Umm Al Quwain Site 2
1. TOMBS, GRAVES, NECROPOLI : NEW DEFINITIONS FOR EASTERN ARABIAScientific methods of field anthropology on collective graves were developed in France from 1970 by Henri Duday, Jean Leclerc and Jean Masset, but have only been used recently in Arabia at the excavation of Hili N from 1998 to 2006 in the United Arab Emirates. In the early 2000s the same methodology was applied at Ra’s al-Jinz (RJ-1). It is therefore now essential to precisely define certain terms used in funerary archaeology in the Arabian Peninsula. The interpretation of burials of the Bronze Age and Iron Age as collective burials is not in doubt, but the presence of collective burials in the Neolithic remains to be demonstrated. Indeed, for this period, all that has been demonstrated is the use of individual graves, double graves (two persons interred simultaneously) and multiple graves (more than two persons interred simultaneously). Such cases are known at Buhais, Ra's al-Hamra, Wadi Shab GAS1 and perhaps Suwayh. However, that of zone 43 at Ra's al-Hamra remains too poorly documented in the literature for a definitive interpretation, and the same applies to the excavations in the early 1990s at Umm al UAQ2 Quwain. We therefore propose here that the term collective burial be associated with funerary practice (i.e. a succession or chaîne opératoire of gestures), to distinguish it from the collective tomb which may or may not be a built structure. The necropolis, the classic definition of which in European Protohistory is also a suitable term to use in the Neolithic and Bronze Age in eastern Arabia. In the Oman peninsula, the reality of protohistoric collective burials has been relatively easy to determine for periods following the Late Neolithic, from 3300/3200 to 3100/3000 cal BCE (depending on the conditions of preservation of the graves and their contents, as well as the methods of excavation, sampling, storage and dating). They date from the Early Bronze Age (Hafit 3100/3000 to 2700/2600 cal BCE and Umm an-Nar 2700 / 2600-2000cal BCE periods), Middle Bronze Age (Wadi Suq period 2000-1700/1600 cal BCE), Late Bronze (1700/1600 1300 cal BCE) and Iron Age (1300-1000 cal BCE). How do archaeologists know this? Because most of the collective burial tombs of those periods are stone built and constructed above ground, or partially above ground. The grave diggers therefore had to open something that by definition was closed, sometimes hundreds of times, in order to enter the tomb and deposit new bodies. Within these structures, there were ‘heaps’ of bones, more or less disturbed or very disturbed, but which sometimes included hundreds of groups of articulated bones (we can exclude that they were mummified, because of the climate-related conditions of decomposition), with sometimes a large part or even the entire skeleton preserved (as at Tell Abraq and Tomb A at Hili North). The second type of collective burial tomb known from the Early Bronze Age is the lined pit. This tomb type was identified following the resumption of the excavation of a large BA pit (Hili N, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi Emirate) dug into the ground and dated to 2200-2000 cal BCE. Another colective lined pit with collective burials was identified at Mowaihat (Ajman Emirate). Neolithic tombs in eastern Arabia are differentiated from those of the Bronze Age by their architecture, method of deposition of the bodies, and the methods used for the recovery of bodies. - These are structures in non-lined pits dug into various kinds of natural sediment soils -- sandy/shelly anthropic sediments of the shell-middens along the coasts (Emirates Ra’s al-Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain in the United Arab Emirates, regions of Muscat and Ja’alan in the Sultanate of Oman); sandy-clay and rocky soils of the interior (only one known case, at Jebel Buhais BSH-18). - The bodies are then covered with sand or other materials such as plants and animal deposits by the burial attendants. - The tombs are sometimes sealed by stones, as at Suwayh and Ra’s al-Hamra. We propose to reserve the term collective burial for deposits that clearly represent the final act of burial in a designated place, where it is certain, based on excavation results, that it was closed after each deposition, but not completely filled by sand (unlike the NE Arabian Neolithic tombs, and had to be reopened in order to incorporate new burials. These collective graves must by definition include primary burials, but can also include secondary burials. This is the case with the Early Bronze Age (end of the Umm an-Nar period) Hili N tomb, which contains mainly if not almost exclusively, primary burials, and also at Mowaihat Tomb B in the Emirate of Ajman. The term tomb-emptying will be reserved for graves that contain only secondary burials where it can be shown that the bones they contain had been redeposited from elsewhere. Such tombs exist in the Umm an-Nar Period, at least during the last two-thirds of this period at Al Sufouh in the Emirate of Dubai and Ra's al-Jinz, RJ-1, in the Sultanate of Oman.
