Research

The BFSA actively supports research on Arabia through the provision of grants in support of research.
In 2014 the BFSA received an extremely generous donation of over £30,000 from Prof. Valeria Fiorani Piacentini. We are very grateful to her. This very exciting development has allowed the BFSA to develop its research grant scheme and to increase the amount we award, enabling us to support more substantial and varied research projects. Details of the new grants scheme can be found here: https://www.thebfsa.org/content/grants
Please see below for details of some of the projects we have supported recently:

Using L-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar to detect subsurface archaeological remains

Frances Wiig f.wiig@student.unsw.edu.au

The aim of my PhD research is to ascertain whether the new ALOS-2 Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite imagery will be able to identify and facilitate mapping of water control technologies of Bronze Age Southern Arabia. This supports one of the primary goals of a larger ongoing project, the Archaeological Water Histories of Oman (ArWHO), which strives to “evaluate satellite radar imagery as a means to detect and map ancient irrigation and field systems” (Harrower 2013:1).

Remotely sensed (air and space) imagery has become an important dataset for use in the discovery of archaeological sites and features, and research into past human behaviours (Comer & Blom 2007; Comer and Harrower 2013; El-Baz and Wiseman 2007; Parcak 2009). L-band SAR data can penetrate several metres into dry, homogenous fine-grained materials such as the aeolian sands of the Sahara and Arabian Peninsula (Blom et al 2007; Paillou et al 2008). These wavelengths are then reflected (backscattered) off subsurface features (Chapman and Blom 2013) such as bedrock, coarser fluvial deposits (paleochannels) or compacted surfaces, providing a picture of previously untraceable paleolandscape or archaeological features.
In regards to my research, this evaluation of radar imagery as an appropriate tool for the ArWHO project utilises the ability of ALOS-2 L-Band radar waves to penetrate the ground surface in order to detect falaj (channeled irrigation systems), or banked field systems. Modern aflaj (plural of falaj) and banked fields can be seen at many places within the project area, but it is difficult to interpret the relationship (if any) to their ancient predecessors.
As the new ALOS-2 imagery has only recently become available, during the field season I worked with archived ALOS imagery (the predecessor satellite) that I was able to obtain with the BFSA grant. Based on my preliminary analysis, it appears that this archived imagery lacks adequate resolution required to identify our targeted subsurface archaeological remains. For example, the falaj are usually less than 1m wide and the pixel size of the imagery is ~10m.

However, with a better understanding of the landscape within the study area, I will now be able to analyse the ALOS-2 imagery concentrating on the areas of high potential for subsurface archaeology (as recorded during this field season). Then, in the 2015/2016 field season, I plan to  test the areas indicated by the results of my analysis, either by testpitting or using ground penetrating radar, in order to confirm or disprove my results.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia, the Near Eastern Archaeological Foundation (NEAF) at the University of Sydney, Prof. Michael Harrower (PI of the ArWHO project), Johns Hopkins University, the NASA ROSES grant funding for ArWHO, and the Sultanate of Oman Ministry of Culture and Heritage. The Grant-in-Aid that I received from BFSA allowed me to purchase the archived ALOS imagery and participate in the 2015 ArWHO field season which supported my initial research and has provided a strong foundation for the next years continuing work.

