Laser-Scanning Shihrazad’s Baths: 1001 Tales of Zanzibar Nights

Basell, L, Ali, A, Firoozi-Nejad, B, Egberts, E, Mellor, N and Horton, Mark (2020) Laser-Scanning Shihrazad’s Baths: 1001 Tales of Zanzibar Nights. Antiquaries Journal, 100. ISSN 1758-5309

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This paper presents the first archaeological survey of the ornate Kidichi baths on Zanzibar. The baths were built for or by Shihrazad, a wife of Zanzibar’s nineteenth century ruler Said bin Sultan (1806–1856). Laser-scanning the ornate plaster stucco was used to clarify two inscriptions, the precise meaning of which had been lost. By combining archaeological survey results with historical research, and a translation of the inscriptions, a new narrative is presented in which the main protagonist is, unusually, female. Her story raises a host of questions relating to heritage, gender, religion and politics in modern-day Africa and beyond. INTRODUCTION The nineteenth-century Kidichi baths on the Island of Zanzibar are a legally protected historic monument, but surprisingly have never been recorded in detail beyond an unpublished tape and plane-table survey in 19841 . The preliminary surveys conducted by the authors in June 2017, were undertaken as part of a Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) workshop to explore the threats facing tangible and intangible heritage in Africa, and the use of modern and ancient technologies to facilitate heritage engagement. The site was selected primarily as a convenient location to demonstrate a range of archaeological methodologies to invited workshop participants including ground penetrating radar (GPR), terrestrial laser scanning (TLS), unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and photogrammetry to promote understanding of their utility in African contexts. Given the international scope of the meeting, a short site summary was produced in conjunction with the Department of Antiquities to facilitate a site tour prior to the practical demonstrations and survey. In doing this and through surveying, it swiftly became apparent that information about the baths was disparate and limited. Numerous questions arose including, for example, the exact date of their construction. This was surprising given their recent age in archaeological terms; their mention as a key tourist attraction in numerous websites and popular books such as the ‘Lonely Planet’; and their use as a key stop during the ‘spice tours’ of Zanzibar that have proliferated since the late 1980s. This paper aims to redress this situation, provoke discussion about heritage construction, and present a fuller narrative based on new research as a basis for future research. Following a review of the site’s historical context, a summary of the scientific survey is presented. The materiality of the baths is then used to present a series of new interpretations which inform the historical narratives, before concluding with a consideration of the wider theoretical implications of this research.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: zanzibar, persian princess, laser scanning
Divisions: Cultural Heritage Institute
Depositing User: Marieke Guy
Date Deposited: 10 Dec 2019 09:54
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2022 14:05

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