Bulletin 7 - April 1979: The Third Season of Excavations by the French Archaeological Expedition in the Al Ain Region

The Third Season of Excavations by the French Archaeological Expedition in the Al Ain Region

by Rob Western

(Notes of a talk given by M. Serge Cleuziou to the ENHG on February 19, 1979. (See Bulletins Nos.2 and 5 for notes on the First and Second Seasons.)

Although most of the analysis and discussion of the 1978-79 season has yet to be reported, M. Cleuziou was able to give an extremely interesting account of the latest situation. After a brief resume of the work of the first two seasons, he proceeded to give us an insight into the prehistory and proto-history of the U.A.E. in the light of his recent discoveries. He glossed over the Jebel Hafit period (See Bulletin 5) and then talked about Umm an Nar and Hili, where nearly all this season’s work has taken place.

By the end of the second season the remains of buildings one and two had been exposed, B1 consisting only of a mud brick basement. On the evidence of still-standing structures in Oman (Bat, Amlah and Wadi Samad) BI was most probably a circular building up to four meters high. People would have lived upstairs. In the center downstairs was a well.

During the 1978-79 season a third building was excavated beside B1 and B2. B3 evidently had a long history, having been rebuilt at least once. Mud brick was predominant though there was also a stone layer (dividing storeys?). A ditch surrounded this building. Preliminary analysis of some mud bricks has revealed a vast amount of grass, barley and millet imprints, suggesting cultivation of the latter two, thought to what extent has yet to be determined. Splinters of palm-wood were also identified but there is no positive evidence of date cultivation. On the contextual evidence of shards this building phase seems to have come to an end about 2000 B.C.

During the succeeding phase a wall was built around the whole site area. The most likely possibility is for herding purposes. Ovens were also excavated from this period though exact C14 ash dating has not been completed yet. Pottery consists of spouted vessels of a type familiar throughout northern Oman from this period. The most interesting pottery discovered was two shards of Indus valley origin, which suggests a terminal date of C. 1650 B.C. A stone weight from the Indus Valley has recently been unearthed at Ras Al Khaimah.

The period 1600-800 B.C. constituted a “dark age” in our knowledge of this area. The fact that this period is also little understood in Iran and west Pakistan suggests a general decline in trade and, consequently cultural development.

The so-called Iron Age is well represented in the U.A.E. and marks the end of the “dark age” period. Evidently some of the Hili structures were reused, as seen in the discovery of a copper axe. At Qarn bint Saud Iron Age graves have revealed similar weapons. Steatite pots from this period have also been unearthed at Hili, similar to wares from Ruwais (Dubai).

A Pakistani team has excavated a mud brick house in Al Ain that had holes for wooden beams. The archaeological sequence moves closer to the present with the beginning of the falaj irrigation system, and the discovery of one Roman sherd in Umm al Qawain. It was only with the coming of falaj irrigation that cultivation was made secure. Throughout the earlier history of the Hili settlements the bulk of the population (up to 1000?) would most probably have dwelt in barasti huts, the mud brick buildings being reserved for those of higher rank.

M. Cleuziou has sent 200 kilos of soil/brick material to Paris for analysis, and it is hoped that this will provide further evidence of cultivation. He will be returning in December for another season at Hili.

(The official report of his first season’s excavations (1976-77) has been published by the Department of Antiquities and a limited number of copies (in French and English parallel texts) are available from the Al Ain Museum.

Serge Cleuziou is from the Centre National de Reserche Scientifique in Paris and he also Lectures in the Sorbonne.)


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