The excavation campaigns
Jérémie Schiettecatte (CNRS, UMR 8167 Orient et Méditerranée)
Abdalaziz al-Ghazzi (King Saud University, Riyadh)
The third season of excavation and survey by the Saudi-French project at al-Yamāma took place between the 24th of October and the 29th of November 2013. The collaborator from Éveha International, an anthropologist, took part in the only funerary component of the project.
The project comprised several components :
– Excavation of the mosque at al-Yamāma and of the surrounding area
– Continuation of the magnetic survey of the site of al-Yamāma
– Continuation of the inventory of prehistoric sites in the al-Kharj region
– Excavation of five tombs on the site of the necropolis of Ayn al-Dila 1
The prayer hall of the mosque has now been completely uncovered. In its final state, the building was divided into three naves by rows of columns. It measured approximately 180m² and could hold 150 to 160 worshippers. It contained two mihrab as well as a staircase built into the south-west corner. The location of the minbar cannot be determined with certainty. Different floor levels, corresponding to successive configurations of the mosque, were identified. The imprints of palm mats could be seen on some of these levels. Almost twenty gaming boards (alquerque, draughts etc.) were found on the earliest floor level. These most recent excavations demonstrated that, during the latest phases of occupation, the spaces between the most easterly columns were closed off by low walls, thus marking a clear separation between the courtyard which was open to the sky, and the prayer hall which was covered.
In the courtyard, excavation continued on a peristyle which occupies the north side.
Currently, five phases of occupation have been uncovered. The earliest of these dates from the Abbasid period. At least the two most recent phases are Ottoman; the monument was probably abandoned during the 18th century.
Alongside the excavation, the magnetic survey was also continued on the site. This took place over a surface area of 35,000m². Several anomalies were detected, these most likely corresponding to walls. These elements allow us to form a more accurate picture of the extent of the urban area of the ancient city.
The other component of the programme concerns the prehistoric settlements. The continuation of the survey of the whole of the al-Kharj region led to the identification of 12 new sites (AK 30 to 41), dating from the earliest periods. On of these (AK 31) was tested and abundant lithic material was recovered.
These sites are thought to date from 200,000 to 50,000 years ago (Middle Palaeolithic).
South-west of the town of al-Kharj, the large necropolis of Ayn al-Dila occupies the edge of a limestone plateau overlooking the valley. It was first discovered in the 1920s and was explored during the 1970s. Several activities in 2013 involved this vast necropolis.
A site map created using satellite imagery revealed the presence of more than 3,000 tombs. A typological classification highlights four main groups, two of which are clearly dominant: quadrangular and circular tombs. They consist of a central burial chamber and in both cases the peripheral wall is made up of vertical limestone slabs, which hold together the stone superstructure. Despite a difference in the shape of these tombs in plan (some being rectangular, others circular), the methods of construction are very similar and both types could have been used during the same period.
Five tombs from a particular sector which appeared to form a coherent group were excavated. These investigations aimed to obtain information about the tombs’ morphology, but also to gain an understanding of their level of preservation. Two of the tombs were empty (seemingly plundered). In the others, the preservation of the bones was often rather poor. It was nevertheless possible to identify a total of three individuals, including an adult and an adolescent. Several grave goods were also found, which demonstrates that in some cases the tombs were only partially plundered. These include shell and carnelian beads, a mortar, and metal objects (a sabre and a ring, both bronze, and an unidentifiable iron object). Based on these elements, it may be suggested that the three burials date from the Early Bronze Age to the Iron Age. We cannot say, however, if the necropolis was in continuous use during this time, or if there were periods when it fell out of use.
In all cases, the burial chambers appear to have been intended for a single individual. In one example, two individuals were found, but these had been buried at very different times: one during the Early Bronze Age, the other during the Iron Age. The second inhumation was placed in the tomb after a partial plundering and a period of abandon of the first.