Sultanate of Oman
Qalhât Project – 2014

© Qalhât Development Project/Ministry of Heritage and Culture

The excavation campaigns
(by years)


Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS, UMR8167 – Orient et Méditerranée)

How Eveha Participates

archaeological research

The Qalât Project’s seventh season took place in November and December of 2014. Four researchers and a team of a dozen labourers took part in the project. The survey begun the previous year was continued. Extensive excavations took place on a new building – B39.

Mapping the site (ill 1)

In previous field seasons, a general map of the town was created using a differential GPS and aerial photographs. In order to refine this document, a systematic programme of walk-over survey was launched in 2013. This work continued in the autumn of 2014. It focused mainly on the central part of the town, around the beach, which is thought to correspond to the heart of the city and to the “old town”. In this area, the remains are particularly densely packed. The work led to a greater understanding of the organisation of the ensemble, and demonstrated the existence of large buildings.

Building B39

In the central part of the town, close to the pottery kilns identified in 2008, a large building was clearly visible on aerial photographs. The decision was taken to excavate it so as to establish its function and date. The choice of this building also fits in with the long term goal of the creation of an archaeological park on the site of Qalhât. The aim is to construct several focal points along a visitor route, one of which is planned for around the pottery kilns.


The 2014 season revealed a building whose layout was rather complex, and quite irregular. This ensemble clearly resulted from the gradual incorporation of various parts of buildings (ill 2). The walls showed numerous traces of reworking, the relative chronology of which has not yet been determined. Furthermore, the analysis of the artefacts is ongoing, so an absolute date has not yet been well established.


In places, the earliest walls were placed directly on the underlying bedrock, which has a very irregular surface. As a result, several layers of fill containing a mix of pebbles and pottery sherds were laid down to level the ground. The pottery suggests that this took place in the 14th century, but an earlier phase could have existed. It is difficult to fully understand the evolution of the building before a careful and exhaustive examination of each wall takes place. Only the last phase is quite well understood (Ill 3).


There were at least two doorways into the building (a gap in the northern wall may have been an entrance or a window). The main entrance was to the east, in an avant-corps narrower than the rest of the building and slightly off to one side. The door opened onto a corridor which ran along the wall of a platform which was reached by stairs (this ensemble – D1 – was built on top of a cement floor associated with walls from an earlier phase). The southern part of the avant-corps was occupied by a room with an earthen floor, in which several hearths were visible (E). A large pottery vessel set into the floor occupied the south-west corner of the room (Ill 4).


From this avant-corps, one could access the intermediary space (B) of the building, which was divided into two rooms. This area was also accessible by a narrow passage on the south side, which contained a small staircase. Originally, a small basin occupied the southern part of the room (Ill 5). This was later abandoned, when a partition wall was built, closing off a small room to the south, of about 5 metres². Two successive mortar floors, in varying states of preservation, were identified in this room. no particular structure was identified on the earthen floor of the large room B2.


Another room originally existed outside, where the avant-corps jointed the rest of the building (F). This room occupied the south-east corner of the building. It was excavated in part, which showed that it had been filled in before being partly reoccupied in the last phases of use of the building. It is nevertheless difficult to know if at that time it was still a covered room or if the walls had been substantially levelled.


The most westerly part of the building is only accessible by one door, between zones A and B, which was reworked several times. This wing was initially divided by a load-bearing wall (St 29) which formed two rooms of roughly equal dimensions (A3 and the zone corresponding to rooms A1 and A2). During this phase, the southern room (A1/A2) had a mortar floor which was laid on top of a layer of gravel and pottery sherds. A structure of indeterminate function is associated with this floor. It may be a sort of curved wall, heavily damaged during later modifications (Ill 6). The northern room (A3) was lined with plastered benches on at least three sides and had an earthen floor.


Later, the original dividing wall was abandoned and a new structural wall build further to the south (St 4). Its construction led to the partial destruction of the earlier floor surface. Inside the small room newly formed, two different floor surfaces were identified. The first of these was laid on top of a fill layer, and had two associated structures: a mortar placed on a stone foundation and a large fragment of floor probably used as a work surface. These were still in use in the final phases of occupation of this room. In one of the floor layers, a stone was covered with a purple material which appears to have been ground onto it (this was removed for analysis).


Further to the north, the level was raised by the introduction of fill layers which covered part of the earlier partition wall. On top of this, the layer uncovered just below the layers of collapse was very rich in material. Among the most remarkable objects was part of a stone mould for small metallic objects (Ill 7), two copper alloy balance scale weights (Ill 8), unworked or partly-worked semi-precious stones, numerous shells, some of which were worked, and a small pearl oyster shell with a hole in it. It is important to note the presence of pestles and mortars, as well as pigments contained in a small shell (Ill 9) and in a sherd of pottery. This material was clearly associated with craft activity.


The whole of the building was covered by thick layers of collapsed material which contained large numbers of coral blocs and, in smaller numbers, limestone pebbles or blocks. Several fragments of a masonry structure covered in plaster were collected in room A1, but analysis of these has not yet taken place. Lastly, fragments of mortar containing the imprints of beams, blocks or palm mats were found in several places (Ill 10). These enabled us to establish that the roofing consisted of closely-spaced beams with stones wedged in between them, and that this was covered in mortar and then by mats. These discoveries confirm that all the rooms were covered, except possibly the platform located in the north-east corner and the “corridor” which ran alongside it.


Finally, some of the walls, along with the remains of the roofing, had clearly been burnt in places.


While the function of all the rooms is not always clear in great detail, it is evident that at least part of this building was dedicated to craft activities. The pigments were clearly ground on-site and small objects incorporating metal, shell and semi-precious stones were manufactured – perhaps jewellery? The layout, which appears to be characterised by the absence of an open courtyard, does not seem to fit with that of a dwelling structure.


This building appears to have been burnt, possibly during the taking of the town by the Portuguese.