2. PHASE 1 OF EXCAVATIONS (1992-1993, UNDER THE DIR. OF C.S. PHILLIPS)Soon after the discovery of the site (1992), C.S. Phillips and P. Treveil opened a first trench (5m x 0.50m) at the top of a sand dune, which revealed a deposit rich in shells, a total thickness of 60 to 80cm. At their base, an ash level, rich in bones of terrestrial mammals and fish, revealed a human skull and few Mesopotamian sherds of the Ubaid period. An excavated area of 1m x 3m revealed three articulated skeletons. The excavation area was enlarged in 1993 in collaboration with a physical anthropologist, S Strongman. Only the ash level at the base of the stratigraphy, excavated by C.S. Phillips, contained human remains; the upper layers proved to be clearly later than the graves and were very poor in artefacts. This ash level contained hearths situated around an area 2 x 4 metres with concentrations of numerous human remains. Most of the human bones were disarticulated, or only partly articulated; only 9 individuals were well preserved. They had been placed in flexed or contracted positions, on the left side, the deposits being organised in three principal phases. Some bones had been disturbed or moved as new burials took place, in particular, several skulls and long bones had been moved to the side. S. Strongman identified a minimum number of individuals (MNI) of 42 or 43, consisting of the following: 18 adult males, 14 adult females and 3 sub-adults. The oldest individual was 35 years old. The fact of finding numerous burnt animal bones in hearths or at the edge of hearths allowed one of us (C.S. P.) to interpret them as the remains of possible funerary meals. Their preliminary analysis by H.-P. and M. Uerpmann indicate that they were the remains of both domesticated (sheep, goat, cattle) and wild species (gazelle and oryx). The material associated with the settlement comprised of a small number of artefacts and biofacts. The best find was certainly a large fine non-perforated pearl, beautifully preserved. These excavations show the importance of the use of ochre in rituals, which will be the case later, after the discoveries made in the sanctuary of Akab, where we discovered beads painted with the ochre. A fragmentary, spherical and non-perforated bead of carnelian originated from the same level (unpublished). This type of bead had a special importance in the Neolithic funeral rites of the UAE. Pearls also had a particular importance in the funerary rites of the UAE: at Buhais some were placed on the upper lip of some of the deceased. The pearls were semi-perforated in the case of males and non-perforated in the case of females. In addition, there were elements of Neolithic adornment, such as beads of shells of several species of marine gastropods, a discoid bead of soft stone, several beads of Mesopotamian bitumen, and a stone pendant. A perforated rectangular plaque belonging to a bracelet made from a bivalve shell was rather similar to ornaments from Ra’s al-Hamra and some other sites from the Ja’alan region, Sultanate of Oman. However, it was not made from Fascolaria trapezium shell but from a bivalve. Other finds were of great interest, such as a piece of ochre, almost 4cm in diameter, and a bone spatula bearing traces of this colourant, of a type, to date, unique in the East of the Arabian Peninsula, were found near the skull of one of the individuals. These finds show the importance of ochre in the rituals, which has been confirmed in other Neolithic contexts, notably in the sanctuary of Akab, where ochre-painted beads were discovered. A few sherds of Ubaid pottery, sometimes painted, have been discovered, of a type that was first identified in the middle of the 1980s on the coast of the Emirates of Ras al-Khaimah and Sharjah. Two flint projectile points were also found. Their style (technological, morphological and dimensional) proved to be very typical of coastal Neolithic sites between Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah and many of these were found as early as 2011 in stratigraphy in Sector 2/settlement at UAQ2.
