Research Team Biographies


Dr. Marike van Aerde

Marike van Aerde is the team coordinator and currently a lecturer and researcher at Leiden University. She specializes in archaeological evidence of ancient trade routes between the Indian Subcontinent and East Africa, up to the mid-1st millennium CE. For her doctoral degree she focused on connectivity between Egypt and the Mediterranean region through fieldwork and material analyses, and she has since expanded her research across the Indian Ocean. She now works with an international team of young archaeologists and supervises several PhD students, as part of her main research project Routes of Exchange, Roots of Connectivity.

Marike's approach involves documenting, analyzing and connecting transregional sites and data in order to better interpret and understand ancient connectivity processes. The research also has a strong component of Open Access output and heritage preservation. Some of her most recent publications have been on Gandharan archaeology, ancient Egyptian ports, and petroglyphs from the Karakorum mountains. She has appeared regularly at international conferences, incl. the EAA, Gandhara Connections at Oxford University, and expert meetings in Alexandria, Egypt. Her active heritage projects involve threatened Karakorum petroglyphs and datasets from Palmyra in Syria. A core aim of her project is collaborative and interdisciplinary research that creates opportunities for young scholars worldwide. In addition to archaeology, Marike also has a background in ancient languages/papyrology, and has previously studied and worked in London (University College London UCL) and Rome (KNIR/Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma).

To visit Marike's profile page at Leiden University, click here


Samatar Botan

Samatar Botan completed his Bachelor's and Master's degrees at the Faculty of Archaeology in Leiden, as well as a secondary Research Master's at the Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, Oman. He is the ceramics specialist of the team, with multiple years of fieldwork experience. Currently he is enrolled as a PhD candidate at Leiden University and part of the research project Routes of Exchange, Roots of Connectivity.  For his doctoral research, Sam aims to create a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the Afro-Eurasian maritime trade routes in the first half of the first millennium CE, by focusing on a statistical and interpretative analyses of Aksumite ceramics.

The empire of Aksum was an ancient kingdom which existed in the Horn of Africa from 80 BCE till 800 CE. Its territory stretched from modern day Ethiopia, to Eritrea to the northern parts of Somaliland. The role of Aksum has in the past been neglected in studies of ancient trade networks, which Sam's research hopes to remedy.  Simultaneously, Sam continues to be involved in projects in the Persian Gulf as a ceramics specialist, such as the Hili 14 project and the Understanding Prehistoric Settlement Dynamics at Shimal project.  His extensive experience with archaeological fieldwork has so far included campaigns in Syria, Portugal, Kurdistan, Oman  and the United Arab Emirates, and he has co-authored several academic publications and excavation reports from sites in Oman. 

To visit the Vlog about Sam's PhD research at Leiden University, click here


Rishika Dhumal

Rishika Dhumal completed her Bachelor's degree in archaeology from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in India, and her Master's degree from the Archaeology Faculty of Leiden University in the Netherlands. Since 2019, she has been enrolled as PhD candidate at Leiden University, as part of the research project  Routes of Exchange, Roots of Connectivity supervised by Dr. Marike van Aerde. Her fieldwork experience includes recent excavations at Nani Rayan in Gujarat, India, as well as an internship in Silk Roads ceramics analysis as part of the LID project (Leiden Inventory Depot) at Leiden University.

Rishika's PhD research will archaeologically analyze the role of the Indian subcontinent in the Afro-Eurasian trade networks. This will be studied along with the connection between trade and Buddhism across the Indian subcontinent, by using a trans-regional approach to determine the subcontinent’s role and analyzing multiple sites from three selected regions, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Sri Lanka. The connection between trade and Buddhism is made quite a lot with the Silk Routes trade because of many prominent Buddhist sites along the trade route (Bamiyan Buddhas, Taxila, Mes Aynak, etc). Still, this presence of Buddhism is not given enough emphasis throughout the subcontinent in the context of trade. Rishika's PhD research will highlight these aspects and investigate further to get a better understanding of this connection.

To visit Rishika's profile page at Leiden University, click here


Abdul Ghani Khan

Abdul Ghani Khan completed his Master's degree in archaeology with a Gold Medal from Hazara University in Pakistan in 2014. He moreover completed his MPhil degree in 2018 at the same institution. He has extensive experience in the field, through many national and international archaeological excavations and survey projects. He holds an expertise in 3D modelling and Photogrammetry techniques as well. Ghani's main research interest is in documenting and studying rock carvings of the Karakorum Mountains, in particular  Buddhist carvings. Recently, he also co-authored a new publication on Karakorum petroglyphs from Oxford University together with Dr. Marike Van Aerde and Alexander Mohns.

In  2020, Ghani was awarded the Prince Claus Heritage Emergency Grant. He will be the fieldwork and outreach coordinator of this project, focused on the rescue and preservation of ancient rock art in the Karakorum mountain range of the Pakistani Himalayas. The project will run until November 2021.  An important component will be the outreach and education program developed with the local communities that Ghani is developing for this purpose. Additionally, he will focus on the documentation and analysis of so far unrecorded rock art and, based on the efforts of this fieldwork, continue his research as part of an academic PhD trajectory.  

To read more about Ghani's Prince Claus Heritage Grant, click here


Alexander Mohns

Alexander Mohns is the team’s fieldwork coordinator. He can usually be found in the field on excavations. Alex has a keen interest in Applied Archaeology and excavations. His international experience so far includes fieldwork conducted in the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Pakistan and the Netherlands. Some of Alex’s academic accomplishments involve a comprehensive analysis of figurative Buddhist rock art from the Karakorum mountain range in Pakistan for his BA thesis. He has since then also co-authored a book chapter on these petroglyphs at Oxford University together with Dr. Marike van Aerde and Abdul Ghani Khan. 

Alex is currently completing his Master's degree in Applied Archaeology at Leiden University, and he continues to collaborate with Ghani Khan and Dr. Van Aerde as part of the team's Karakorum Heritage Rescue project that will run from 2020-2021. 
It is the sense of adventure and accomplishment that keeps bringing him back to the field: all he needs is for someone to tell him where to go (even with only a moments notice), he’ll be off travelling again. Apart from his fieldwork and academic studies, Alex is the team's Vlog coordinator and PR organizer. He is also responsible for (most of the) puns.

To visit the Alex's Vlog about the ceramics depot of Leiden University, click here


Disclaimer: portrait photography by Benjamin de Groot (2020)