Nearly 2000 km of navigable waters between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, nowhere wider than 354 km, the nearest tropical marine area to the classical world and Europe. Gateway to Africa and to India and the Far East.
Shoreline of approximately 1740 km in Saudi Arabia, 1386 km in Egypt, 800 km in Ethiopia, 750 km in Sudan and 430 in Yemen; footholds of 27 and 10 km in Jordan and Israel respectively. 2850 m deep, much deeper than the Gulf.
Overwhelmingly arid seaboards, with a sparse vegetation cover and productivity, a carpet of green once rain falls, which is irregular. Nomadic pastoralists and artisanal fishing, but also trade, transshipment and the pilgrim business in a few favored ports. Mountain ranges behind the narrow coastal plain, associated with the rift system between the African and Arabian Peninsula continental plates that are drifting apart. Major tropical marine communities all present: open sea , coral reef, mangroves, sandy beach, lagoon and seagrass and rocky intertidal.
Trade route (of fluctuating importance), carrying goods between the Far East and India and the Mediterranean, famous for the "decadent eastern luxuries" coveted in Rome, but including also natural curios. The origin of many natural resources and raw materials traded both ways throughout the ancient world, and a "conveyor belt" for transshipped resources. Whether it be minerals from the Egyptian Eastern Desert or imported precious stones, the archaeological sites in the regions are rich in evidence contributing insights into ancient environment and economies.
Suffice it to mention trade goods richly reported in the ancient sources and evidenced in the archaeological record: Natural resources, including local products supplied into the trading system by the Red Sea: wild animal skins, gold, ivory and ebony, tortoiseshell, rhinoceros horn, frankincense and myrrh, spices including pepper and cinnamon, slaves, exotic animals like short-horned cattle, elephants and vervet monkeys, precious stones (carnelian, beryl, amethyst, diamonds, sapphires, garnets and lapis lazuli, among others) and pearls, rock crystal, coral, mollusks, fish, plants and fruit like dates and coconut, even coffee! Manufactured goods that can be treated as raw material: Indian cotton, muslin cloth and silk, Indian ink, crucible steel, iron goods, glassware, pottery.
A discussion of the current state of research on the exploitation and trade in all these, as evidenced in the archaeological and ethnographic records, is the prime objective of the present conference.