3. PHASE 2 OF EXCAVATIONS (2011-2014, under the Dir. of S. Méry)In resuming the excavations of UAQ2, our intention was not to continue the search of the area of the cemetery, but to explore the residential area of the Neolithic inhabitants. In November 2012, J. Martin, who was also part of the team of the Phase 1 excavations, decided to investigate the limits of the Phase 2 excavations of the necropolis. Part of the edges of the C. Phillips 1993 excavation were found, but the section east of his trench had to be enlarged in order to find its eastern edge. In so doing, we discovered and partly excavated two new skeletons. They were found partly below the level of the burials discovered by C.S. Phillips (Skeleton A: 74 cm under the actual surface, Skeleton E: 113 cm under the actual surface, that we subsequently renamed in ). In November 2013, we continued excavations in this area with the collaboration of K. McSweeney, an osteoarchaeologist. Our initial intention was to fully excavate and carry out osteological analysis of the two skeletons that were identified, but not retrieved, during the previous season. The excavation showed that the burials were located within and at the base of the occupational levels of the site. A group of 10 hard stone (harzburgite) net sinkers was found west of Ind. D. It is reminiscent of the deposits of groups of stones which were found in the Akab Dugong Bone Mound and near it (Méry et al. 2009), in the sense that they were connected to rituals. Another skeleton (Ind. E) was partly articulated. A very partial articulation (arm and hand) of another body had been found in an overlying level, over Ind. E. As the excavations progressed a total of three new skeletons (skeletons A-C) were discovered between the two first (Skeletons A and E). During the field season, it was only possible to retrieve the skeletal remains, although brief assessments of sex and age at death carried out by K. McSweeney as the remains were uncovered. As the condition of the bone was generally rather poor, some measurements were also taken in the field before the remains were retrieved. Thorough osteological examination will be necessary before more complete details are available. Thus burials in the cemetery now number 47 or 48.
3.1. Tomb 1The four individuals (Ind. A to D) had all been neatly laid out, and were situated very close together, all lying on their left sides, with their heads to the north, facing east. All had their right arms flexed and laid over the next skeleton, with their legs also flexed and in some cases, feet intertwined: • Skeleton D must have been the first of the four buried. • Skeleton C had its maxilla and nose against the occipital of D and its right arm lying across the waist of D. The right arm of Skeleton B lay across the humerus of Skeleton C, with the right hand resting on the ribcage of D. • Skeleton A had its right arm over both individuals B and C, its right hand resting on the rib cage of C. Interestingly, the left humerus of A was under the right ribs of Skeleton B, and the right foot of Skeleton B was lying between feet of Skeleton A. These details confirm two things: first, that the four corpses were buried at the same time and secondly, that their position was carefully arranged. From examining the position of the five skeletons, it can be confirmed that the first skeleton to be buried was D, followed by C, and then B, followed by A. Individual D is male and age at death was at least 21 years, again the minimal wear on the teeth is suggestive of young adulthood. A flint arrowhead was found in the sandy filling around the area between the lower (broken) ribs of this individual. When excavated, the lower part of the ribcage was fragmented but the pieces of ribs were still in place, the arrowhead was located in between the fragments of the ribs but there was no trace of any secondary disturbance for the bones above (ulna, radius) and around (pelvis). When the soft tissues decomposed, the ribcage was filled by sand during the natural taphonomic process. For this reason, we may conclude that the arrowhead was most probably embedded inside the body. It was not a ritual offering following the deposition of the body. Although a full interpretation will only be possibly after a complete skeletal analysis, it seems likely that the projectile shattered the ribcage and remained in the soft tissue surrounding the ribcage cavity. Such a trauma is likely to have resulted in death. Individual C is male, age at death was young adult. Individual B is a male of advanced age. Four un-perforated pearls were grouped on the right femur, close to the pelvis, perhaps having been held in a bag made of ephemeral material. Individual A is male, age at death was at least 18 years and he was probably a young adult. Anterior teeth were worn from occupational use. In situ measurements of the long bones show that the height of this individual was 168.26 cm. Two un-perforated pearls were grouped near the right femur, close to the pelvis.