References

BLOM, R.G., CRIPPEN, R., ELACHI, C., CLAPP, N., HEDGES, Z.R, & ZARINS, J. 2007. Southern Arabian Desert Trade Routes, Frankincense, Myrrh, and the Ubar Legend. In: El-Baz, F. & Wiseman, J. (eds), Remote Sensing in Archaeology. New York: Springer, 71-88.
CHAPMAN, B. & R.G. BLOM, 2013. Synthetic Aperture Radar, Technology, Past and Future Applications to Archaeology. In: Comer, D.C. & Harrower, M.J. (eds), Mapping Archaeological Landscapes from Space. New York: Springer, 113-132.
COMER, D.C. & R.G. BLOM, 2007. Detection and Identification of Archaeological Sites and Features Using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Data Collected from Airborne Platforms. In: El- Baz, F. & Wiseman, J. (eds), Remote Sensing in Archaeology. New York: Springer, 103-136.
COMER, D.C. & HARROWER, M.J. (eds), 2013. Introduction: The History and Future of Geospatial and Space Technologies in Archaeology. In: Mapping Archaeological Landscapes from Space. New York: Springer, 1-10.
EL-BAZ, F. & WISEMAN, J. (eds), 2007. Remote Sensing in Archaeology. New York: Springer.
HARROWER, M. J. (2013). 2013 Annual Report, Satellite Remote Sensing of Ancient Water Availability and Irrigation: A Comparative Study of Complex Societies in Oman and Ethiopia. Unpublished Report to NASA ROSES.
PAILLOU, P., SCHUSTER, M., TOOTH, S., FARR, T., ROSENQVIST, A., S. LOPEZ, & MALEZIEUX, J. 2008. Mapping of a major paleodrainage system in eastern Libya using orbital imaging radar: The Kufra River. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 277: 327-333.
PARCAK, S.H., 2009. Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology. Routledge: Oxon.

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Establishing a chronology for Holocene climate and environmental change from Mleiha, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Establishing a chronology for Holocene climate and environmental change from Mleiha, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Adrian G. Parker, Frank Preusser, Joachim Eberle, Sabah Jasim and Hans-Peter Uerpmann

The Holocene epoch has also been punctuated by a series of abrupt climatic events with several phases of hyper-aridity, which have coincided with changes observed in the archaeological record (Parker et al., 2006; Preston et al., 2012). To date, only a few fluvial or lacustrine records covering the early to mid-Holocene period from the region have been studied. Little or no information is available for the late Holocene from these geoarchive types (Parker and Goudie, 2008).

The purpose of this ongoing study is to analyse sediments from geoarchives from the interior of SE Arabia in order to determine and build the past climatic context of the area against which the archaeology can be set. Key methods are being used to understand how changes in rainfall and aridity have varied over the time using physical, chemical and biological analyses. The Mleiha region of Sharjah Emirate provides a unique record for human occupation spanning the last 125,000 years from the Palaeolithic through to the modern day (Armitage et al., 2011; Uerpmann et al., 2013; Mouton, 1999).

The Jebel Faya anticline forms a narrow, discontinuous bedrock ridge, which extends approximately 30 km from Jebel Buhais in the south, through Jabel Faya, Jebel Mleiha to Sha’biyyat As Saman, a few kilometres south-west of Dhaid. The Faya range is predominantly formed of Cretaceous limestones and conglomerates. Outcrops of serpentinite outcrop in places along the Faya range (Farrant et al., 2006).

Two major drainage systems have developed in the Faya area (Farrant et al., 2006; Parton et al., 2013). The southern system cuts through the Faya range, between Jebel Aqabah and Jebel Faya, and merges into Wadi Iddayyah – Batha Ar Rafi’ah. The northern drainage system flows towards Jebel Faya and Jebel Mleiha and is deflected northwards towards Sha’biyyat Milehah. The alluvial fans in this part of the system extend as far as Dhaid, where they merge into a series of channels, which converge at Falaj al-Mo’alla to form Wadi Madsah.

Samples for palaeoenvironmental analyses were collected from a topographic depression (Lat/Long N25°08’20.83” E055°51’44.64”) to the west of Mleiha, close to Jebel Faya and Jebel Mleiha, which is filled with fluvial, lacustrine and aeolian sediments. These sediments were identified as part of the University of Tübingen-Sharjah archaeological research project led by Prof Hans-Peter Uerpmann and Dr Sabah Jasim, and provide an extensive chronological sequence spanning the mid to late Holocene period. Natural sediment exposures were extended using test pits.  In addition, quarrying for sand in the area for construction purposes has led to several sediment exposures through the dune-sequence overlying the lacustrine silts and fluvial gravels which extend laterally beneath the dunes. Initial findings from three test sections (MLQ, MLP and MLL) are reported here. Several other sections are currently being studied and details will be reported in full at a later date.

