Bulletin 23 - July 1984: Evidence for Pre-Holocene Industries in the Greater Hili Area

Evidence for Pre-Holocene Industries in the Greater Hili Area

by Hans Georg Gebel

In 1959, P.V. Glob and G. Bibby came across some patinated quartzite artifacts in the area of Jebel Auha or Jebel Huwayyah near Hili, of a type quite dissimilar to any other stone artifacts known from Holocene industries in this area. In 1981 another artifact was found by S. Cleuziou on a heap of bulldozed sediments near the exposed southern end of the Jebel Mahijir anticline.

Both findings belong to heavy-duty tool industries and resemble material that we believe is middle-Paleolithic from the mountainous parts of the Oman peninsula.

Previously there had been no indication of the Paleolithic from the Emirates but it is not surprising that the first evidence comes from the western anticlines of the Omani mountains. Their geomorphologic situation allows for chance finds from the Paleolithic more than in the sand-covered areas to the west. However, it is not the aim of this contribution to concentrate on the meager information of (middle-) Paleolithic industries on the Oman Peninsula. Such discussions may begin after assessing more sites, more material, and more knowledge about the geomorphologic situations where Paleolithic occupation might be expected. It is the aim of this paper to describe the materials found in the greater Hili area.

It is not possible to re-locate the spot where P.V. Glob and G. Bibby found the three artifacts, now stored in the Forhistorisk Museum, Moesgard/Arhus (Denmark) under FGH 1056. The description identifies the area with Jebel Auha or Jebel Huwwayah north-east of Hili (Geoffrey Bibby, personal communication). Together with these finds marine fossils were collected. The artifacts, made from a quartzite with reddish-pinkish stripes, have a glossy ochre-yellowish brown patination. The edges of this coarse-grained material were smoothed by wind and sand.

The artifacts consist of one broken flake, one complete flake (78x73x22 mm) with no retouches, and one large scraper (Fig. B; Pl. D-F). The scraper was made from a natural fragment of a quartzite pebble and is retouched almost all along its rounded edge. Two small flakings occurred on the natural surface of the fracture (Fig. B; Pl. F).

The working edge is almost even and not trimmed steeply. As far as the weathering allows an impression, the circular working edge is still rather sharp and fresh, with only slight evidence of utilization.

The other heavy-duty tool from the area was found right at the southern end of Jebel Mahijir, some 27km linear distance north of the Hili oasis. Here moving dunes cover parts of the anticline and the situation suggests a covered rock shelter. 50-300m west of the southern edge, the dunes expose another site with a rather mixed inventory. Apart from a lot of flint debris, some flint borers were found together with marine mollusks. The "recent" ones come from the Abu Dhabi coast, the fossil ones from the Mahijir anticline. Bead-manufacturing is in evidence from both raw materials but it has still to be determined if part of this site was an Early Bronze-Age bead manufacturing site (H.G. Gebel, in preparation).

The supposed Paleolithic tool was found 40m south of the southern edge of the anticline on a heap of sediment, which is expected to be the local. A lot of bulldozing activities were traced in 1981, although much had been covered again by the dunes. No other artifacts were found in this sediment.

The tool is made from a naturally fractured piece of limestone, which on one surface shows traces of heavy rolling. The brownish-grayish limestone was patinated into a dark brown color. The weathered surface still shows al characteristics of primary flaking and the traces of wear.

The tool is a cleaver (for dimensions see Fig. A). The almost regular specimen was shaped from the natural form by crude flaking on one lateral edge and minor trimming on the other three edges. All these negatives appear on the "humpbacked", rolled side (Pl. B.). The large negative on the flat breakage of the other side gives support to the fingers to hold the tool around its narrow part. If the butt edge points downwards, for a right-hander only this hold makes the tool handy. It was interesting to see colleagues intuitively holding the specimen in this way. The almost straight working edge on the butt end shows traces of heavy bifacial battering. Seen from the side, the working edge is slightly S-curved (Pl. A).

The material described above confront us with the question of how to get further and more secure evidence for the Paleolithic occupation of the area. A presupposition for systematic research is more knowledge about the still unknown sedimentary history in the late Pleistocene and early Holocene. First investigations of a sedimentary environment near Ain al Fayda proved a mid-Holocene succession of shallow lakes (H.G. Gebel, C. Hannss, in preparation). The evidence from here suggests that we have to expect at least for the mid-Holocene (4th-3rd mill. B.C.) a considerable accumulation of sediments between the anticlines. We do not know anything about such events before that time, but have to anticipate them. Underneath that the Paleolithic would be buried.

Thus, research on these periods only can concentrate for the present on possible non-buried material on an near the anticlines. Although no systematic surveys have yet been carried out, it would appear doubtful to the author to find more than single finds there, if any. Deep sounding development activities and the systematic observation of their stratigraphy, the sampling of datable material from their sediments, and the control for stone artifacts would be a more promising approach to the local Pleistocene.

Acknowledgements: I wish to thank Geoffrey Bibby, Moesgard, for allowing me to publish the scraper he found with P.V. Glob in 1959.

(Hans Georg Gebel is currently conducting research at Tubingen University, West Germany. He has been a member of S. Cleuziouís team at Hili in recent seasons, concentrating on flint finds there and at Mazyad, below the eastern flank of Jebel Hafit. Among other projects he is working on flint artifacts and debris from surface sites at Habshan, in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, and from shell middens along the Ras al Khaimah (old) coastline.)


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