Evidence of Neolithic settlement in the foothills of the Western al-Hajar Mountains
Abstract: Systematic prospection and excavations in the Rustaq region of northern Oman, approximately 45 km from the coast in the foothills of the Western Hajar Mountains, have revealed an unexpectedly dense record of Neolithic sites. Besides surface scatters of lithic artefacts, excavation at the site of Hayy al‐Sarh recovered two stratified archaeological horizons (AHs). The upper horizon, AH I, contained pierced marine shells that provided an age of the archaeological material of about 6800 to 7500 years cal BP. Typologically the AH I lithic assemblage compares to the Suwayh facies defined at the coast 300 km to the east. Whether the marine shells and cultural affinities point towards exchange with coastal communities or possibly seasonal movement remains an open question at this state of research, but this new evidence for inland Neolithic settlement near Rustaq provides important new data that will help improve our understanding of spatial patterns of Neolithic demographic variability.
Summary (3 min read)
- Compared to earlier periods of the Stone Age in Southeast (SE) Arabia, the Early to Mid-Holocene archaeological record is relatively well understood regarding chronology and material culture (Charpentier, 2008; Uerpmann et al., 2013).
- In the context of these questions, significant issues include the spatial distribution of sites and the precision of the chronologies.
- The project has uncovered a more or less continuous occupation sequence from the Early Bronze Age until at least the 1970s, broken only by occasional gaps in the record.
- Systematic survey of the different geomorphological features has led to the documentation of Neolithic settlement of so-far unrecognized intensity.
- The Batinah plain of northern Oman is a narrow ~35 km wide sequence of alluvial fan and fan-related drainage features, and coastal deposits.
- Weathered material from the mountains is the predominant sediment source for much of the plain, while rainfall across the mountain catchment activates the northeastwards flow of surface and subsurface drainage towards the coast.
- Within zones proximal and medial to the mountains, a complex suite of fan deposits are indicative of higher rainfall throughout northern Oman in earlier times.
- Further investigations will aim to elucidate the nature and timing of these phases of drainage activation; however, the authors tentatively ascribe them to wet phases during the Mid-Late Pleistocene.
- Sedimentary exposures of this most recent phase of large-scale wadi activation are typified by multiple fining-up sequences of sub-angular-well-rounded pebbles and cobbles interbedded with coarse ophiolitic gravels, granules and sands.
- To approach the potential Stone Age record of an unknown landscape, the authors hypothesized that the distribution of lithic raw material and water are key factors in shaping land use patterns and consequently the distribution of archaeological material in this landscape.
- The higher, earlier terraces around Rustaq should thus have been magnets for prehistoric groups exploiting the region during the Pleistocene and Early to Mid-Holocene, due to the availability of lithic raw material, their proximity to wadi channels as well as their strategic advantages.
- In contrast, the medium terraces display lower topographic variability and are generally of a low gradient.
- Survey consisted of walking transects across different terraces around Rustaq, with a spacing of approximately 5 m between the three surveyors providing transect bands of 15 m width.
- Where archaeological material was identified on the ground, GPS coordinates were recorded along with the estimated spatial extent of the scatter, followed by the collection of all identifiable archaeological material.
- Twenty-five days of such field work led to the identification of 18 loci featuring Stone Age lithic material, with a total surveyed area of approximately 15 km² and the collection of 1080 stone artifacts.
- Material from seven of these loci was classified as Neolithic (Fig. 2), based on observed typo-technological characteristics.
- Four of the Neolithic loci consist of lithic assemblages of either high or medium density or scatters extending over relatively large areas of more than 1000 m² (Tab. 1; Fig 2).
- The first high density site was identified at locus L2414 in the center of a flat area belonging to a ‘middle’ phase terrace southwest of the confluence of the Wadi Sahtan and Wadi Bani Awf (Fig. 2-1).
- Technologically this assemblage features a focus on flake production (Tab. 2) and is characterized by high frequencies of faceted striking platforms (30 %) and edge preparation (32 %).
- Two scrapers and one borer are other recognizable types that complement the tool assemblage.
- The core assemblage provides evidence for reduction from single and multiple platform cores in equal proportions (Tab. 3).
- The occurrence of typical bifacial points in L2423 and L2424 led us to conclude that both assemblages represent a Neolithic occupation.
- At L2423 three square meters were opened for test excavation (Fig. 5).
- About 20 cm below this a second layer (AH II) was identified, also in all three excavated squares.
- On about half of the flakes the authors identified a lip between the striking platform and the ventral side.
- The small lithic assemblage from AH II is composed of one core and five flakes, including three so called chips (Fig. 7), which are flakes smaller than 2 cm (Tab. 2).
- One of the cores is a relatively large single platform core featuring unidirectional scars.
- Observed typo-technological similarity among the surface assemblages and excavated horizon AH I at Hayy al-Sarh provides evidence for a period of human occupation of the Rustaq area during the Early-Mid-Holocene.
- The bifacial, fusiform points with diamond shaped cross sections found at Hayy al-Sarh resemble the short thick fusiform point type (Type 1.B) from Suwayh 1 (Charpentier, 2008).
- This suggests that the Neolithic finds from Rustaq may represent settlement activity in the region during the 5th millennium BC.
- Fragments of the two shells of family Naticidae were prepared with diluted hydrochloric acid (1% HCl) and subsequent washing in Milli-Q water prior to leaching in 85% Phosphoric acid.
- Systematic field work around Rustaq, located in the foothills of the Western Hajar Mountains, has revealed evidence for a Neolithic occupation of the region.
- Given the very few radiometrically dated and stratified inland sites from the Early to Mid-Holocene in SE Arabia, these questions are difficult to address at present.
- Recent isotopic studies on human remains from Jebel Buhais 18, for example, indicate that the long-preferred interpretation of movement of the Buhais population to the Gulf coast in the west is less likely, despite a relatively straightforward route to this coast being provided by the Wadi Yudayyah.
- In times of wadi activation, this area would probably be difficult to reach from the plain, given a relatively narrow passage between the plain and the mountain wadi.
- Neolithic sites described in the text.
- Basic characteristics of the lithic cores in the collected assemblages.
- Low density sites, which are not discussed here, are shown by circles.
- Up of the pierced shells showing the identical location of the holes.
- C) Close-up of one hole showing markings related to the production of the holes.
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Q1. What are the contributions mentioned in the paper "Evidence for neolithic settlement in the foothills of the western al-hajar mountains running title: neolithic settlement in rustaq" ?
The upper horizon, AH I, contained pierced marine shells that provided an age of the archaeological material of about 6,800 to 7,500 years cal BP. Whether the marine shells and cultural affinities point towards exchange with coastal communities or possibly seasonal movement remains an open question at this state of research, but this new evidence for inland Neolithic settlement near Rustaq provides important new data that will help to improve their understanding of spatial patterns of Neolithic demographic variability.