Seventeen samples were dated using Optical Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating from four key sediment sections (Table 1) Preliminary results suggest the following sequence of events is recorded within the examined sediments. A series of basal gravels were noted in two of the sediment test pits (MLP and MLL). It should be noted that these gravels were not bottomed. The coarse grained layers in the lower sections of these three profiles show clear features of fluvial deposition via episodic sheet floods or shallow water channels from the Hajar Mountains transporting the predominantly ophiolite-rich material. An OSL age of 6.55±0.62 ka (4550±620 BC) was determined towards the base of test pit MLP. During the Neolithic, wetter conditions than today have been recognised across south-eastern Arabia. During this period monsoonal rainfall led to the development of lakes and active channel flow in wadis across the region with evidence for grassland covering the dunes of the Rub al-Khali in the region between 8.50 – 6.00 ka (6500-4000 BC) (Parker et al., 2006; Parker and Goudie, 2008). Evidence for Neolithic occupation of the landscape in the Mleiha region has been identified from a number of important stratified and dated archaeological sites found along the eastern flanks of Jebel Buhais (Uerpmann et al., 2006) and Jebel Faya, (Kutterer and de Beauclair, 2008; Uerpmann et al., 2013).

Aeolian cream-coloured sands, dating to the Bronze Age, 4.30-4.10 ka, were found sealing overlying the gravels in three of the test pit sections (MLQ, MLP, MLL). These dates correspond to a regionally identified phase of aridity, which has been interpreted from sand infilling the desiccated lake basin at Awafi, Ra’s al-Khaimah (Parker et al., 2006) and a major phase of dune accumulation near Al Ain, where 7 m of emplacement occurred between 4.30 and 4.00 ka (2300-2000 BC) (Atkinson et al., 2012). Three phases of ponded lacustrine sedimentation were identified at Mleiha and dated to ~ 4.00 ka (2000 BC), 1.80 ka (AD 200) and 0.17 ka (AD 1830) respectively.  In test pit MLP the uppermost lacustrine layer contained Late Pre-Islamic Mleiha period pottery.  OSL ages for lacustrine silts from the sections broadly fit into the Late Iron Age and PIR/pre-Islamic recent/ Late Pre-Islamic periods. No other lake sites have been identified from elsewhere in the region dating to this period. This provides the first terrestrial palaeoenvironmental record from SE Arabia spanning this period. These lacustrine silts extend laterally westwards and are overlain by red aeolian dunes up to 8 m high. These dunes show rapid dune encroachment over the site during the last 1500 years.

At Mleiha a major inland settlement was present during the pre-Islamic recent period. Between the 3rd century BC and the 4th century AD two substantial mud-brick forts and numerous houses and burials are known to have existed (Benoist et al., 2003). Kennet (2005) suggests that by the 3rd century AD occupation had declined and that by the 5th century the site was deserted altogether. In addition to the decline of settlements across SE Arabia at this time, Kennet suggests that there is evidence for a wider economic decline during this period. The cause for this decline is uncertain.  However, the pattern of reduced settlement that began after the first or second centuries AD and continued until the seventh century AD may have been linked to the severe droughts identified by Fleitmann et al. (2009) from a speleothem record from Hoti Cave in the Hajar Mountains of Oman. Of note is a decline in rainfall between AD 500 and AD 1,000 with an intense drought occurring around AD 530 (Fleitmann et al., 2009). During this period, a series of profound societal changes have been suggested from Arabia which coincide with the transition between the Late Pre-Islamic and Islamic periods within the archaeological record. The development of lacustrine sediments at Mleiha may help explain the inland expansion of Late Pre-Islamic period influence due to increased water availability.