3.2. Tomb 2At some point subsequent to the burial of this group, Skeleton E was deposited. This fifth individual, buried in front of the others and partly on top of Skeleton D, was separated from the A-D group by a thin layer of sand. This male skeleton was flexed, on the left side and the pelvis titled forward. The right arm was flexed at the elbow and the right hand was resting just above the left elbow. The head was oriented to the north-east and was resting on the left shoulder and the left arm was bent outwards at the elbow. The legs were tightly flexed, more so than the individuals in Tomb 1, possibly indicating binding. It is not possible to know if the burial of this individual was carried out immediately after the inhumation of the four first individuals and whether or not this act had any direct relationship with the previous burials. In other words, are we dealing with one multiple grave of five individuals, or rather, one grave with four individuals plus a single inhumation? Despite the second scenario being more likely, the first option should not be excluded - we will return to this idea in more detail momentarily. This skeleton was an adult male. He was found with personal ornamentation, in the form of a belt of beads made from marine gastropod shells. During the excavation we also found a number of items in the sand covering and surrounding the bodies, especially beads. They were all registered and described in the Catalogue by one of us (A. Berthelot) and photographed (by. A. Berthelot, D. Gasparini, G. DEvilder and D. Zaros). A selection was drawn by D. Zaros.
3.3 DiscussionIn summary, the five individuals discovered during the 2012-2013 excavations at Umm al Quwain 2 were all adult males. Four of them were young adults, and only one was a male of advanced age. One of the individuals probably died from a projectile injury. Skeletons A, B, C and D were buried at the same time and their bodies were very carefully arranged. The oldest male, Ind. B, was accompanied by four pearls, and Ind. A by two pearls. This provides clear evidence of the status of pearl fishing during the Middle Neolithic period in Arabia, and the symbolic value of pearls in funerary rituals. The first four men died and were interred within a very short period of time. We might estimate no more than a week passed during these events, otherwise, the placement of the bodies as we have observed would not have been possible. It is impossible, however, to make an estimation of how much time passed between the inhumation of the first four individuals and that of Skeleton E. At most, we can say that the interment of the latter did not in any way disturb the contents of the grave situated below. How can we interpret the deceased men in the first tomb? Why are they grouped into the same tomb as an individual with an arrow wound? Though one of these individuals likely died of his arrow-related wound, we have no indication of the cause of death of three other individuals. The probability of four simultaneous, natural deaths of young adults is almost negligible, according to statistical studies, in particular those carried out by Jean Leclerc and Philippe Chambon, even if we can assume a small living population size (80-100 people maximum) and seasonal variations in mortality (significant in sub-arid environments). The ethnography shows that in traditional societies, combinations of bodies in the same grave are very rare except in the case of: - Burials of disaster (due to conflict, epidemics, famine, massacre). - Graves of individuals, men and women, killed for the death of another individual, referred to as the "main subject" by Alain Testart. In these companion burials (that are not sacrifices) "wives or concubines, servants or slaves, servants, accompanying the dead were not offered to the deceased: they belonged to him and this relationship continues after death." What reasons could there be for the simultaneous or successive deaths of these four men found at UAQ2? They can be varied, but the case of tomb of UAQ2 logically leads us to put forth the hypothesis of a provoked death, perhaps a violent one, because even though the cause of death of the other three individuals of Tomb 1 is not clear, the very specific placement of the fourth body is intentional. The staging of the bodies in this spectacular grave from Umm al-Quwain 2, symbolizes union in death. It seems less likely that the four died at the same time while hunting, considering the type of environment and the prey available to them (gazelles and small rodents). Had an accident occurred at sea, they would never have been found. So it seems unlikely that a man died from an arrow wound, and, at the exact same time, three other individuals died of infectious disease or poisoning. However, the hypothesis of companions in death cannot be totally excluded in case of Ind. D.
