H3: Environment and Economy
by Dr. Mark Beech (*), Emily Glover (**) and Dr. Mohsen Al-Husaini (***)
FISHING EQUIPMENT (*)
SEASONALITY: THE FISH OTOLITH PROJECT (* / ***)
SHELL GATHERING (**)
DATE PALMS (*)
Large quantities of fish bones have been recovered from the excavations of site
H3 at Sabiyah. A list of the fishes represented is provided in Table 1.
/ Little Eastern Tuna
TABLE 1. List of the fishes represented
at Site H3
Fishing was carried out in shallow
inshore coastal waters, although the presence of tuna suggests that some fishing
may have been conducted in deeper offshore waters. Requiem sharks, sawfish,
sea catfish, groupers, jacks/trevallies and seabream were all common. Sea catfish
were represented by a remarkable number of otoliths ("ear-stones").
These are discussed in further detail below in the section below on seasonality.
Seabream (Sparidae) premaxillae
from site H3
Excavations at H3 have identified
a number of pieces of equipment which were probably used as fishing equipment.
These can be divided into three main categories: stone net or line sinkers,
circular disks, and bone gorges.
Several oval stone pebbles were found
with typical pecked grooves. Some of the stones had chips flaked out of their
mid-point margin on each of their long sides. Similar examples have been found
at a number of Omani coastal sites belonging to the Saruq to Bandar-Jissa-Facies,
i.e. dating to between about 5500-3500 BC (Uerpmann
1992: 94), but they can be also found at some later sites. These simple
notched pebbles were the major type of netsinker reported at Ra's al-Hamra RH5.
from site H3
A further type of netsinker found
at H3 was made on small and relatively thick pebbles which have a pecked shallow
groove around the "waistline" of the pebble, facilitating the attachment
of lines. These smaller netsinkers are generally not bigger than about 2.5 -
3 cm. Such netsinkers appear to be especially common during the early 5th-4th
millennium BC at a number of sites along the Omani coast (Charpentier
et al. 1997: 103). Examples of this type have been found at Saruq (Uerpmann
1992: 95) and at BJD1 at Al Haddah. Similar netsinkers have also been discovered
at Nad al-Walid, a shell midden located near Jazirat al-Hamra in Ras al-Khaimah,
UAE, which is broadly contemporary with Saruq.
A number of circular stone or pottery
disks were excavated during the 2001 field season. These have been provisionally
interpreted as representing throwing net weights, although some may have been
used as spindle whorls, or for some other unknown purpose.
Excavations at Sabiyah recovered
bone gorges very similar to those discovered by Biagi
and Nisbet (1989) at site RH5 at Ra's al-Hamra in Oman. The gorges consisted
of a straight stick of shell, bone or wood where the line was attached in the
middle. Once baited, the gorges were laid out parallel with the line. Any fish
swallowing the bait and attempting to swim away was then trapped as the line
is pulled taut and the gorge sticks in the throat or belly of the fish.
Bone fishing gorges from site H3
SEASONALITY - THE FISH OTOLITH PROJECT
One of the important
research questions we are attempting to investigate is whether site H3 was occupied
seasonally or all year round. We are very fortunate at H3 to have a large number
of otoliths ("ear stones") from sea catfish. Otoliths are calcareous
structures inside the inner ear of the fish. These grow incrementally and are
extremely useful to fisheries biologists as they provide a means of calculating
the age of the fish. The outermost incremental band will also reveal the time
of year when the fish was caught.
February 2001 a collaborative project between the Kuwaiti-British Archaeological
expedition and the Mariculture and
Fisheries Division of the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) was
initiated. The aims of this project are to investigate the taxonomy and identification
of modern sea catfish in Kuwaiti waters, to examine their growth and reproduction,
and to section otoliths from both modern and archaeological specimens. This
will provide valuable information concerning the possible seasonal nature of
occupation at H3.
Sea catfish (Arius spp.)
otoliths from site H3
work on sea catfish otoliths is being carried out by Dr.
Mark Beech together with Dr. Mohsen Al-Husaini
from the Mariculture and Fisheries Division of the Kuwait Institute for Scientific
Research (KISR). A pilot study was carried out in February 2001. Six archaeological
otoliths were prepared. The otoliths were first embedded in Araldite 2020/A
Embedding the sea catfish otoliths in Araldite 2020/A resin blocks
These blocks were then cut using
a Buehler Isomet low speed diamon cutting saw. This was carried out in the Fish
Aging Laboratory of the KISR Mariculture and Fisheries Division.
Cutting the resin block/otolith using a Buehler Isomet low speed
diamond cutting saw
The sections were subsequently
examined under a microscope. Preliminary results suggest that the sea catfish
were probably caught during the summer months. The sample examined so far, however,
is small and further work on the sectioning and analysis of archaeological sea
catfish otoliths from H3 will continue in March 2002.
Sections through two sea catfish otoliths
Hunted wild mammals at
Sabiyah include gazelle (Gazella spp.) and fox (Vulpes spp.).
Gazelles would have been important for their meat as well as for their hide.
Bones from gazelle have been reported from a number of other Ubaid sites in
the Arabian Gulf including Dalma island (Beech 2000,
2001) and Al-Buhais in the United Arab Emirates (Uerpmann
and Uerpmann 2000). Foxes would similarly have been exploited for their
pelts, although some of the fox bones are burnt suggesting that these may have
also been eaten.
