The excavation campaigns
Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS, UMR8167 – Orient et Méditerranée).
The latest field season of the Qalhât Project was carried out by a four-person team from 18 November to 18 December 2015.
The systematic survey programme, ongoing for the past several years, continued in the central area of the town. In early 2016, this work will be supplemented by a new topographic survey of the uncovered remains. This will provide us with an even more detailed plan of the whole site and the buildings located there.
Archaeological excavations focused on B39, a building located near the pottery kilns (B41) and which was previously investigated in 2014. A number of excavation trenches enabled us to gain a better understanding of the evolution of the structure.
It appears that the building retained more or less its original layout right up to its abandonment, though in its initial phase the eastern side was less developed. Due to the very irregular nature of the natural subsoil, several depressions had to be filled in before the construction of this first building. Analysis of the material associated with these fills is ongoing, but it does not appear to be earlier than 13th-14th century. To the east, a significant part of the masonry consisted of rows of large irregular rocks, and it is unsure whether upstanding walls were present everywhere. In any case, it is difficult to imagine that this type of foundation could have supported a stone wall.
A large number of plastered structures which appear to have been cisterns or basins are associated with this first phase. The north-east corner of the structure contained a raised platform covering an enormous stone which is part of the natural subsoil. Outside the building, near the south-east corner, a large pit or latrine which may also belong to this phase was excavated. Its fill contained large quantities of pottery and a few bones of sea mammals.
The function of this building has yet to be determined, as the material is not characteristic of a specific activity. The presence of so many basins nevertheless suggests a role related to craft activities. This phase is probably contemporary with the use of the pottery kilns located to the north, as the phases posterior to B39 are also more recent than the layers containing large numbers of remains related to pottery firing. Excavation of the potter’s workshop is already planned and this may enable us to establish whether these two buildings were indeed originally related.
In later phases, certain areas were partitioned, the walls were repeatedly modified and the entire eastern part was reworked and extended slightly towards the east. While a detailed chronology of these developments is difficult to determine, it seems that the basins were gradually abandoned and that the cistern located in the south-east corner was filled in. A pipe, which may have been associated with a channel in the exterior of the north wall, is the only possible evidence of a water supply system. In any case, it is clear that the building’s function changed over time. In its final phase, it was used for craft activities. Mortars, pestles and grindstones – some of which were still covered with ground pigments – were discovered last year. These were associated with small bronze weights, a mould for small metal objects, and partially worked semi-precious stones, all of which point towards a workshop for the production of small objects or jewellery.
There is only one area of the building where the layers of collapse were not excavated in 2014. These were excavated during the 2015 season (Room B2). A grindstone, associated with a mortar and what may be a stamp were found on the latest occupation level. This appears to confirm the craft-related function of a large part of the building.
In the room associated with the main door of the building (Room E), a half-buried domestic oven belonging to the latest occupation phases was excavated. This structure is comprised of a large upturned earthenware vase whose base had been broken and around which were packed stones and other sherds of pottery. The oven was almost entirely filled with layers of collapsed building material. Inside the room, excavations revealed several floor levels and repairs, associated with different occupations. The latest layers are characterised by their very ashy nature and a large quantity of fish bones. This appears to indicate a domestic function for this space. Among the artefacts recovered from this late occupation, a small glass lamp was found which still contained a piece of partly burnt cloth.
The excavation of the exterior of the building revealed further traces of a late (16th century) occupation which had already been identified last year. This is situated on the eastern side, at a time when the earlier cistern had been filled in. The pit (or latrine) located further to the south was also fully filled in by this time, and a small platform had been constructed on top of it.
The remains of a wall oriented east-west were identified approximately 3.5m to the north of B39. They seem to belong to a second building. A street was constructed between these two structures and was re-surfaced several times.
Finally, it was established that the building remained partially upstanding after its abandonment. A number of the walls of B39 collapsed onto deep layers of material which had had time to accumulate around the building before its final destruction.
This year’s programme also involved renewing the study of the baths uncovered by a joint Omani-Australian team in 2003. Further investigations enabled us to gain a greater understanding of the function of the building and how it evolved over time. This monument is expected to be restored soon.