The Ra's al-jinz project (Oman)
The Ra’s al-jinz project tackles economic diversification and social complexity in non-urban societies, from the perspective of Eastern Arabia, by exploring the Early Bronze Age settlement of Ra’s al-jinz RJ-3.
- 2018 - 2023
- Valentina Azzarà
- National Geographic Society
The Ra's al-Jinz project focuses on socio-economic development of Eastern-Arabian populations during the Early Bronze Age (EBA). It aims at grasping the processes that led to diversification and specialisation of labour, economic interdependence at the regional and interregional level, and social complexification. These transformations are often explained as the outcome of extra-regional influences, but local dynamics must be understood as central in the process of socio-economic diversification of these populations.
Focusing on cultural dimensions somehow underrated in the Eastern-Arabian context, the project intends to enhance our comprehension of everyday life and the way communities coped with their needs at the level of the social units and beyond. Village-life and the interaction of social units, as well as the organisation of activities and the economic diversification at the community level, analysed in a diachronic perspective, will shed new light on the triggering factors of the EBA complexification, helping us to assess the weight of local and external inputs.
The Ra’s al-jinz project also aims at deepening our comprehension of the relationship between humans and their environment, by understanding how these populations adapted to coastal ecological niches and exploited the wide spectrum of natural resources in increasingly arid conditions.
The bay of Ra’s al-Jinz, in southern Omani Sharquiyyah, constitutes a broad archaeological compound, with a continuous occupational history from the 6th millennium BCE onwards, representing a unique complex in the regional landscape.
The main excavated occupation, RJ-2, which was explored for more than 20 years by the Joint Hadd Project (dir. S. Cleuziou and M. Tosi), is one of the foremost Early Bronze Age settlements in the region, providing a well-documented sequence of more than 500 years throughout the Umm an-Nar period (c. 2600–2000 BCE). The site shows solid evidence for (direct or indirect) interactions with overseas regions, and displays the richest assemblage of seals in the Oman Peninsula, hinting at somewhat prominent position of the settlement in the regional exchange network. RJ-2 also yielded a large amount of bitumen slabs from boat caulking.
Closer to the seashore, the Umm an-Nar site of RJ-3, located on the other side of the bay, most likely formed with RJ-2 a single settlement, extended on 3 or 4 ha. The nature and distribution of surface material and the data collected during recent excavations indicate that RJ-3 was a specialised area related to different sorts of craft activities. Furthermore, the site shows a long sequence of occupations from the Late Neolithic to the Final Umm an-Nar period, quite exceptional for a coastal site in the region; the area possibly documents also the very beginning of the EBA (Hafit period, c. 3100–2600 BCE), at least on a part of the site. The sequence also reveals possible marine transgressions and the evolution of the paleo-littoral throughout the 4th and 3rd millennium BCE.
Overall, RJ-3 represents the perfect setting to explore: i) the organisation of activities and of the workforce; ii) the possible presence of a port, if geomorphological setting of the bay was then more favourable to berthing activities, or the likelihood of managing short sea-shipping on the path between two possible port-of-trade areas, namely Ra’s al-Hadd and Khor Bani Bu Ali - which might contribute to explain the rich assemblage of foreign goods at Ra’s al-Jinz; iii) the relationship between humans and their environment, i.e. how these populations adapted to coastal ecological niches and exploited the wide spectrum of natural resources in increasingly arid conditions.
The project implies a multi-scalar and multi-method approach. Preliminary sounding, required to assess stratigraphic sequence and plan field-strategy, was organised during the 2017 campaign of the RJSP. The stratigraphy displayed aceramic anthropogenic layers, related to Neolithic occupations, obliterated by thick aeolian sediments, which were covered in their turn by 100-120 cm of intensively anthropised EBA deposits, marked by Indus and Umm an-Nar ware.
Based on data collected through this test-trench, as well as surface surveys and finds collection conducted over the years by the Joint Hadd Project, our strategy combines large scale excavations and deep trenches. The latter aim at documenting the possible extent, the material culture and the chronological frame of the occupations from the Neolithic to the EBA.
Besides, the vertical sequences have been documented and sampled to analyse the geomorphological setting of the bay; the study, complemented by the geophysical survey of the area, is conducted by J.-F. Berger and his team, in the frame of a collaboration between the Ra's al-Jinz Archaeological Project and the ANR NEO-Arabia.
Extensive excavation focuses on EBA vestiges. Stratigraphic digging aims at in situ 3D recording of finds, complemented by systematic dry-sieving and targeted wet-sieving of soil samples. Specialised studies on artefacts and ecofacts will benefit of GIS-aided distributional analyses, both in a synchronic and diachronic setting. Aerial drone imagery, granting easier access and recording of the surrounding terraces, enhances context documentation and the detailed mapping of the bay.
The excavation of RJ-3 completes a long cycle of investigations on the Umm an-Nar occupations at Ra’s al-Jinz, putting into light a unique complex, where settlement evidence and funerary remains are not only both represented, but have also been explored and thoroughly studied. Combined with such data, the new explorations of the bay will offer essential clues to tackle the EBA complexification and address the socio-cultural and economic dimension of this Eastern Arabian community. Besides, the presence of Hafit occupations on site, if it is confirmed, will allow us addressing the evolution of socio-economic complexity throughout the whole 3rd millennium BCE within the same settlement complex.
Finally, new excavations in the natural reserve of Ra’s al-Jinz might also help promoting the musealisation of the area, and its inclusion in the UNESCO Heritage List.