The decline of the Late Pre-Islamic sites at Mleiha may be linked to increased aridity and major drought, as identified in the Hoti Cave speleothem record, which led to major changes in water availability, desiccation of the water body and the onset of major dune reactivation and migration across the Mleiha landscape. The ongoing work at Mleiha is crucial for understanding the climate and landscape record through time and how this may have impacted human occupation as identified in the archaeological record.

Acknowledgements
Funding to support the dose rate calculations for the OSL dating was kindly provided the Emirates Natural History Group (ENHG) and the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia (BFSA).

References
Armitage, S.J., Jasim, S.A., Marks, A.E., Parker, A.G., Usik, V.I. and Uerpmann, H-P. 2011. The Southern Route “out of Africa”: Evidence for an Early Expansion of Modern Humans into Arabia. Science 331: 453-456.

Atkinson, O. A., Thomas, D. S., Goudie, A. S. and Parker, A. G. 2012). Holocene development of multiple dune generations in the northeast Rub’al-Khali, United Arab Emirates. The Holocene 22: 179-189.

Benoist, A., Mouton, M. and Schiettecatte, J. 2003. The artefacts from the fort at Mleiha: distribution, origins, trade and dating. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 33: 59-76.

Farrant, A., Arkley, S. L. B., Ellison, R. A., Styles, M. T. and Phillips, E. R. (2006). Geology of the Al Dhaid 1: 100 000 Map Sheet, 100-2. United Arab Emirates, 1-61.

Fleitmann, D., Burns, S. J., Mangini, A., Mudelsee, M., Kramers, J., Villa, I., Neff, U., Al-Subbarye, A.A., Buettnera, A., Hipplera, D. and Matter, A. 2007. Holocene ITCZ and Indian monsoon dynamics recorded in stalagmites from Oman and Yemen (Socotra). Quaternary Science Reviews 26: 170-188.

Fleitmann, D., Mudelsee, M., Bradley, R. S., Pickering, R., Kramers, J., Burns, S. J., Mangini, A. and Matter, A. 2009. Megadroughts at the dawn of Islam recorded in a 2600-year long stalagmite from northern Oman, Geophysical Research Abstracts 11: EGU2009-8174-1

Kennet, D. 2005. On the eve of Islam: archaeological evidence from Eastern Arabia. Antiquity 79: 107-118.

Kutterer, A.U. and de Beauclair, R. (2008). FAY-NE15 Another Neolithic graveyard in the central region of the Sharjah Emirate? Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 19: 134-143.

Mouton, M. 1999. Mleiha I: Environnement, stratégies de subsistance et artisannats [Mleiha I, environment, subsistence strategies and crafts]. Travaux de la Maison de l’Orient Méditerranéen, 29, 292 pp.

Parker, A.G. and Goudie, A.S 2008. Geomorphological and palaeoenvironmental investigations in the southeastern Arabian Gulf region and their implication for the archaeology of the region.  Geomorphology 101: 248-470.

Parker, A.G., Goudie, A.S., Stokes, S., White, K., Hodson, M.J., Manning, M. and Kennet, D. 2006.  A record of Holocene Climate Change from lake geochemical analyses in southeastern Arabia.  Quaternary Research 66: 465-476.

Parton, A., Farrant, A. R., Leng, M. J., Schwenninger, J. L., Rose, J. I., Uerpmann, H-P. and Parker, A. G. 2013. An early MIS 3 pluvial phase in Southeast Arabia: Climatic and archaeological implications. Quaternary International 300: 62-74.

Preston, G. W., Parker, A. G., Walkington, H., Leng, M. J., and Hodson, M. J. 2012. From nomadic herder-hunters to sedentary farmers: the relationship between climate change and ancient subsistence strategies in south-eastern Arabia. Journal of Arid Environments 86: 122-130.