Signs of violence in Eastern Arabia Peninsula during the Neolithic?In Eastern Arabia Peninsula during the Neolithic, there are two types of violence visible in funerary context: wounds occurring from blows or arrows, and the presence of projectile weapons. In the 1980’s, an arrowhead made from a shark’s tooth was found embedded in a lumbar vertebra of an individual from Ra's al-Hamra RH-5 zone 43 by the Italian Mission. This is the only direct proof of injury by arrow, among the nearly 350 primary burials from the Neolithic period that have been excavated in Arabia. However, according to one of us (K. McSweeney), in many cases, this type of injury may not have left marks on bones, but may have simply been embedded in soft tissue. On the other hand, violent blows to the head and forearms - called defense fractures - have been frequently attested at the site of Buhais BHS-18 in the Emirate of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates). At Buhais, accidental cranial traumas caused lesions of variable size and shape, distributed over the whole surface of many of the skulls. By contrast, the depressed fractures observed by H. Kiesewetter at Buhais have the typical pattern of intentional injures predominantly located on the parietal bones above the level of the brim of the head. She argued that from their shape and distribution most, if not all of them, were probably not accidental injuries. Instead, they appear to have been produced by intended blows to the head. The small punctures observed on a number of skulls are concentrated on the forehead and are predominantly circular or ellipsoidal in outline. Their consistent size, shape, and localization imply that they were caused by the systematic use of a weapon, most likely by the use of a slingshot. Furthermore, they have found several chop wounds, which undoubtedly result from a sharp–edged weapon, thus corroborating the violent character of skull injuries discovered at Buhais. It has also been shown that the examination of minor injuries in the form of defense fractures provides insights into the susceptibility to aggressive incidents. Several metacarpals found within the Buhais BHS 18 material also reveal fractures, which are most likely punch-related hand injuries. Accordingly, when involvement of the postcranium is considered, it appears that hands and arms were implicated in interpersonal violence. From paleotrauma analyses at Buhais BHS18, it was possible conclude that interpersonal violence was common, especially in the frequency of cranial fractures, which are regarded as reliable indicators of aggressive behaviour (13.9% of the skulls excavated). Twice as many men as women were affected by this type of injury. Interpersonal violence was frequent, deliberate, and often fatal in the Buhais BHS 18 population and the evidence from osseous remains almost certainly underestimates the rate of actual trauma, as no doubt a high proportion of wounds affected only soft tissue. At Wadi Shab Oman, many fractures were identified on the bones found in the graves of Gas1, including a defense fracture found in a multiple grave (Munoz, pers. comm). The presence of projectiles in the graves may provide an indirect indication of violence. In the Sultanate of Oman, arrowheads of shark tooth, either perforated or not at the base, are often recovered in Neolithic sites. As recently shown by Eleonora Fortini (2013) through experimentation, they were used as projectile points. Such arrows were found in several graves at RH-5 and at Wadi Shab GAS1. At Ra's al-Hamra RH-5 (Capital area), in Tomb T329, which included five individuals, a shark tooth was found near the ischium of the pelvis of Individual D. (We do not have, however, any direct proof that it was impaled in the body of this man, or that such a trauma was the cause of death). Shark teeth, including two with perforated bases, were found associated with two other graves from RH-5, including five examples in tomb T. 68inf. At Wadi Shab, a bi-perforated tooth was found in Grave 3 at GAS-1. This body of evidence demonstrates a degree of violence during the Neolithic in eastern Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, during a range between mid-6th millennium BC and the end of the 4th millennium, which corresponds to the entire Neolithic period known in the region to date.
