Bulletin 12 - November 1980: Seminar for Arabian Studies

Seminar for Arabian Studies

by Rob Western

This year's annual meeting took place at Oriel College, Oxford, between 22nd and 24th July.

Though largely a meeting point for those professionally interested in Arabian history and archaeology, this year's Seminar attracted several outsiders who had either previously lived and worked in this part of the world or who were just plain curious. In all some 70 people attended the full three days. Well-known to ENHG members was Serge Cleusiou, along with two of his Hili co-workers, Dr. J.-F. Salles and Dr. R. Boucharlat. Others who have strong links with the UAE included Beatrice de Cardi, Karen Frifelt and Walid al Tikriti.

Several States of the Arabian Peninsula were represented in the lectures, some given by Arab historians. Among topics covered were the dating of various inscriptions in Yemen and Failaka Island, Kuwait; an analysis of ivory artifacts from Bahrain; a new study of inscriptions on the Kaba in Mecca; copper mining in Oman; the Ottoman attitude towards Arabia in the 16th Century; and of course several excavation reports.

One talk particularly relevant to the UAE was entitled 'Dentition on Umm an Nar, c. 2,500 BC'. Dr. K. Hojgaard has spent a lot of time analyzing the human teeth and jawbones excavated from the Umm an Nar tombs by the Danish expeditions of 1959-65 and the result is a fine example of how a specialized science can aid archaeology.

The teeth and bones came from three tombs. Dr. Hojgaard was able to establish the number of persons per tomb (21, 35 and 41 respectively) and that 13 of the total were children who had died below seven years of age. Two others had died as late teenagers. All the facial bone evidence suggests that the typical Umm an Nar 'person' had a pointed chin. There was a high prevalence of childhood defects and malnutrition, one of the reasons for which is tentatively attributed to late weaning. In 29 cases there was no third molar on one side of the jaw, a hereditary trait suggesting that all of this group originated from the same family stock. Certainly the overall poor condition of the teeth reaffirms the archaeological evidence of a mainly seafood diet. Final conclusions are that the people of Umm an Nar, as represented by these three graves, were a homogenous group that suffered a great deal from toothache!

This is an important study as the only other comparable investigations of human teeth remains from this area are lesser analyses from Kish and Mohenjo Daro. Some dental material from an Umm an Nar type tomb in the Wadi Jizzi remains to be examined. It will be most interesting to compare results.

"Third millennium copper production in Oman" by Dr. G. Weisburger, of Mochum in West Germany, was also most interesting for the further speculation it cast on ancient Makan. Using balloon aerial photography, the team surveyed the plain of Maysar, a copper producing site between approximately 2200 BC and medieval times. Last year the medieval remains were examined, and then the team returned to analyze the older material beneath. Their conclusion - the third millennium was every bit as important as more recent times for mining and smelting the ore. From the large slag heaps and ancient furnace remains, the team decided that Oman must have been very heavily timbered in the past. It takes approximately 2.5 tons of charcoal to produce one ton of smelted copper, and the charcoal discovered was nearly all acacia wood. Though there does not seem to have been a great deal of ore production between the two main periods, one could theorize that by late medieval times, Oman had become virtually deforested, with consequences that have been crucial for the economy ever since.

A number of grinding stones of the third millennium were also found, though as yet it is not clear whether they were used for crushing grain or polishing copper. One well was excavated to a depth of 40 m though the present water table on Maysar plain is at 30 m. Many artifacts were discovered in a band between eight and 12 meters, including rimmed jars with holes for suspension cords, pestles, ibex and sheep bones, and a typical third millennium cubic grindstone.

The team intends to return this year but it is convinced that they have found the economic center of Makan. It remains now to continue the link with sites such as Hili and Umm an Nar.

Ed Note: The Seminar for Arabian Studies receives financial support from most Arabian States though it is centered in London, c/o Institute for Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, WC1H OP4. The Proceedings are published annually at a cost of between five and ten UK Pounds, depending on volume.


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