Archaeology in the last thirty years has inundated Islamic studies with huge amounts of raw data, but only sporadic analysis and even less explanation. This situation has both clarified and complicated matters enormously. The problem is not only with the volume of data, but also the very nature of that material: what questions can be asked of it, its uses in formulating cultural history, the intellectual obfuscation that often haunts archaeological analysis, and how such approaches and results relate to Islamic art. Adding to the confusion is the blatant unreliability of earlier archaeological work in the Middle East. Hence the archaeology of Islam has struggled to free itself from a sadly tainted chapter in the history of the discipline, while seeking connectivity to contemporary trends in approaching the history of art.
With the above in mind, this paper sets out to evaluate new understandings derived from recent archaeology in the Middle East, especially that undertaken in Bilād al-Shām. The abandonment of conventional art historical approaches have encouraged the adoption of more contemporary methodologies that are more compatible with the new types of data produced by archaeological research. In turn, these developments have influence the nature of archaeological investigation at Islamic-period sites. To some, this advance has created a certain intellectual distancing between archaeology and art history, but that perceived disparity is considerably more apparent than real. Modern intellectual discourse permits a multiplicity of approaches to achieve a common objective, in this case a deeper, more encompassing, and more meaningful understanding of the formation and development of Islamic society and culture. Not only are fresh perspectives brought to bear on longstanding issues, but completely new questions have been formulated, and are currently being addressed, on matters such as the development of economic systems, material culture as an agent of social change, dietary practices, religious interaction, and environmental change. From these perspectives, a clear argument can be made for general compatibility of contemporary practice in archaeology and art history. Hence, there is a great deal of common ground between the two disciplines if archaeologists and art historians emphasize that which is shared.