Uerpmann, H-P., Uerpmann, M. & Sabah, S.A. 2006.  The Archaeology of Jebel al-Buhais. Volume 1: Funeral Monuments and Human Remains from Jebel al-Buhais. Kerns Verlag, Tübingen.

Uerpmann, H-P., Uerpmann, M., Kutterer, A. and Jasim, S.A. 2013. The Neolithic period in the Central Region of the Emirate of Sharjah (UAE). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 24: 102–108.

Adrian Parker
Department of Social Sciences,
Oxford Brookes University,
Headington,
Oxon, OX3 0BP
United Kingdom
Email: agparker@brookes.ac.uk

Table 1. OSL dates from Mleiha, UAE

Sample Depth
(cm)
Grain size
(µm)
n od. K
(%)
Th
(ppm)
U
(ppm)
W.
(%)
D
(Gy ka-1)
De
(Gy)
Age
(a)
MLE-1 25 04-11 5 0.81 ± 0.09 1.77 ± 0.19 3.29 ± 0.36 4 ± 4 no signal
MLE-2 85 63-100 24 0.24 0.65 ± 0.04 1.27 ± 0.11 1.82 ± 0.14 4 ± 4 1.25 ± 0.12 2.87 ± 0.16 2290 ± 250
MLE-3 125 63-100 27 0.28 0.59 ± 0.07 1.00 ± 0.12 1.87 ± 0.22 4 ± 4 1.13 ± 0.15 4.64 ± 0.27 4100 ± 590
MLP10-7 35 160-200 12 0.17 0.82 ± 0.07 1.24 ± 0.10 0.96 ± 0.21 4 ± 4 1.27 ± 0.16 2.33 ± 0.12 1840 ± 250
MLP10-6 78 160-200 12 0.11 0.86 ± 0.09 1.27 ± 0.09 0.81 ± 0.15 4 ± 4 1.26 ± 0.16 2.50 ± 0.09 1990 ± 260
MLP10-5 100 200-250 30 0.17 0.90 ± 0.05 1.96 ± 0.09 1.08 ± 0.10 4 ± 4 1.37 ± 0.13 2.57 ± 0.13 1870 ± 200
MLP10-4 125 160-200 12 0.08 0.86 ± 0.07 1.70 ± 0.12 0.98 ± 0.17 4 ± 4 1.32 ± 0.15 3.57 ± 0.87 2710 ± 730
MLP10-3 160 150-200 30 0.20 0.72 ± 0.04 2.10 ± 0.09 1.13 ± 0.12 4 ± 4 1.23 ± 0.11 4.86 ± 0.18 3950 ± 390
MLP10-2 220 160-200 12 0.20 0.62 ± 0.06 1.38 ± 0.10 1.27 ± 0.18 4 ± 4 1.13 ± 0.10 4.92 ± 0.30 4370 ± 470
MLP10-1 270 150-200 30 0.18 0.62 ± 0.03 1.61 ± 0.07 1.23 ± 0.12 4 ± 4 1.11 ± 0.10 7.24 ± 0.24 6550 ± 620
MLQ10-1 150 160-200 12 0.17 0.72 ± 0.07 0.69 ± 0.19 1.08 ± 0.09 4 ± 4 1.13± 0.15 0.36 ± 0.03 320 ± 50
MLQ10-2 200 160-200 11 0.09 0.84 ± 0.07 1.58 ± 0.12 1.19 ± 0.23 4 ± 4 1.32 ± 0.18 1.41 ± 0.05 1070 ± 140
MLQ10-4 321 160-200 12 0.19 0.84 ± 0.08 1.30 ± 0.09 0.79 ± 0.16 4 ± 4 1.18 ± 0.14 1.80 ± 0.10 1520 ± 200
MLQ10-5 395 200-250 30 0.15 0.69 ± 0.04 1.36 ± 0.06 0.89 ± 0.10 4 ± 4 1.04 ± 0.09 1.89 ± 0.06 1810 ± 170
MLQ10-6 490 150-200 32 0.17 0.72 ± 0.04 1.83 ± 0.08 1.16 ± 0.13 4 ± 4 1.16 ± 0.11 2.64 ± 0.08 2270 ± 220
MLQ10-7 535 160-200 12 0.23 0.81 ± 0.08 2.25 ± 0.16 1.27 ± 0.25 4 ± 4 1.31 ± 0.17 5.63 ± 0.22 4310 ± 600
MLQ10-8 585 150-200 32 0.25 0.76 ± 0.04 2.07 ± 0.08 1.37 ± 0.12 4 ± 4 1.25 ± 0.11 6.18 ± 0.28 4930 ± 480

