Sara Knutson

“Pieces of Change: Uncovering the Networks of Arabic Coins that Transformed Ancient Global Interactions”

Kenneth W. Russell Memorial Fellowship, 2021–2022

University of California, Berkeley; Berkeley, CA (U.S.A.)

Sara Ann Knutson is an anthropological archaeologist working on the Middle East and Europe and a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, working on Abbasid coinage for her doctoral dissertation. She holds an MPhil in archaeology from the University of Cambridge and has conducted archaeological and museum-based research in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Jordan. Her publications cover a range of topics including assemblages and the medieval ivory trade, medieval religious practice, and the archaeology of diasporas. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, learning languages, and training for triathlons.

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. When examined with digital archaeological tools, Abbasid coins, which date from the mid-8th to the mid-13th century AD, reveal social networks and reflect past Arab encounters with Eurasian communities thousands of miles from the Arabian mainland, cutting across national borders and languages. The archaeology of these Arabic coins reveals a global economic system based on Arab silver that transformed ancient Eurasia into the global space that it remains today. Previously, these materials were largely studied as site- or region-based phenomena without a comprehensive investigation into how they operated transregionally at the macro scale. Consequently, these important objects of archaeological and cultural heritage value remain largely inaccessible to source communities. To address these issues, Knutson’s dissertation research applies new technologies in archaeology in consultation with local stakeholders to shed light on this understudied multicultural past. The goal of the project is to make this aspect of the Eurasian past and anthropological understandings of money more widely accessible to the public.


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