Bulletin 10 - March 1980: A New Flint Find in Abu Dhabi

A New Flint Find in Abu Dhabi

By Rob Western

Various studies over the past 15 years or so have revealed a long sequence of Stone Age settlements in Qatar, as documented, for example, by Kapel (1967), Bibby (1969) and de Cardi (1974). The peninsula has been well covered in the search for flint sites, and Kapel's "Atlas of the Stone Age Cultures of Qatar," 1967, gives comprehensive maps of the ancient lithic cultures of the area. In 1976 Bergne and Copeland published an article in the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies entitled "Flint Artefacts from the Buraimi Area" (see Bulletin 6 December 1978), which documented and analyzed some finds from the UAE-Omani border foothills, notably Jebel Huwayah. Cleuziou's "Archaeology in the United Arab Emirates," 1978, refers to clusters of worked flint found in the area between the C.F.P. experimental farm and the Wadi Al Ain. Dave Corfield, original archaeology recorder for the ENHG, discovered a fragment of a leaf-shaped arrowhead beside the Wadi close to the Al Ain Hilton in 1977 (see Bulletin 4, March 1978).

The distance between the Qatar frontier and Buraimi is some 460km as the crow flies and considerably further by land. Whereas Bibby dates the oldest cultures in Qatar to be at least 50,000 years, Copeland and Cleuziou describe the Buraimi area flints as Neolithic or possibly even post-Neolithic, i.e. within the last 10,000 years. There has never been any suggestion that there was a direct link between the two areas, and the chronological estimates bear this out. Arrowheads have turned up in both regions, but only in Qatar have blades and scrapers been found. The majority of obviously-worked pieces on Jebel Huwayah are thick oval shapes up to 10cm long and 5cm wide and typologically would seem to be related to cultures further within and to the south of Oman, though the same shape is not unknown in Qatar. The Buraimi-Al Ain flints generally display a uniform reddish-brown patina, though lighter reds and metallic blues have also been found. Some of the waste flake scatters are chalky white in color. The Qatar flakes are usually beige in color and often opaque.

There are some flint sites in Qatar, however, that may be nearly contemporary with the Buraimi Neolithic cultures. These Qatar sites are situated either on the west coast, near Dukhan and Umm Bab, or in the southeast, near Umm Said, and are characterized by barbed and tanged arrowheads reckoned to be 6000 to 7000 years old (Bibby 1969). No such arrowheads have been found in the Buraimi area though larger and cruder points are in evidence on Jebel Huwayah.

What is really interesting is that arrowheads extremely similar to those of Qatar are beginning to turn up in parts of Abu Dhabi's western region, now that industrial development has brought more people into the area. In 1977 five arrowheads were discovered at Giathi during the course of an afforestation project. These artifacts were widely separated among the dunes but are alike in appearance and color. In 1978, a similar barbed and tanged arrowhead was found at the base of a dune beside one of the Bu Hasa camps, and in 1979 an inch long flint artifact that may have been an awl was discovered by Diane Donohue, the ENHG's insect recorder, at Qasiawira, at the east end of the Liwa (see Bulletin 8, July 1979, Diary Notes). It would seem that the Qatar Neolithic might not, after all, be restricted to Qatar itself. The Bu Hasa and Giathi examples are extremely similar to their Qatar counterparts.

Working on the assumption that there was no reason for Bu Hasa to form the easterly limits of such artifact types, Bish Brown and I explored an area just off the Habshan-Bu Hasa road late in October 1979. This region was 35km east of Bu Hasa, much closet to Habshan, so we were nothing if not optimistic. We turned off the road along a track marked "To Rig 36", for no other reason than that it held as much potential as any other landscape we had seen in the previous hour's driving from Abu Dhabi.

After a few minutes wandering on foot among the dunes and undulating gravel patches, by sheer luck we suddenly came across a tiny site that exceeded all our expectations. In a depression surrounded by dunes encroaching from the north was a gravelly area some 40 meters long by 15 meters at the widest point, lying roughly north-south and rising gradually by about a meter towards the south where two dunes almost meeting, formed a narrow passage through to a further large area of rising sand. A few sparse plants and grasses had a precarious hold in the gravel. As soon as we were down in the dip and facing the early morning sun, we could see the telltale sparkle of flint flakes spread out before us. Within a very short time of stooping to examine the first flakes, we found two arrowheads very close together.

One was small, barely 2.25cm long and 1.65cm across at its broadest part. Its triangular shape was due to the fact that both barbs and the tang had broken off. They could not be found in the immediate area. However, the artifact is a fine example of pressure flaking and the point is as sharp as when it was made. A curiosity is that a fault line runs from the shoulder right down through the center of the tang, and is quite obvious from both sides. The knapper had successfully completed his arrowhead by producing the tiniest of waste-flakes so as not to break it along this line of weakness.

The other arrowhead is an exquisite find. Though most of the barb is broken off and lost, the tang and other barb are complete, as is the point, and there is no difficulty in visualizing the full artifact. From point-tip to tang it is 4.25cm long, and the shoulder bearing the complete barb has precisely the same length. It is an almost perfect geometric specimen and only 0.3cm thick at the widest section. It is extremely finely pressure-flaked, especially around the barb and tang angles where there is evidence of polishing. Some of the cortex is visible on and just above the tang on one side. One very interesting fact is that there are two tiny grooves, the lower of which cuts across the tang and, if projected, would meet the damaged barb at precisely the point and angle at which it is broken. It seems that the barb was thus accidentally broken in the course of putting the final touches to the arrowhead, and the whole object was then discarded. If so, it would suggest that the knapper already had an abundance of finished points, or that there was an adequate source of flint nearby. The second of these possibilities is unlikely, the nearest known source being the low bluffs approaching the coast near Tarif.

Along with the two arrowheads, we collected 226 waste flakes in the immediate vicinity. Only 43 of these displayed no cortex at all; 48 were completely covered on one side with a rough and weathered cortex, bright with a sheen after being sandblasted for millennia. All the evidence points to the fact that the flakes, often wafer thin, were clearly associated with the two arrowheads, and were of tabular flint which is typically found on the low limestone ridges along the coast from Tarif westwards. Bibby describes how he spent two days scouring the bluffs closer to Abu Dhabi town, but found no flint except for the area of Umm an Nar. All the flakes are speckled with a lighter material within the body of the flint; the thinnest flakes are translucent.

Also found on the site was a group of seven apparently fire-discolored stones, clearly old, but impossible to say whether they were contemporary with the flint. A few tiny fragments of bleached bone made up the site's assemblage.

A thorough search during the evening and most of the following day failed to reveal any more flint sites. Two small pieces found close to the original site may or many not be associated with it.

The whole area, which is 70 to 80km due north of the west end of the Liwa crescent, and some 30km south of the coast at the nearest point, consists of intermingled dunes and gravel shelves. As one proceeds towards the Liwa, the sand becomes predominant. Judging from the scattered nature of the few artifacts found so far, it is unlikely that any Stone Age settlement will be discovered in the area. The region possible represents a hunting area, complete with campsites where tools could have been flaked by fire-light, chunks of flint possibly among the few belongings of an itinerant band. It is difficult to imagine a landscape much different to the present one just a few thousand years ago. Perhaps there might have been a little more surface vegetation; perhaps the coastline was further inland.

If the present western region is an outpost of an ancient culture centered in Qatar, then more artifacts should come to light, artifacts which should include other typically Neolithic forms. And if there was no meeting of the Qatar and Buraimi cultures in the Neolithic or post-Neolithic periods, it is interesting to speculate on just how much farther east on will discover such artifacts.


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