Under commission by the Ministry of Heritage & Culture of the Sultanate of Oman Archol has started an excavation in Oman between the coast locations of Shinas and Sohar.
The motivation for this comes from the laying down of a motorway between the capital city of Musqat and the United Arab Emirates in the north. Threatened archaeological sites along the path are to be examined before the work reaches them.
Within the span of the future motorway are dozens of tombs dating from the bronze and iron ages (3000 BC – 600 AD). These are about 5 metres in diameter and once reached to some 4 to 5 metres high. In the course of time they have partially collapsed though still having a height of 2 to 3 metres. One or more burial chambers lie within possibly containing human remains and burial goods.
After about a week and a half of digging in Oman we are busy with our fifth tomb. Here’s an insight into how Archol excavates and documents them. Excavates is perhaps not the best word considering that we more busy with breaking up the above-ground structure than actually digging.
The research team is four archaeologists from the Netherlands and from next week on we’ll be reinforced by a physical anthropologist. Next to that we have six Indian labourers and a mini digger machine to stack the stones on the side.
Before we begin with dismantling the tombs they are first photographed from all sides to facilitate 3D-modelling. Subsequently all the rubble around the structure is removed to try to determine the original plan. The burial chambers are then laid bare and dug down from the top, the sediment being sieved and finds and skeletal material collected (more about that later!). After documenting the chamber we set a coupe along the whole mound to complete mapping the site.
It’s almost four weeks here in Oman and we’ve done eight tombs. What has this delivered up?
First of all, of course, bones! Human and animal bones. Every tomb so far has had skeletal remains. Sadly the human bones are extremely fragmented but we are still able to extract information on health and age and so on. The other material is from animals that have lived in the tombs such as iguanas and geckos but also cow’s teeth and goat and sheep bones.
Of course all these tombs have been plundered in the past so that we nowhere find a full grave inventory. Even so we’ve recovered some grave goods from almost all of them: bronze needles, a bronze ring, red and white stone beads, shells, a sharks tooth and pottery. During the plundering all those bones and goods that were not taken were shoved to one side leaving nothing more in situ. This makes it difficult to determine what the function of the finds was. Were the shells part of a necklace? Are these bronze hair pins or clothes pins? With any luck we might find an undisturbed grave where we can answer these questions!