Report to BFSA regarding the workshop The Qanāt Archaeology and Environment – Durham University, 17th-19th October

Between October 17th and 19th, 2014 the workshop The Qanāt: Archaeology and Environment was held at the Department of Archaeology, Durham University.  The workshop organisers were grateful for the support of BISI, as well as the British Institute for Persian Studies, the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia, and the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University.  The aim of the workshop was to bring together archaeologists, water engineers, geographers, and historians to discuss the state of research on qanāt technology across the old world (the Middle East and Central Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe). The workshop addressed three key themes: methodologies for detecting and investigating qanāts; environmental change, sustainability and resilience; and the origins and chronology of qanāt technology with a focus on advances in absolute dating techniques.
Papers on recent surveys and excavations of qanāt systems in southeast Arabia were presented by Carmen Del Cerro (Autonomous University of Madrid) and Dave Moger and Derek Kennet (Durham University).  Carmen’s work, and that of her team, has produced a spectacular and unique record of a falaj system and associated irrigation network at al Madam in the UAE.  Dave Moger and Derek Kennet (Durham University) have utilised remote sensing, and ground based survey to map several qanāt systems, and have undertaken the excavation of one of the qanāt mounds near Rustaq in Oman in attempt to understand its construction and date.  Furthermore, Peter Magee (Bryn Mawr) offered a longue-durée perspective on water exploitation in Southeast Arabia including the development of qanāt technology.
The applications of remote sensing utilising aerial photography and satellite imagery for detecting qanāts was highlighted by Dan Lawrence and Niko Galiatsatos (Durham University), and Louise Rayne (Durham University).  These presentations emphasised the usefulness of combining remote sensing with environmental and historical data, and ground-based survey to better understand the relationship between settlement patterns and the development of qanāt systems.  Louise Rayne’s example of a multitude of qanāt systems, and archaeological sites in the Sinjar region of Iraq also brought into focus the value of remote sensing in areas which are at present inaccessible to ground-based survey.
Dale Lightfoot (Oklahoma State University) presented an extensive overview of the work he has been undertaking on the identification, and mapping of karez (qanāts) in Iraq.  Many of these systems have been abandoned resulting in the depopulation of villages where communities could no longer access water.  His work has been documenting this important part of Iraq’s cultural heritage and providing guidance for a UNESCO project to rehabilitate karez systems in Iraq.  His work highlighted the need and the progress made in bringing some of these systems, and the communities they provided water for, back to life.
Case studies on the mapping and/or excavation of qanāt systems were presented by Ahmad Shams (Durham University), and Thierry Gonon (Éveha) in different parts of Egypt.  Mark Manuel (Durham University) also presented on the use of survey along qanāt lines in the central Plateau of Iran to detect Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites that might be otherwise buried.
Morteza Fattahi (University of Tehran/Oxford University) presented an overview of the role of the qanāt in Iranian society both past and present, as well important work on the absolute dating of qanāts by OSL (Optically Stimulated Luminescence) dating.  The application of this technique, and that of micromorphology (studying the make-up of the sediments to understand depositional processes etc.) to qanāt dating was further expounded upon by Ian Bailiff and Lisa Snape-Kennedy (Durham University).  Their work has been undertaken on a qanāt system in Spain along with Chris Gerrard (Durham University) who also presented an overview of qanāt technology in Spain.  Finally, Maurits Ertsen (Delft University of Technology) challenged the audience to think about the ease or difficulty of the development of qanāt technology and the current models of the diffusion of this technology.
Overall, the workshop highlighted the need for a new agenda to guide research into the development of qanāt technology, inspired discussion on methodological approaches, and pointed out the need for understanding the challenges faced in maintaining or rehabilitating this sustainable water technology in the face of environmental change.
Qanat conference5c73
Participants (from left to right): Miriam Parra, Hugh Kennedy, Ruaridh Ellison, Peter Magee, Dale Lightfoot, Lisa Snape Kennedy, Ahmed Shams, Louise Rayne, Dave Moger, Chris Gerrard, Kristen Hopper, Derek Kennet (seated), Tony Wilkinson, Ian Bailiff, Thierry Gonon, Maurits Ertsen, Alejandra Gutiérrez, Carmen del Cerro, Rune Rattenborg, Julien Charbonnier, and Morteza Fattahi.

