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Excavations at H3: a summary

Paula Wallace excavating at H3 (Picture by Mark Beech)Since the first season, a complex of stone-built structures has been uncovered, consisting of several cellular buildings (Carter and Crawford 2001).

The pottery found on the site, and radiocarbon dates, indicate that it was occupied during the second half of the 6th millennium and perhaps the beginning of the 5th (seven to seven-and-a-half thousand years ago).

The stone structures on the site would have been used for a variety of purposes. Some of the chambers were used for living in, while other spaces were working areas. The purpose of many of the chambers remains mysterious.

The artefacts point to a mixed material culture, incorporating characteristics of both the Stone Age of the Arabian Peninsula (known as the Arabian Neolithic), and the early village communities of southern Mesopotamia (known as Ubaid). The background and way of life of each of the two communities were very different, and the potential for a fertile exchange of goods and ideas was high.

Labret from H3 (Picture by G. Williams)


Items with Mesopotamian associations include stone and ceramic discs with grooves around their circumference. These are thought to be facial ornaments, worn in large piercings in the lip, though they could also have been worn in the ear.  Pottery figurines from Iran and Mesopotamia seem to show similar items being worn on the face.

Ceramic nail from H3 (Picture by G. Williams)


A number of ceramic nail-shaped objects or plugs were found at H3. These are also characteristic of Mesopotamia. They may have been used in a similar manner to the labrets, though some archaeologists believe them to be small grinders, used to prepare cosmetics.

Spindle Whorls from H3 (Picture by G. Williams)



Spindle whorls found at the site suggest that the spinning of wool took place. The whorls are also typically Ubaid in shape and style. Some are decorated with incised lines.



Activities that took place on the site include the making of many thousands of flint tools, in the Arabian Neolithic tradition. Fishing was very important, as well as gathering shellfish for food. Sheep and cattle were herded, and probably goat, and animals were hunted.

Another activity that occurred at the site was the manufacture of shell jewellery. Different species were used for different types of ornaments.

String of beads, found articulated at H3 (Picture by G. Williams)


Although many of these items may look plain to modern eyes, they were presumably considered beautiful during the Stone Age.

The simplest and commonest ornaments are simple disc beads; around 1000 have been found.


Pierced shell artefacts from H3 (Picture by G. Williams)


There are also numerous mother-of-pearl "buttons" with several piercings. These may have been sewn onto cloth like sequins, as they are very delicate.

Most of them are circular, but barrel-shaped and hourglass-shaped examples are also found. The nearest parallels are found at Ubaid-related sites in Qatar (Nayeem 1998: 215, figs 5-8).


One of the most interesting activities on the site involved the dismantling, and possibly the building or repair, of sea-going vessels. Small slabs of bitumen found on the site show reed impressions on one side, and barnacles on the other. It is believed these are fragments of the waterproof coating that was traditionally used to cover reed boats in the Middle East. These are the oldest sea-going boat remains ever found. More details can be found on our boats page.

A ceramic model of a boat was also found; this may give an idea of how the ancient vessels looked.

Ceramic model of a  boat from H3 (Picture by G. Williams)

We believe that bitumen-covered reed vessels were used to carry people and goods between Mesopotamia, H3 and the Central Gulf region.  Artefacts from H3 and other sites show that goods were traded between natives of southern Mesopotamia and the Arabian Peninsula, and it now appears that some or all of these goods arrived by sea.

Traded goods are likely to have included pottery, shell artefacts, types of stone such as flint and obsidian, livestock and fish.

Pierced pearl from H3 (Picture by M. Beech)

A pierced pearl found at H3 testifies to the long history of pearling in the Arabian Gulf. These too may have been traded.

Although we can not calculate how much material was exchanged, or exactly how frequently people were making the journey by sea, the evidence from H3 demonstrates that the technology necessary for long-distance maritime exchange was developed by the sixth millennium BC.


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