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Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies

Photo of Professor John P. Cooper

Professor John P. Cooper

Associate Professor in Maritime Archaeology & Arabic


01392 724036

IAIS Room UG05



I am a maritime archaeologist and ethnographer, as well as an Arabist, with a principal research interest in maritime communities of the Arab and Islamic worlds, past and present, approached through a multidisciplinary combination of material cultural study, ethnography, archaeology and text. I supervise graduate students on a broad range of subjects, including martime and Islamic archaeology, on Arabic travel, geographical and navigational literature, and on nautical lexica. I am a fellow of the Nautical Archaeology Society and of the Higher Education Academy, and a member of the Institute's Centre for Islamic Archaeology and Centre for Gulf Studies. I am part of the University's Exeter Marine network, and am on the editorial board of the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology

My current research focuses on East Africa, where I am principal investigator on two Tanzanian projects: the British Academy/Honor Frost Foundation-funded Boat Builders of Zanzibar, and Bahari Yetu, Urithi Wetu: Our Ocean, Our Heritage, funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund under the Rising from the Depths programme. I am also completing projects looking at boatbuilding practices on the Sudanese Nile and the southern Red Sea, particularly Yemen, as well as museums collections in Qatar. 

I teach archaeology and a little Arabic in the Institute.

I tweet under the name @maraakib; I also co-run the maraakib Facebook page.

Contacting me

University of Exeter staff and students can BOOK A MEETING WITH ME HERE. Alternatively, I can be contacted via my university email. I will strive to answer non-urgent emails within three working days: please feel entitled to remind me if I do not. To support a healthy and productive working culture within our community, I will only look at my emails during my duty hours. 


Please help me to help you by checking whether your question has already been answered on ELE, in the module literature, or through other module communications before getting in touch. Otherwise, you are always welcome to contact me via email or during my office hours.

For information about my office hours and any research leave, please click here.

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My research addresses the maritime cultures and practices of communities in the Arab-Islamic world from late antiquity to the present day, adopting archaeological, textual and ethnographic perspectives.

My principal research interests embrace:

  1. Vernacular boatbuilding technologies, with a particular focus on craft and knowledge traditions, materiality and environment, and socioeconomic contexts.   
  2. Maritime cultural landscapes, investigating environmental affordances and landscape change; time, season and cyclicity; and human accommodation to and adaptation of the biophysical environment through nautical technology, ports and harbours, and intangible knowledge and practice.
  3. Travel and navigation, through text, narrative and practice.
  4. Maritime heritage and museums, looking at heritage narratives, the notion of heritage among grass-roots communities, and the documentation of museum collections.

My ongoing research projects include:

1.     Bahari Yetu, Urithi Wetu (Our Ocean, Our Heritage), Tanzania

2.     The Boatbuilders of Zanzibar, Tanzania

3.     Shell-first boats of the Sudanese Nile

Past research projects include:

1.     The Sewn Boats of the Qatar Museums collection, Qatar (2019-20)

2.     National Museum of Qatar (NMQ) Dhow 3D Laser-Scanning Project, Qatar (2013)

3.     Tinnis Archaeological Survey project, Egypt (2009–)

4.     The MARES Project (2008–2012)

5.     Ashlett Saxon Fisheries project, Hampshire, U.K. (2005, 2016)

Be sure also to click on the Publications tab on my staff home page

Research group links

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I am always excited to supervise committed students researching the material cultures and maritime pasts of the Arab and Islamic worlds through archaeology, text and/or ethnography, and welcome new applications across a broad range of study areas. My particular areas of specialism are:

  • Vernacular boatbuilding technologies and traditions
  • Maritime and fluvial communities
  • Fishing and fisheries
  • Ports and harbours
  • Navigation and wayfinding
  • Maritime and fluvial cultural landscapes
  • Maritime museums collections related to the Arab/Islamic world.

 I am also happy to supervise students on a broader range of topics, including (but not limited to):

  • Aspects of the archaeology and material culture of the Islamic world
  • Arabic texts related to travel, geography, place and navigation
  • Language and linguistics related to material culture
  • Islamic-era perceptions of pre-Islamic antiquity.

Research students

I have had the good fortune to supervise and learn from a number of sparkling doctoral students.

Current cohort:

Alessandro Ghidoni - The Ship Timbers from the Islamic Site of Al-Balid: A Case Study of Sewn-Plank Technology in the Indian Ocean.

Gizem Kahraman Aksoy - Contemporary Vernacular Architecture in Qatar and the Gulf.

Ziad Morsy - Ethnographic Approaches to Egyptian Traditional Sailing Boats: A Study of Contemporary Maritime Cultural Material (co-supervision with Dr Julian Whitewright, University of Southampton.

Hasti Safavi - A hermeneutic approach to the Shrine Ensemble and Khanqah of Sheikh Safi al-Din Ardabili.

Zeeshan Shaikh - A Voyage Beyond the Blue Horizon: Envisioning Ancient Navigation in the Erythraean Sea.

Past Students:

Giorgia Ferrari - Teaching and Learning Arabic Variation through Vocabulary: A mixed-methods study on diglossic vocabulary building for Higher Education (co-supervision with Dr Manuela Giolfo, University of Genoa)

Manami Goto - The Face Mask and Identity in the Persian Gulf: the Case of the United Arab Emirates and Qeshm Island of Iran.

Julian Jansen van Rensburg - The Maritime Traditions of the Fishermen of Socotra, Yemen.

Dima al-Qutob - Language Register and Innovation in Arabic Consumer Advertising: Case Studies of Jordan's al-Ra'i and Egypt's al-Ahram Newspapers.

Lucy Semaan - The Use of Wood in Boatbuilding in the Red Sea from Classical Antiquity until Present Times.

