The Qalhât Project’s fourth season took place from October 25 to December 12, 2011. The project is joint funded by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture of the Sultanate of Oman, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the CNRS, and is directed by Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS – UMR 8167). The team consisted of 9 people, including two members of Éveha.
The main mosque
Further research took place on the mosque complex during this season, in particular on the area around the prayer hall.
Excavation continued on the north wing in order to test the validity of certain hypotheses previously put forward, relating in particular to the location of the original entrance to the prayer hall.
The new excavations revealed an extremely complex organisation of space at the junction between the upper and lower courtyards. Several traces of major reorganisations of this space were also visible.
In the eastern part of the lower courtyard, sections of walls parallel to the one isolating the complex from the beach were identified, though their function has not yet been determined. In the same area, a trench revealed one of the floor levels of the courtyard, made of pebbles. In the mosque itself, excavations revealed a wall with a door in it which appears to belong to the first phase of the north wing. The whole of this area was covered with the remains of large architectural elements, some of which probably came from the minaret.
Further to the west of the northern wing, excavation continued on the staircase found during the previous season and a total of nine steps have now been identified. These descend to a room, and a small part of its floor was uncovered.
A room in the north-west corner, part of which had been identified previously, was also excavated. It was connected with the staircase and contained several structures relating to water, including a small manhole in the northern part and a basin in the southern part. Its function has yet to be determined.
Another trench revealed the external facing of the mihrab as well as the floor levels which relate to its later phases. The masonry was plastered, and evidence of repairs was visible.
Excavation of a domestic structure
This season, the decision was taken to conduct a full excavation of house B94. Others houses had previously been explored, but it had not been possible to excavate them completely (B16, B38). Excavation was also begun on a modest-looking building in the north-west area of the town. The aim was to gain a better understanding of the spatial organisation of a domestic structure, but also to collect archaeological material which would give us a more specific idea of the every-day life of the inhabitants of Qalhât. The building chosen is opposite a small mosque (B19) as well as house B21, which was excavated in 2008.
While the preserved height of the walls of B21 had initially appeared to be quite low, it turned out to be much greater than that of B94, which prevented us from excavating the building completely. Furthermore, the stratigraphy proved to be quite complex, and there was abundant material present.
It soon became apparent that the structure was not one single house, but two dwellings, each built around a courtyard.
The entrance to the northern house was to the east. The door opens on a room characterised by the presence of a cistern. From this entrance, one can access the courtyard, which then provides access to two other rooms. One of these, which occupies the north-west corner, did not contain any particularly notable features. The second room, on the other hand, contained four “vats” surrounded by low walls. Their function is still unknown, especially as they had been destroyed before the house was abandoned; the parapets were broken and the vats filled in and covered with a floor. In addition to these rooms, the existence of an upper floor seems plausible, at least in certain places.
The entrance to the second house was to the south. Outside, there is a bench beside the door. This door opens into a room which provides access to various spaces. There is a courtyard to the north, and different rooms to the east and west. A staircase indicates the presence of an upper floor. A madbasa (a structure for the transformation of dates into syrup) was identified in the most western room.
In the south corner, excavations uncovered a room which, unusually, had no entrance, besides a narrow opening in its upper section. The fill of this room was a heterogeneous sediment rich in organic material and also containing abundant archaeological material. Among the artefacts were numerous Far Eastern imports but also many Omani ceramics, from Qalhât or Bahla. In this zone, the corner of the house was reinforced by widening the base of the walls and filled-in rooms could be partially observed. It is possible that a tower occupied this part of the structure.
In addition, two rooms which backed onto the west side of the north house were excavated. There was no direct access between these and the houses. In the fill of one of them, abundant material was found.
Analysis of the artefacts is ongoing, but a preliminary examination suggests that these houses remained in use until quite late, probably up to the second half of the 16th century.
Furthermore, a number of deep trenches demonstrated that the ground on which this group of buildings was constructed is quite irregular. The bedrock is characterised by large depressions, some of which had to be filled in to enable the construction of the walls. These fills contained large quantities of material which indicated that the northern house was built in the 14th century.
Lastly, inside the southern house, masonry from at least one earlier building was found to have been levelled to make way for the new dwelling.
Excavation of a pottery workshop
This season also saw further study on the pottery workshop identified in 2008. Excavation was continued on a kiln which had previously been partly uncovered. A new kiln, particularly well conserved, was also identified. It is rectangular and measures 2 x 2 metres. A height of almost 1.5 metres had been preserved and the floor was still present.
Trenches were dug in order to establish the organisation of this zone. These revealed substantial layers of ash mixed with burnt fish bones, and a great number of pottery firing accidents.