Sultanate of Oman
Qalhât Project – 2016

© Qalhât Project/Ministry of Heritage and Culture

The excavation campaigns
(by years)


Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS, UMR8167 – Orient et Méditerranée).

How Eveha Participates

Archaeological research

The latest excavation season of the QP (French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, CNRS) took place from 20 November to 16 December 2016.

Part of the work involved continuing the detailed survey of the central area of the town, so as to obtain a more accurate general plan.

At the same time, several excavation trenches were opened around the mosque. The most substantial archaeological deposits observed on the site are found in this area, and one of this season’s objectives was to document the early phases of occupation in greater detail.

Almost all of the trenches reached the natural substrate, which is very irregular in appearance.

The main trench was dug in the west courtyard, part of which backs onto the mihrab. It measures a little over 20m². The natural substrate – a layer of pebbles in an extremely compact matrix – was reached at approximately 12m.

Fill layers or occupation levels associated with an initial phase indicate that the area was frequented, but no evidence for urbanisation was found. These layers add up to a depth of approximately 70cm. Analysis is currently being carried out on the rather large quantity of artefacts recovered. A preliminary examination of the pottery appears to indicate a 12th century date, in particular due to the presence of sgraffiatos, but also because of the absence of Yemenite mustard ware, a pottery type present in considerable quantities at Qalhat, which seems to have been made between the 13th and the mid-14th century.

In this trench, mustard ware was first found at approximately 12.7m. About 10cm above this, the earliest identified building appeared. This is associated with a floor level in a very compact white mortar. The only wall found so far is located under the mosque’s Qibla wall and could therefore only be partly seen. This wall, which is oriented north-south, follows the same alignment as the Qibla wall. Barely 1m of its length was observed. However, the altitudinal measurements enabled us to confirm that it corresponds with a wall found approximately 1m to the north in a trench dug in 2008, which allows us to reconstruct a minimum length of 3m (and a maximum observed width of approximately 20cm). Only one course of blocks was preserved. The function of this initial building, dating from the 13th century, has yet to be determined.

Later, the area is characterised by the build up of thin occupation levels or fill layers which are rich in pottery and organic material including fish bone, animal bone, shells, and charcoal. A few indeterminate cuts were observed within this sequence. These layers are over 1m deep and contain abundant artefacts. The pottery appears to date from the 13th century. No locally made examples were found.

A second wall, also oriented north-south, was built on top of these layers, from approximately 14m altitude. It was only observed sporadically, as it continues beyond the excavation zone to the north, and was disrupted by later cut features to the south. Small pieces of floor levels and occupation layers are associated with this building, which has been dated to the 13th and very early 14th century.

In the eastern part of the trench, these levels, as well as those underneath, were cut by a large feature which opens at approximately 14m. This feature is associated with the construction of Qalhat’s main mosque, which was build upon a large partly filled in base (see previous articles for more about the architectural details of this monument). The construction of this large complex is associated with the figure of Bibi Maryam, wife of governor Ayaz, who led the town with her husband, and continued to do so after his death (c. 1280-1320), during what is considered the town’s golden age. During this ambitious construction project, the entire zone to east of our excavation trench appears to have been removed down to the natural substrate, in order to level the terrain. To the west, the foundation wall functioned as a terrace wall, and is unusual in that it is very narrow and seemingly only had a facing on its western side (despite digging a small sondage beneath it, no evidence of an eastern facing was found). The areas to the east and west of this wall were filled in as it was being built. The actual elevation of the Qibla wall begin at 14m altitude. This upper part is much wider than the foundation (1.40m, compared with a maximum of 1m for the lower part). It is entirely covered by a beige plaster coating which also covers the protruding mihrab. This plaster appears to be associated with a second cut feature which remains difficult to interpret. It may be related to the original project, or perhaps to a phase of reworking/inspection of the external plaster.

In the later phase, the floor of the courtyard appears to have situated at approximately 15m altitude. It contains several holes which may have served to hold scaffolding in place. Large numbers of plaster fragments were found on this floor, which were most likely from the Qibla wall. This layer was cut by a very large pit which took up the north-west quarter of the trench, and which was only partially excavated. The artefacts recovered suggest a 15th century date. Later, this pit was in turn cut by a second large feature located in the south-west corner, dated to the 16th century. The function of these cut features remains indeterminate.

The other trenches were dug next to the south wall of the upper courtyard, which appears to date back to the original architectural project.

Finally, a number of other observations revealed further information about how the passage between this upper courtyard and the lower courtyard, situated to the north of the mosque, was used.