Nicholas Tait - Archaeological Ceramics as Chronological Markers on Islamic Sites in Eastern Ethiopia.

Silvia Truini - The Handmaiden of Settler-Colonialism: Archaeology & Heritage in Silwan, East Jerusalem.

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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2023 | 2022 | 2020 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2007 | 2005 |








  • Cooper JP, Zazzaro C, Wetherelt A. (2015) Approcci High Tech E Low Tech Nella Documentazione di Imbarcazionitradizionali del Mar Rosso e del Golfo, Newsletter di Archeologia CISA, volume 6, pages 131-142.
  • Agius DA, Cooper JP, Collie T, Al-Naimi F. (2015) Boat and ship engravings at Al Zubarah, Qatar: the dāw exposed?, Seminar for Arabian Studies, Bristish Museum, 25th - 27th Jul 2014, Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, volume 45, no. 2015, pages 35-47.




  • Cooper JP. (2011) Kuwait and the Sea, Journal of Arabian Studies, volume 1, pages 121-123.
  • Cooper JP. (2011) Sons of Sindbad, INT J NAUT ARCHAEOL, volume 40, no. 2, pages 468-469, DOI:10.1111/j.1095-9270.2011.00326_25.x.
  • Cooper JP. (2011) Humbler craft: Rafts of the Egyptian Nile, 17th-20th Centuries AD, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, volume 40, no. 2, pages 344-360, DOI:10.1111/j.1095-9270.2010.00295.x. [PDF]
  • Cooper JP. (2011) No easy option: Nile versus Red Sea in ancient and medieval north-south navigation, Maritime Technology in the Ancient Economy: Ship-Design and Navigation. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 189-210. [PDF]


  • Cooper JP, Agius DA, Zazzaro C. (2010) The dhow's last redoubt? Vestiges of wooden boatbuilding traditions in Yemen, Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, volume 40, pages 71-84, article no. 6. [PDF]


  • Cooper JP. (2009) The Ancient Port and Canal of Suez, Egyptian Archaeology, pages 37-40.
  • Cooper JP. (2009) Egypt's Nile-Red Sea canals: chronology, location, seasonality and function, Red Sea IV: Connected Hinterlands, University of Southampton, 25 Sep 2009 - 26 Sep 2009, Archaeopress, 195-210. [PDF]
  • Cooper JP. (2009) Connected Hinterlands: Proceedings of Red Sea Project IV, held at the University of Southampton September 2008, Archaeopress. [PDF]
  • Agius DA, Cooper JP, Jansen van Rensburg J, Zazzaro C. (2009) The Dhow's last redoubt? Vestiges of wooden boatbuilding traditions in Yemen, Seminar for Arabian Studies, British Museum, 23rd - 25th Jul 2009, yes, pages 71-84. [PDF]
  • Cooper JP. (2009) Egypt's Nile-Red Sea canals: chronology, location, seasonality and function, Red Sea IV: Connected Hinterlands, University Of Southampton, 25th - 26th Sep 2009, Connected Hinterlands: Proceedings of Red Sea Project IV, held at the University of Southampton September 2008. Society for Arabian Studies Monographs 8, British Archaeological Reports S2052. [PDF]


  • Cooper JP. (2007) Yemen: a Hunt for the Huri, Nautical Archaeology, volume 2007, no. 3, pages 7-7. [PDF]


  • Cooper JP. (2005) Fish Weir Structures Found in Southampton Water, Nautical Archaeology, volume 2005, no. 3, pages 4-8. [PDF]

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Modules taught

  • ARA1015 - Arabic for Beginners
  • ARA1030 - Introduction to Islamic Archaeology
  • ARA1033A - Elementary Arabic Language I
  • ARA1033B - Elementary Arabic Language II
  • ARA2014 - Regions and Empires in Islamic Archaeology
  • ARA2134 - Ethnography of the Middle East
  • ARA2139 - Intermediate Arabic Language II
  • ARA2148 - Arabic for Beginners II
  • ARA3103 - Advanced Arabic Language
  • ARA3160 - Intermediate Arabic Language I

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Current Positions

2021 - present     Associate Professor, Maritime Archaeology & Arabic.
                             Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. 

Previous positions

2017 - 2021         Senior Lecturer, Arabic Studies & Islamic Material Culture.
                             Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. 

2012 - 2017         Lecturer, Arabic Studies & Islamic Material Culture.
                             Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. 

2008 - 2012         Research Associate, the MARES Project
                             Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies, University of Exeter.
                             Funded by the Golden Web Foundation.
2006 - 2009         Trustee, Nautical Archaeology Society.
2005 - 2009         Ph.D. Archaeology
                            Centre for Maritime Archaeology, University of Southampton.
                            Thesis: The Medieval Nile: Route, Navigation and Landscape In Islamic Egypt.
                            Funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council;
2004 - 2005         M.A. Maritime Archaeology
                            Centre for Maritime Archaeology, University of Southampton.
                            Dissertation: The Nile-Red Sea Canal in Antiquity.
2002 - 2004         Editor, Weekly Petroleum Argus, Argus Media Group, London.
1998 - 2002         Editor, Crude Report, Argus Media Group, London.
1999 - 2002         Deputy Editor, Argus Global Markets, Argus Media Group, London.
1996 - 1998         Middle East Reporter, Argus Media Group, London.
1994 - 1996         Reporter, Middle East Economic Digest, London.
1992 - 1993         M.A. Linguistics
                            Department of Linguistics, School of Oriental and African Studies.
                            Thesis: The Case of the Missing Glides: Licensing Inheritence and the
                            Licensing of Glides in Palestinian Arabic.

1988 - 1992         B.A. Arabic with Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies
                            Centre for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies, University of Durham.

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