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Elizabeth Hicks

Research project

Networks of Consumption: community, materiality and foodways along the ancient Swahili coast  


Stephanie Wynne-Jones

Oliver Craig

Funding: AHRC funded through the White Rose College of the Arts & Humanities (WRoCAH)

Summary of research project:

Research on the early Islamic global economy draws on the evidence of traded ceramics found across Europe and the Indian Ocean world. These vessels would have acted as containers for traded commodities yet we do not know what they contained or how their contents were valued upon arrival. This study will be the first holistic examination of traded and local ceramics in Zanzibar, an early entrepôt in first millennium AD Islamic trade networks. Petrography, use-wear analysis and residue analysis on an existing assemblage from Unguja Ukuu will illuminate local and international patterns of production and consumption that underpinned these global changes.


Academic Background 

I completed my BA (hons) in Archaeology at the University of York in 2018. During my undergraduate degree I participated in the 2016 excavation season at the late Islamic site of Fuwairit, Qatar. I went on to write my undergraduate dissertation using the data from this excavation; my dissertation was supervised by Colleen Morgan and was titled: ‘The gendered household: making space for women in the study of Islamic archaeology in Qatar’. This research project focused on the relationship between objects, space and gendered activities, such as cooking and food preparation within the domestic sphere. My dissertation received the Charles Wellbeloved Prize for its high grade, and was subsequently published Open Access by Archaeopress. 

After my undergraduate degree, I moved to the Netherlands in 2018 to pursue a research masters at Leiden University. During my time at Leiden I benefited from the faculty’s expertise in ceramic studies. My research master’s thesis was titled: ‘Innovation versus Devolution: Analysing Technological Change in Islamic Hand-Made Painted Ceramics from Tell Abu Gourdan, Jordan’ and was supervised by Joanita Vroom. The aim of this thesis was to investigate how the production and consumption of Hand-Made Painted (HMP) ceramics reflected the social and economic structure of rural society in the Jordan Valley during the region’s successive occupation by Fatimid, Seljuk-Zengid, Crusader, Ayyubid, and Mamluk rulers (10th-15th centuries AD). My thesis re-analysed the Tell Abu Gourdan legacy collection stored within the Leiden depot that had originally been published by Prof. Henk Franken and Jan Kalsbeek in their 1975 book: ‘Potters of a Medieval Village in the Jordan Valley Excavations at Tell Deir ʻAllā: A Medieval Tell, Tell Abu Gourdan, Jordan’. Using a chaîne opératoire approach to study technological traces present within the collection, allowed me to make precise conclusions about variations in the production sequences for HMP pottery, that the original publication by Franken and Kalsbeek was unable to make. I graduated Cum Laude (with honours) from Leiden University in 2021. 

Research interests 

My PhD research will combine both my interests in ceramics and their production, with my passion for understanding foodways and the development of food cultures in East Africa and Western Asia throughout the Medieval period. To achieve the aims of my thesis I will combine a chaîne opératoire approach to ceramics studies with organic residue analysis to better understand consumption practices along the Swahili coast during the 1st millennium AD. 

Publications and Awards

Peer-reviewed Papers 

Hicks, E. R., 2019. The gendered household: making space for women in the study of Islamic archaeology in Qatar. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 49, 159-166. Available at: 

Conference Presentations 

‘Rediscovering the Islamic Hand-Made Geometric Painted pottery stored within the Leiden University, Faculty of Archaeology depositories’ January 2020. NINO (Netherlands Institute of the Near East) Annual Meeting, University of Amsterdam. 

Academic Awards 

Charles Wellbeloved Award, December 2018. Awarded by the York Philosophical Society to the Highest marked Bachelor’s dissertation within the Archaeology Department.

Winner of the scientific poster competition at ARCHON (Research School of Archaeology in the Netherlands) Day, November 2018. Awarded to my poster titled: ‘The gendered household: making space for women in the study of Islamic archaeology in Qatar’


Hicks, E.R., 2019. Looking to the future of Leiden’s legacy collections: taking care of the past, teaching tomorrow's students. Interview by Marten Jesse Pot, 23 October. Available at:

Hicks E.R., and J.A.C. Vroom, 2021. Eindeloos schatgraven in een doolhof van karton: in elke doos zit een verhaal. Interview by Mark Reid, 12 May. Available at:

Lizzie Hicks

Contact details

Elizabeth Hicks
Department of Archaeology
University of York
Kings Manor / BioArch
YO1 7EP / YO10 5DD