Seeing things differently. The use of combined geochemical and geophysical prospection techniques to investigate early Islamic town planning.

Kate Welham, Derek Pitman, Chloe Duckworth, David Govantes - Edwards, Yvette Barbier, Ricardo Cordoba de Llave


This paper examines the combination of in-situ portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF – Niton XL3TGOLDD+), and geophysical survey data obtained from the 10th century, early Islamic site of Madinat al-Zahra in Cordoba, Spain. The work presented here forms part of a larger research project that investigates the key role that glass, ceramic, and metal production had in the creation of urban centres, and the important question of technology transfer between Muslim, Christian and Jewish groups within Spain and in the wider Mediterranean at this time.
Preliminary results are presented that demonstrate how this novel approach to site-wide prospection has identified a range of likely production areas within the medina (city) at Madinat al-Zahra. Elemental 'hotspots' obtained from a relatively coarse pXRF survey of the top-soil at the site are seen to be directly linked to substantive magnetic anomalies that have geophysical signatures suggestive of high-temperature activities. Iron working and probable ceramic production were located, and specifically areas of elevated lead, copper and manganese were found to be linked to the remains of furnaces that may have produced the famous glazed ceramics known to be manufactured on the site. The results move beyond enabling a more nuanced approach to the interpretation of geophysical datasets, and towards an integrated archaeological prospection tool on a site-wide level.