(3rd Millennium BC)
Dr. Sophie Mery
CNRS, UMR7041-Nanterre, FRANCE
The Hili Sandy Red Ware is the most frequent pottery type recovered in the
archaeological sites dated from the Umm an-Nar Period in the region of Al Ain.
The Hili Sandy Red Ware was indeed in use at Hili-8 settlement for several
centuries and represents a large majority of the ceramic assemblage between 2500
and 2000 BC. The pottery was used in daily life, and then re-used in the graves
to stay with the bodies.
As far as the shapes are concerned, jars are the most numerous among the Hili
Sandy Red Ware assemblage, followed by the goblets and suspension vessels. Other
shapes are also known, among which miniature vessels, open shapes like plates
and dishes are absent or very scarce. Most of the vessels were small or medium,
but their volume did not exceed 7 litres. They were usually covered with a red
slip and black geometrical motifs were painted on the shoulder of the vessels.
Jars are usually decorated with a black painted single wavy line on the shoulder
between two straight lines, but other patterns are present, like a wavy line
cross-checked by vertical or oblique lines or two parallel wavy lines.
Since the discovery of the Umm an-Nar culture by the Danish archaeological
expedition in the late 1950s above, monumental collective graves with circular
shapes are considered a diagnostic feature of this culture. The Hili tombs form
a nuclear for the Umm An Nar culture in the Eastern region of Abu Dhabi, and the
grand Tomb 1059, located in the middle of Hili Garden, is the best known
monument in the city of AI Ain.
Since we do not know the duration and possible interruptions in the use of
the Umm an-Nar graves, which are often disturbed, it is difficult or even
impossible to ascertain a precise date for the artefacts. This is potentially
possible in the case of Hili-N, a pit- grave which is under excavation by the
French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E. in collaboration with the Department
of Antiquities in AI Ain (see ENHG AI Ain Newsletter #207), because the grave
was found un-robbed and shows a clear stratigraphy. Among other types of
artefacts, Hili Sandy Red Ware is the most common type of pottery in the grave
(75% of the assemblage), and is diagnostic in the reconstruction of
chrono-typology, because this ware was very probably locally manufactured and
used primarily for domestic purposes. The changes in pottery shape and
decoration of this local ware can be more easily traced than imported vessels
which are often not accurately dated, or regional wares like the Omani Fine Red
Ware which are primarily found in collective tombs. Thus Hili Sandy Red Ware is
more accurate for reconstructing local chronology than other types of ceramics
found in Tomb N at Hili.
In the latter, the jars have a capacity of 1-3.5 litres, and are usually
decorated with a common pattern of a single wavy line between 2 straight lines,
but other patterns are also found. Several of these types of shapes and painted
patterns are close to what was known at Hili North Tomb A, a tomb during the
1980s above excavated by the French Archaeological Mission under the direction
of S. Cleuziou. However, some types were rare or not recovered in Tomb A at Hili
North, and vice-versa. Hili Sandy Red Ware is a good indicator to demonstrate
that some of the material in both graves was not exactly contemporaneous. The
other types of Hili Sandy Red Ware are those we know from Tomb A at Hili North,
such as elongated suspension vessels, displaying a loose lattice pattern, and
miniature vessels. Two vessels are unique in Hili-N tomb:
- A bowl with a grooved rim with good parallels at Hili-8 and al-Sufouh tomb
1 (Emirate of Dubai)
- The first example of a spouted Umm an-Nar jar with a loose lattice
The profile and decoration of the jar, are typical of the Umm an-Nar Period
but spouted jars are common in the early Wadi Suq Period (Middle Bronze Age) and
so far unknown in the Umm an-Nar Period.
Hili Sandy Red Ware was not manufactured from the clays or sands that were
sampled by the Geologists of our team around Hili and the Wadi Jizzi, but we
assume that it was produced locally. It is rarely found in other regions of the
Oman peninsula except at, Umm an-Nar and Ghanadha islands in the Emirate of Abu
Dhabi, where it only represents a small minority of the pottery assemblage.
The presence of an Umm an-Nar pottery kiln near the tower of Hili-1 near the
Grand Tomb of Hili Garden, and the discovery of a 'waster' (misfired) of Hili
Sandy Red Ware found during the excavation of Hili-1 by the Danish
archaeologists in the 1960s, are a further indication of local production. The
fabric of the Hili Sandy Red Ware is very distinctive since its texture is sandy
and porous and its composition reflects a mixture of detritic elements
originating from a context comprising granitic-gneissic rock-types and magmatic
ultrabasic rocks rich in olivines. Chemically, they are rich in chromium and
poor in alkali elements, scandium and rare earths.
We will continue our sampling and laboratory analyses next winter in order to
find the clay used by the ancient potters of AI Ain for the manufacture of the
Hili Sandy Red Ware.
W.Y. al-Tikriti et S.Mery. 2000. Tomb N at Hili and the question of the
subterranean graves during the Umm an-Nar Period. Proceedings of the Seminar for
Arabian Studies 30: 205-219.
S. Mery. 1997. A funerary assemblage from the Umm an-Nar period: the ceramics
from Hili North tomb A, UAE. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 27:
S. Mery, K. McSweeney, J. Rouquet & W. Y AI Tikriti. Under press. New
evidence of funerary practices at the end of the Early Bronze Age at Hili,
United Arab Emirates. In E. Olijdam, R.H. Spoor & W. Deitch-Van der Meulen
(eds). Intercultural relations between South and Southwest Asia. Commemoration
volume E.CL. During Caspers. BAR International Series, Londres
S. Mery, J. Rouquet, K. McSweeney, G. Basset, J.-F. Saliege et W.Y.
al-Tikriti. 2001. Re-excavation of the Early Bronze Age collective pit-grave
(Emirate of Abu Dhabi, UAE) : results of the first two campaigns of the
Emirati-French Project. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 31: