Éveha International is involved in a project directed by Jérémie Shiettecatte (CNRS, UMR 8167 Orient et Méditerranée) and Abdalaziz al-Ghazzi (King Saud University, Riyadh), which takes place at the site of al-Yamāma, in the al-Kharj oasis, south-east of Riyadh.
Jérémie Schiettecatte (CNRS, UMR 8167 Orient et Méditerranée)
Abdalaziz al-Ghazzi (King Saud University, Riyadh)
Location and historical summary
The oasis of al-Kharj is located in the heart of Saudi Arabia, close to Riyadh and forms part of one of the most fertile zones of the Nejd region.
Human occupation of this region dates from prehistory. The earliest monumental remains consist of a large number of tombs, located in necropolises of varying sizes which are scattered throughout the region. The history of these tombs in central Arabia remains poorly understood, but based on our knowledge of neighbouring regions such as Yemen and Bahrain, they are thought to date from the Early Bronze Age to the Iron Age.
Al-Yamāma, the major archaeological site in the oasis, is located just north of the modern town of al-Kharj. Al-Yamāma was one of the principal urban centres in the region of the same name. At the beginning of the 6th century, the region was governed by the princes of the Kinda tribe, under the rule of the Himyarite kings of Yemen. Just before the arrival of Islam, the Banu Hanifa tribe was in control of the region. However, following their defeat at the hands of the first Muslim groups, the town came under the control of the first caliphs, successors of the prophet Muhammad, and later, the Umayyad dynasty. The site of al-Yamāma and the al-Kharj oasis underwent considerable development during this time and during the subsequent Abbasid period. Al-Yamāma then largely disappears from the written sources between the 12th and 15th centuries, which suggests that the site was abandoned. It develops once again during the modern period (from the end of the 15th to the 18th century).
The wealth of the oasis stems from the considerable reserves of water that were present, which were exploited using a network of wells and underground canals. Modern pumping has exhausted the water table.
While the region’s history is partly understood thanks to written sources, there has been relatively little investigation of its archaeological heritage. However, starting in the 1920s, certain writers drew attention to the richness of the archaeology, and to the potential value of such an investigation: the location of the region in the heart of Arabia means that it was at a point of contact between several cultural zones. In the 1980s and 1990s, the ancient necropolises were the subject of sporadic investigations, and a few test trenches were dug at al-Yamāma.
In 2011, a Saudi-French team undertook to develop research into the whole of the oasis, in order to study the evolution of its occupation from prehistory to the present day. The French side of the project is directed by Jérémie Schiettecatte (CNRS) and Abdalaziz al-Ghazzi (King Saud University, Riyadh) is responsible for the Saudi side.
This project includes considerable work on the inventory and cartography of the sites in the region, all of which are integrated into a database and a GIS. The archaeological excavations have explored several Palaeolithic deposits in the Rufaya region, the Protohistoric necropolis of Ayn al-Dila and the medieval town of al-Yamāma. Several trenches at al-Yamāma have revealed the presence of different buildings, including pottery kilns and a large mosque which shows evidence of multiple phases of occupation. The archaeological investigations have continued since then.
The material found during the excavations is often quite unusual and relates to phases as yet poorly understood in this region. Examination of the material will allow a reference assemblage to be established for the period between the end of the 4th century and the 7th century, of which little is known for central Arabia.
In addition to the purely archaeological aspect of the project (excavations and geophysical survey), there is also a restoration component, which allows for the consolidation of the buildings as they are uncovered.
How Eveha International Participates
Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities
King Saud University, Riyadh
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
CNRS (French national centre for scientific research)
French Research Agency
University of Paris-Sorbonne
École et Observatoire des Sciences de la Terre, Institut de Physique du Globe, Strasbourg