Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS, UMR8167 – Orient et Méditerranée)
How Eveha Participates
topography archaeological investigations
The first fieldwork season of the Qalhât Project took place from November 1 to December 15, 2008. This project is joint funded by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture of the Sultanate of Oman, the French Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and the CNRS, and is directed by Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS – UMR 8167). The team was comprised of seven people, two of whom are members of Éveha. This first field season had several objectives: to gain a better understanding of the organisation of the town and to produce a georeferenced map; to determine the date of the town’s foundation and to launch an analysis of the pottery in order to understand the trade network that the town was part of.
On the edge of the town, close to a small mosque, excavations revealed a huge building which turned out to be well preserved once the layers of collapsed material were removed. Sondages were dug in a number of the rooms and a small basin was discovered in one of these.
Analysis of the archaeological material indicates that the building was constructed in the early 14th century. It was soon abandoned, possibly following an earthquake. This substantial structure was partly reoccupied during the 15th century.
In another part of the town, a pottery kiln was identified and subsequently excavated. Numerous examples of pot firing accidents tell us much about local ceramic production. Preliminary analysis appears to indicate a late production, probably from the 15th century. An earlier kiln seems to be located close-by, which will be excavated during future fieldwork seasons.
Fieldwork also involved analysis of the town walls. Excavation of a defensive structure in the southern part of the town revealed the existence of a coastal wall. To the north, an ancient gate was excavated. Two separate phases could be identified, the oldest of these dating to no earlier than the 13th century.
In the heart of what appears to be the old town, a trench was dug to examine the stratigraphy. The geological layers were reached at a depth of approximately 6 metres. The earliest layers date to the 12th century.
The results from this trench indicate that, after a substantial phase of occupation in the 13th century, a large building was constructed around 1300 AD. One of its walls was uncovered: entirely plastered, it was preserved to a height of 1.5 metres and was approximately 1.2 metres wide. A second wall was later built on top of this one, while a large quantity of fill layers accumulated against the earlier wall. Analysis of the artefacts found in the underlying fill layers suggest that this second phase dates from the 15th century. Layers of collapse from this monument later covered the ensemble.
Trenches dug within the building enabled us to identify the building as a mosque, as indicated by the discovery of the stairs of the minbar and the mihrab. The building was divided into several naves and bays by columns or stone laid pillars, some of which were still visible. It was also richly decorated, with stucco, varnished tiles, ceramics etc. Some of these show signs of reuse, probably from the earlier building. In fact, part of the interior of the upper section of the first (earlier) wall was uncovered, and this was still decorated with varnished tiles. This decoration most likely belonged to the qibla wall, which suggestst that this earlier building was also a mosque.
These two buildings probably correspond to two successive phases of the main mosque of Qalhât. The first of these appears be the one described by the geographer Ibn Battuta, who stayed in Qalhât in about 1330 (in his account, Ibn Battuta stresses the magnificence of the main mosque). The second appears to be the mosque destroyed by the Portuguese at the beginning of the 16th century, based on an almost contemporary description.
Analysis of the pottery has enabled more precise dates for the various buildings to be established. It has also demonstrated privileged links between Qalhât and India, where a very large proportion of the pottery came from. Material from the Far East appears to arrive later, and no evidence of African pottery has yet been identified. The discovery of a pottery kiln sheds new light on our understanding of pottery from this part of the world at the end of the Middle Ages.