The excavation campaigns
Axelle Rougeulle (CNRS, UMR8167 – Orient et Méditerranée)
The 2013a season was the first of the Qalhât Development Project, supported by the Omani Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MHC) and directed by A. Rougeulle (CNRS).
The principal aim of this season was to gain a better understanding of part of the north-west quarter of the ancient city of Qalhât. The zone contains a large courtyard, around which various buildings are located. To the north there is a small mosque built on a terrace, which was partly studied in 2007 during the first season of the Qalhât Project (B19). To the south, the square is lined by a large building partly excavated in 2008 (B21). Finally, excavation of a complex located further south (B94) began in 2011. Investigations of B94 revealed an occupation stretching from the late 13th century to the second half of the 16th century. The first building identified in zone B94 dates to the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to understand its layout and function in light of its complete destruction to make way for a second building. This new structure was made up of two distinct elements, and therefore referred to as ‘semi-detached houses’. Five occupation phases have been identified, dating from the 14th century to the end of the 16th century, which marks the final abandonment of the site.
For three centuries, the building retained the same general organisation: the ground floor was used for craft work and the sale of goods, while the first floor was probably for private use.
Building B21, however, was a completely different type of structure. It is characterised by a solid construction with four wings organised around a square central courtyard. The material found here gave no clues as to its function, but it is highly likely that it was a sort of shop or fondouk (warehouse) owned by, or at least used by, several clients or merchants in Qalhât. The reorganisation of the courtyard and the north wing during the second occupation phase seems to be indicative of a major change in the building’s history. This is probably evidence of a change of ownership, while the function remained the same. The third phase of the building sees the whole surface area of the building filled in with a thick layer of material. This fill contained large quantities of artefacts dating to the 15th century. B21 appears to have been in active use up to the beginning of the 16th century. Perhaps it was abandoned following the attacks by the Portuguese?
The small mosque B19 is comprised of a solid foundation and an upper floor containing a prayer hall and an outdoor space. Access to this terrace was by a stairs located in the north-eastern corner of the building and which led directly to a basin for ablutions. The covered prayer hall is located on the east side of the platform. The small dimensions of the spaces suggest that B19 functioned as a neighbourhood mosque. It is likely that the inhabitants and traders of B94 and B21 came here to pray.
The three examples of occupation studied here stretch from the end of the 13th century to the end of the 16th century, which corresponds with the period of growth and subsequent decline of the major port site of Qalhât.