The excavation campaigns
Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS, UMR8167 – Orient et Méditerranée)
The third season of the Qalhât Project took place from October 30 to December 17, 2010. This project is joint funded by the Ministry of Heritage and Culture of the Sultanate of Oman, the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the CNRS, and is directed by Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS – UMR 8167). The team was made up of nine people, one of whom is a member of Éveha.
The 2010 season had several objectives.
Firstly, excavations continued on the main mosque complex.
In particular, efforts were made to determine the precise extent of the monumental complex surrounding the mosque itself, which revealed that the it is flanked by at least two courtyards. One of these is located to the west and the other (smaller) courtyard lies to the north, down-slope from the first. The relationship between these two spaces, as well as the systems of access linking them, remain poorly understood.
One of the entrance-ways to the complex was identified in the north-west corner of the western courtyard. It runs the length of the large building B13 (discussed below) as well as a secondary building, the partially uncovered B95. The latter is quite elongated in shape and the interior of the northern wall is punctuated by flat pilasters. These contain grooves which suggest that they once held shelves.
Excavations also explored the northern wing of the prayer hall, where several remarkable structures had already been identified. To the north-west, a small staircase was found, associated with a room connected directly to the prayer hall by a small doorway. The staircase descends all the way to the lower part of the complex. Along this wing, two monumental doors were uncovered. These originally gave access to the ground level of the mosque. Decomposed wood and large metallic objects were found associated with one of these doors. This area provides a few pieces of evidence for modifications to the building, which confirm that the mosque went through a number of architectural phases. Many architectural elements, some of which were very large, were found in the layers of collapsed material. Among the more remarkable finds was a fragment of a polychrome Kashan tile with a decoration of a bird. No entrance to the prayer hall was identified in this area, but access was probably gained via the upper part of this northern wing, the morphology of which has yet to be fully determined.
To the north of the mosque, the ruins of a large building are visible, dominated by a substantial pile of collapsed material in its south-east corner. This is building B13, which may correspond to the governor’s palace, given its privileged location, as well as the monumental nature of its ruins. Several trenches were dug within this monument, but unfortunately, due to their dispersed nature, we have been unable to interpret it fully. Several spaces can be identified, in particular a large courtyard to the west. These limited investigations have nevertheless demonstrated that the overall layout is quite unusual. The presence of a door opening directly onto the upper courtyard of the mosque is especially interesting. These small, dispersed trenches have above all allowed us to distinguish several architectural phases. The chronology of the ensemble has not yet been firmly established, but the original building certainly appears to be contemporary with the mosque. The privileged access to the mosque would appear to confirm its special status, and the interpretation as the governor’s palace remains plausible.
Excavations also examined a stretch of the town’s walls. In its current state, Qalhât is surrounded by a wall triangular in outline. However, a wall (B6) in the north-west area divides the whole town into two distinct zones, one of which is much smaller and much less densely built-up. It is here that the mausoleum of Bibi Maryam is located. On a drawing accompanying the manuscript of Ibn al-Mujawir, the town walls are depicted as they were around 1230 AD. They are shown as trapezoidal in shape, which fits more or less with the current outline, if we exclude the north-west extension. Ibn al-Mujawir specifies that that these fortifications were built between 1217 and 1218 AD.
One of the aims of these investigations was therefore to establish if the dividing wall belonged to the first phase of construction as this document suggests. In this hypothesis, the most westerly stretch of wall would have been added at a later date.
As the walls have largely collapsed, their exact relationships are difficult to determine. It was therefore necessary to remove the layers of collapsed material, but two trenches were also dug. The bedrock was reached at a depth of approximately 1 metre below the current ground level, and the stratigraphy is rather simple. These trenches enabled us to demonstrate that the dividing wall was built later than the other walls. The ceramic material appears to confirm that the initial set of fortifications (B7) was indeed constructed in the early 13th century, but it has proved more difficult to establish a precise date for the later structure. A wall-walk was identified on top of wall B7 and a tower linked to wall B6 can be added to the ensemble. The latter is unusual in that it faces the interior of the town, a feature common only to the other towers along this dividing wall.
Another component of the project undertaken this season was the study of the town’s cisterns.
One of these is still visible today in the north-west of the town, near the mausoleum of Bibi Maryam. It is partially covered by a broken barrel vault and measures approximately 13.5 m by 4 m. It was possible to determine that the cistern had been dug into the bedrock, which is an extremely compact puddingstone. The walls were subsequently dressed with blocks of masonry.
A trench was opened in the north-east corner to attempt to reach the bottom of the cistern, but also to establish if the structure had been completely emptied each time restoration work was carried out on the building. This trench revealed in situ layers containing 15th century artefacts, and it is therefore clear that the structure had not been entirely cleared out.
For health and safety reasons, the trench was stopped at a depth of approximately 1.3 metres, before the bottom could be reached. We know, therefore, that the capacity of the structure was at least 285 m³.
The other cistern examined is located in the southern part of the town. It was build outside the walls, in a wadi which provided the water supply. Three walls had survived to a height of almost 1.7 m, on the north, east and south sides. No wall was visible on the west side, however. It was therefore decided to open several trenches to find the bottom of this cistern, and to verify the existence of a wall on this side.
The bottom was reached approximately 2.8 metres below the current surface level, and the cistern was thus filled with a considerable deposit of natural material. The western wall was also found. The cistern was therefore rectangular, measuring approximately 15.5 m by 13.5 m, and with an estimated capacity of 750 m³. It was not closed, but was nevertheless protected by a high parapet on at least three sides, probably intended to stop various things falling in.
Lastly, the mapping of the site continued during this field season. The town plan was completed, and other dispersed operations also focused on the areas surrounding the town. In particular, these identified at least two lookout posts, one of which also contained a cistern, the other of which had an adjacent prayer hall.