Multiple graves as a significant cultural marker of the Neolithic period in NE ArabiaUAQ2 Tomb 1 is not unique in NE Arabia; other multiple graves are known. These inhumations include between two and five individuals. We know of ten at Buhais 18 in the Emirate of Sharjah, one at Ra's al-Hamra RH-4 (Tomb 10) in Oman, at least twenty-one at RH-5, one or two at RH-6 (Grave 1986/1, Graves 2012 1 & 2), five at RH-10 (including one triple and four double graves), one at wadi Shab at Gas1, and perhaps one in the Ja'alan at Suwayh. At first observation, the number of multiple graves – about 40 tombs – is high in the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman. However, based on the known number of individual primary burials (nearly 250), they are far from being the exception, representing nearly a quarter of known graves. Thus, the multiple grave is among one of the most significant cultural markers of the Neolithic period in the Arabian Peninsula. These multiple graves are in alignment with what we consider as the “standard” regional type grave of the period, in terms of type of structure (a pit whose size corresponds to the size of or number of individuals buried, once flexed), orientation and arrangement of the body (deposited on one side, legs bent, arms flexed, one or both hands near the face), and the composition of artifacts and associated biofacts are the same as in individual graves. Finally, the ages and sexes of the individuals in the multiple graves are varied: men and women could be buried together, but also children - always with one adult or more, except in one case. Excavations of the necropolis at Buhais revealed six multiple burials containing only adults, but none contained four men as at UAQ2. In summary, the significant proportion of multiple graves, the fact that the norms of funerary rituals are respected, the composition (individuals of both sexes and all ages), combined with the fact that the traces of violence (direct or indirect) are evenly distributed in individual inhumations as well as multiple burials shows that these multiple burials were not exceptional, nor were they necessarily linked to a deadly conflict. In individual and multiple graves of Buhais BHS-18, the proportion of head injuries is similar, at around 10%, based on the 350 skulls studied. At this site half of the multiple graves, either double or triple inhumations, discovered contained an individual with one or more peri-mortem cranial trauma. War in the Neolithic … As said before, numerous graves, either individual or multiple, contain evidence that could testify to the occurrence of a violent or deadly conflict, particularly in the form of injuries that left marks on bones or the presence of arrowheads. We will not go into the details of Buhais, widely published, and where H.P. Uerpmann and his team have shown a high degree of plausibility that these conflicts were external, and caused by rivalries between population groups. Our hypothesis is that this is also the case at Umm al Quwain UAQ2. Indeed, on the coast along the Arabian Gulf, the search for good places to install a camp and stay either occurred periodically or even only yearly – which we cannot determine with certainly here - was crucial. Along the Arabian Gulf in the northern Emirates, settlement on the high dunes allowed for more efficient monitoring of the area, as well as the exploitation of the resources provided by lagoons and mangroves. Fish, shellfish and crabs were present in quantity, as well as mangrove wood and foliage that could be used in the construction of huts and as livestock feed. The arrangement of the bodies in Tomb 1 at Umm al-Quwain UAQ2 shows the close relationship of the individuals concerned. This particular placement is rare but nevertheless evidenced in the NE Arabia, at Buhais and Ra's al-Hamra. It occurs in many double graves, though not exclusively, and the placement of the bodies in several tombs of Buhais is similar to UAQ2. One of them contained the skeletons of three men and two women (i.e. four adults and one adolescent, approximately 14 to 16 years old): the probability that all died during a violent episode seems high to us. The same positioning of intertwined bodies exists elsewhere in other periods of time, including two famous examples, both of which are confirmed war graves: the Gallic tomb of Gondole (near the Puy-de-Dôme, France), with eight riders entwined, accompanied by their horses, and the tomb of the 10th Battalion Lincolnshire, with twenty young men who died in combat in April 1917, buried simultaneously, lying on their backs, heads to the north, forearms folded and arranged horizontally, joined hands resting on their abdomens. The inhumation of the bodies was east-facing, with exacting detail, as the right elbow of each man rests atop of the left elbow of the body to the right, forming a chain of the “Grimsby Chums,” so-named after the small port in the northeast of England, where this group of WWI combatants originated. If the qualification “war grave” is possible in the case of grave UAQ2 at Umm al Quwain, it remains improvable. The precise arrangement of the deceased appears to be a symbol of the relationship of the group in death but also, most likely, in life, social relationships, potentially familial, given the assumed size of the group. The willingness of the individuals who carried out the inhumation to have arranged the bodies in this way, with such detail and care, allows us to posit that the burial was performed by people from the same group or community as the deceased. It is also clear that they wanted to give them a burial worthy of the relationships to which they belonged during their lifetimes. Nothing differentiates any individual over another in the tomb of UAQ2 – neither in the disposition of the bodies, nor in the very meager associated grave goods, and nothing therefore indicates the presence of the dead accompanying a main inhumation.
ConclusionsUmm al Quwain UAQ2 was the first Neolithic necropolis discovered in the United Arab Emirates, and its discovery had a great impact at that time in the early 1990s. However, the interpretation of this confined funerary space remained problematic: was it a collective grave or cemetery? The findings presented here show that the reality is both simpler (as we have Neolithic tombs of standard type corresponding to single, double and multiple graves) and more complex, since the small size of the necropolis and the very high density of burials found remains unparalleled to date in Neolithic NE Arabia.