Modern day rheem gazelle
Other hunted animals included marine
turtle (Chelonidae). Turtles can still occasionally be seen in the modern day
waters adjacent to Sabiyah. No bones from dugong were identified at H3 unlike
many sites located in the southern half of the Arabian Gulf (Beech
and Kallweit 2001).
amounts of marine shell have been recovered from the excavations at H3. The
predominant edible species was the turban shell (Lunella coronata). This
is a rock dwelling gastropod which is typically found in intertidal rock pools.
Another common shell species at the site was the pearl oyster (Pinctada
spp.). This may have been collected by diving from boats in shallow subtidal
water since intertidal pearl oyster is relatively uncommon. Pearl oyster, in
particular, seems to have been important raw material for working into various
artefacts like beads and pendants.
intertidal coastline near Sabiyah
intertidal beaches can still be seen at the present day in a area just to the
north of the Sabiyah power station. If you wade around in the rockpools here
you can still find live examples of turban shell (Lunella coronata).
Intertidal rockpool containing live examples of turban shell
(Lunella coronata) and small gastropods
The inhabitants of site
H3 at Sabiyah not only fished and hunted, but they also kept their own animals.
Domestic mammalian species recorded to date include domestic sheep/goat (Ovis/Capra)
and cattle ( Bos ). This matches other broadly contemporary sites in
the Arabian Gulf such as Dosariyah (Zeder 1974), and
Al-Buhais (Uerpmann and Uerpmann 2000).
Modern day sheep
grazing at Sabiyah
Two heavily mineralised
date stones were recovered during the 2001 excavation season at Sabiyah. It
is not possible to say whether these represent wild or domesticated date palms.
The two specimens are quite different in size. Date stones have also been recently
discovered at another Ubaid site in the Arabian Gulf, on Dalma Island in the
United Arab Emirates (Beech 1999; Beech
and Shepherd 2001; Beech et al. 2000).
two mineralised datestones from site H3
Beech, M. 1999. Dalma archaeological
site yields Arabia's oldest date stones. Tribulus 9.1: 18.
Beech, M. 2000. Preliminary report on the faunal remains from an 'Ubaid settlement
on Dalma island, United Arab Emirates. In: M. Mashkour, A.M. Choyke, H. Buitenhuis
and F. Poplin (eds.), Archaeozoology of the Near East IV: Volume B - Proceedings
of the fourth international symposium on the archaeozoology of southwestern
Asia and adjacent areas. ARC Publicatie 32. Groningen, Netherlands. pp.68-78.
Beech, M.J. 2001. In the Land of the Ichthyophagi: Modelling fish exploitation
in the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman from the 5th millennium BC to the Late
Islamic Period. DPhil thesis. Department of Archaeology, and Department of Biology
(Environmental Archaeology Unit), University of York.
Beech, M., J. Elders and E. Shepherd. 2000. Reconsidering the 'Ubaid
of the Southern Gulf: new results from excavations on Dalma Island, U.A.E. Proceedings
of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 30: 41-47.
Beech, M. and H. Kallweit. 2001. A Note on the Archaeological and
Environmental remains from Site JH-57, a 5th-4th Millennium BC shell midden
in Jazirat al-Hamra, Ra's al-Khaimah. Tribulus (Journal of the Emirates Natural
History Group) 11.1: 17-20.
Beech, M. and E. Shepherd. 2001. Archaeobotanical evidence for early
date consumption on Dalma Island, United Arab Emirates. Antiquity 75: 83-9.
Biagi, P. and R. Nisbet. 1989. Some aspects of the 1982-1985 excavations at
the aceramic coastal settlement of RH5 at Qurm (Muscat - Sultanate of Oman).
In: P.M. Costa and M. Tosi (eds.), Oman Studies. Serie Orientale 63. Istituto
Italiano Per Il Medio Ed Estremo Oriente. Roma, 31-46.
Charpentier, V., M. Cremaschi and F. Demnard. 1997. Une campagne archéologique
sur un site côtier du Ja'alan: Al-Haddah (BJD-1) et sa culture matérielle
(Sultanat d'Oman). Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 27: 99-111.
Uerpmann, M. 1992. Structuring the Late Stone Age of Southeastern Arabia. Arabian
Archaeology and Epigraphy 3: 65-109.
Uerpmann, M. and H-P. Uerpmann. 2000. Faunal remains of al-Buhais 18, an aceramic
neolithic site in the Emirate of Sharjah (SE-Arabia) - Excavations 1995-1998.
In: M. Mashkour, A.M. Choyke, H. Buitenhuis and F. Poplin (eds.), Archaeozoology
of the Near East IVB - Proceedings of the fourth international symposium on
the archaeozoology of southwestern Asia and adjacent areas. ARC - Publicatie
32. Groningen, Netherlands, 40-49.
Zeder, M. 1974. Appendix B: Modern and ancient faunal record. In: A. H. Masry,
Prehistory in northeastern Arabia: The problems of interregional interaction.
Miami, Florida: Field Research Projects, 274.
Dr. Mark Beech, Honorary Research
Fellow, Department of Archaeology, University of York, The King’s Manor,
York YO1 7EP, U.K. - Tel: +44 - 1904 - 434995 (direct line), Tel: +44 -1904
-433901 (general office), Fax: +44 -1904 - 433902 - Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Web: http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~mjb117
Emily Glover, Mollusca
Section, Department of Zoology, Natural History Museum, London, U.K.
Mohsen Al-Husaini, Mariculture and Fisheries Division, Kuwait Institute for
Scientific Research (KISR), P.O. Box 1638, Salmiya 22017, Kuwait. Email: email@example.com