The DISPERSE-Project at the University of York

I am a PhD student in the DISPERSE-Project at the University of York. One of the project’s main aims is to analyse the coastal settlements in Arabia during the early Neolithic. My PhD “Farasan Islands: An Isotope Study” focuses on the over 3000 shell middens on the Farasan Islands, Saudi Arabia. It is the most elaborate site of coastal exploitation on the Arabian coast, with the highest concentration of shell midden sites in the world. The middens are exceptional, especially when compared to the small number of prehistoric coastal sites on the Arabian mainland located 40 km further east. They accumulated over a period from 6500 to around 4000 cal BP and their different constellations of sites and sea level suggest a change in the environment as well as exploitation intensity. The actual occupation duration of individual middens is still a part of ongoing research as there are many different stages of occupation and clusters of middens that align with different palaeoshorelines. The shell middens range from small, deflated clusters to 6 m high mounds of tightly packed shell. Mostly there is little or no fine-grained sediment present and most layers are clast­-supported. 90% of the excavated shell middens contain high amounts of Strombus fasciatus shells.
My research deals with the accumulation of these S. fasciatus shells during this time of intense exploitation. I am trying to evaluate the possibility of using the isotopic records in S. fasciatus shells to reconstruct the water temperature of the shells environment when it was alive, to find out about the season of death. Ultimately this seasonality study will give me an insight into exploitation patterns and accumulation rates of the sites.
The great number of sites suggests an intense exploitation that can be almost called industrialised. However, by not actually knowing how much of the shell deposit is being used at a time, it is not clear if all accumulated at once by a large island population or if it accumulated slowly but steadily by a much smaller number of people.
It is likely that the truth is somewhere in between but how this is related to site distribution, archaeological finds, burials, environmental change and possibly the change of social structures, is yet to be found out.
To verify S. fasciatus as a seasonality proxy, I collected modern shells at different times of the year and sampled the most recent growth increments to compare the isotopic composition to the temperature of the water at the time of collection. I found that the isotopic composition is strongly correlated to the water temperature and can be used to calculate the hypothetical temperature with an error of less than 1ºC.
Additionally to the isotopic analysis of the shell. I also carried out analyses using laser ablation to look at the change in elemental composition with the change in temperature. Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) was used to measure the Mg/Ca ratio of the shell aragonite with promising results. Because LIBS is faster and more cost-effective, we made the first step towards a mass production of seasonality and climate data from archaeological shells.Using the money awarded by the BFSA, I was able to present my research at the conference of the International Council for Archaeozoology in San Rafael, Argentina in September 2014. The presentation was a success and was well perceived. The immediate result was the invitation to an additional conference in Tubarão, Brazi, the I Seminário Internacional de Arqueologia Subaquática (First International Seminar of underwater Archaeology) hosted by Deisi Scunderlick Eloy de Farias at the beginning of October. Here I was able to present the research to an archaeological community that has been heavily influenced by shell midden research and had a great interest in the Arabian shell midden sites as well as the tools and methods used in Saudi Arabia. An additional invitation was followed by the Museum for Shell Middens in Joinville, Brazil to give another talk and foster relationships for future international projects comparing Brazil, that has the largest shell middens, and Saudi Arabia, the has the area with the most concentrated shell middens in the world.To conclude, the money awarded by the BFSA made it possible to not just present my research at a very important conference to an international community of archaeologists but also laid the foundation for two additional presentations and future research with shell midden specialists.
Niklas_Report Picture359d
Picture of shell midden specialist Beatriz Ramos da Costa and me in front of Shell Mound “Morro do Ouro” in Joinville.

