderings, alongside the database of finds, one can reconstruct the excavation sites in three dimensions. This paper will present initial work that efforts to render these sites in a legible and intuitive way, and one that can be utilized for active research in the reconstruction of this important excavation. Moreover, the nature of this archive raises a number of crucial methodological questions for the field. The idea of a contemporary return to a data set created at the beginning of the 20th century is, in a way, a kind of archaeological practice in and of itself, that carries with it a host of dynamics including the analog/digital dyad, and how to overcome inevitable disparities between them. It is also important to note that this archive is only a partial record of the excavation, with the finds distributed among a number of institutions. The necessity of a virtual space in which these disparate elements can be housed becomes a crucial question, especially in light of the cultural heritage issues at play on the site, and the institutional disbursement of the finds and related archival materials. This paper will address these important methodological implications behind this work in an effort to draw together a new understanding of both the early 20th Century excavations practices of Schmidt, and also the potential for the excavation’s data set to provide new scholarly insights for our contemporary understanding of Rayy. In addition, this paper will explore how this project operates within an expanded definition of archaeological practice, as one that not only efforts to understand facts on the ground but also the archival record, as a site onto itself.