Oil, aspiration and compulsion in Oman

Dr Ruth Young School of Archaeology and Ancient History University of Leicester

Historical Archaeology in the mudbrick village of Bat

The BFSA kindly awarded me a grant at the end of 2013 which enabled me to visit Oman in early 2014 in order to carry out an investigative season for a new historical archaeology project I am hoping to establish. Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn together make up one of four UNESCO World Heritage sites in Oman, inscribed on the basis of the extraordinary Bronze Age funerary monuments both at Bat and Al Ain, and the monumental Bronze Age ‘towers’ at Bat and Al-Khutm. The modern town of Bat is adjacent to the World Heritage zone and is an oasis where date palms are cultivated, at the heart of which is the old (now abandoned) mud brick village, clustered round the central fortified tower or Husn. Such mud brick villages within oases represent an important part of rural life right up until the mid-1970s when modernisation based on oil production resulted in sudden sweeping change. All Omani residents were required to build new houses of modern materials (concrete breeze blocks dominate) and abandon the old fashioned mud brick houses permanently. This wholesale change was intended to signal both to Omanis and to international observers that Oman was a modern country, and as such, must have had a huge impact on community and individual identity, and also on community and family relationships.

The aim of this new project is to explore the creation and reproduction of socio-political power structures and systems within the abandoned village, through the analysis of material culture and informant interview. Exploring these villages in terms of material culture and the direct memories and understandings of people who lived in them offers an opportunity to learn about the ways in which people used space and architecture to shape and create individual, family, tribal, political, religious and other relations within the villages. It also allows us to explore how they dealt with any dislocation resulting from government initiated mass re-settlement programmes.

In this first short (three and a half week) field season a small team dedicated to this Historical Archaeology project were able to achieve a great deal. We created an initial plan of the village was created, begin analysing and recording walls of the extant buildings, interviewed fourteen people who had lived in the village and conducted site visits, excavated in one of the houses and obtained an artefact assemblage. We also held an Open Day for the people of Bat to come and see the excavations and learn about the wider project aims and over 100 visitors attended. Men were scheduled to visit during the morning and women in the afternoon, and many of the women brought along mats, food and tea and set up picnics in the alley way immediately outside the house where we were excavating, thus turning the occasion into a very social one as well. Everyone who visited said they were pleased to be able to learn about our project, and many people told us they were pleased and proud that their village and their past was being studied like this.

Thanks to all the team members (Owen Batchelor, Katherine Dance, Angie Hume, Hannah Hunt, Adil Riaz, Shadia Taha,) and AJBAP, and the people of Bat, and to Ms Samia al-Shaqsi, Ms Asma al-Jassassi, Mr Sulieman (Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Bat), Mr Neil De Leon (Surveyor, Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture), Mr Sultan Albakri (Director of Excavations and Archaeological Studies, Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Muscat), and to the British Foundation for Arabian Studies.

Bat excavations in abandoned shop small1c60
Bat excavations in abandoned shop small

 

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