23.02.2024 change 23.02.2024

Polish archaeologists discover traces of copper processing in Oman dig

Credit: CAŚ UW/ Agnieszka Szymczak Credit: CAŚ UW/ Agnieszka Szymczak

Polish archaeologists working in Oman have discovered traces of long-term copper ore processing activity, stone tools and parts of copper smelting furnaces. Research in this region will continue in December, the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw reports.

The research focused on the Qumayrah micro-region, where the expedition led by Professor Piotr Bieliński has been working since 2016. Research in this place is also carried out by Dr. Agnieszka Pieńkowska's team, whose task was to investigate the role of copper mining in shaping the settlements in this area.

Na kamienistych stokach górskich kryją się pozostałości licznych budowli i starożytnej ceramiki (Fot. CAŚ UW/ Olga Puszkarewicz)
The rocky mountain slopes hide the remains of numerous buildings and ancient ceramics (Credit: Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology UW/ Olga Puszkarewicz)

The economic development of the Qumayrah region during the Umm an-Nar period (the Early Bronze Age, 2600–2000 BCE) was largely driven by long-distance overseas trade with India and Mesopotamia. The main export at that time was Omani copper.

That is why identifying traces of metallurgy in the Qumayrah micro-region was one of the researchers' goals. In this task, the archaeologists were supported by geologists from the AGH University of Science and Technology, the Polish Geological Institute and the Faculty of Geology of the University of Warsaw.

Prof. Piotr Bieliński podczas dokumentacyjnych prac terenowych (Fot. CAŚ UW/ Dorota Bielińska)
Professor Piotr Bieliński during documentation field work (Credit: Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology UW/ Dorota Bielińska)

The sites that yielded the richest finds related to metal smelting are concentrated around Wadi Salh, a complex not yet been described in archaeological literature.

'There are slag fields measuring about 220 x 50 m, and 25 to 40 cm thick. On ground surface, we found dozens of stone tools used for crushing ore and numerous fragments of furnace walls used for smelting copper. The remains of buildings that most likely served as workshops have also been preserved,' says Dr. Agnieszka Pieńkowska.

'They must be the remnants of long-term activities related to the processing of copper ore. However, the question of their chronology can only be resolved once the dating materials have been analysed,’ she adds.

Remains from the Iron Age (c. 1300-300 BCE) seem to be much less common in this area. At one of the sites, an 'impressive' - as the archaeologists describe - discovery was made.

Prof. Piotr Bieliński i dr Agnieszka Pieńkowska (Fot. CAŚ UW/ Jakub Śliwa)
Professor Piotr Bieliński and Dr. Agnieszka Pieńkowska (Credit: Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology UW/ Jakub Śliwa)

'This is a settlement, probably featuring an observation or defence tower, located on a hill overlooking the intersection of two valleys, which could have been used by caravans travelling from the large oases in the southern Hajar mountains to the coast of the Gulf of Oman on the one hand, and to centres located in the territory of today’s UAE on the other,’ says Professor Bieliński.

To the surprise of archaeologists, the buildings in this settlement are compact. In the excavated part of the site, they have uncovered 33 rooms on an area of about 1400 m2, belonging to adjoining houses arranged on both sides of a narrow street.

'This kind of plan is far removed from the rural character of the settlements one would expect in such a small mountain centre,’ Bieliński says.

6.	Dokumentacja pozostałości z okresu brązu w okolicy Wadi Qumayrah (Fot. CAŚ UW/ Agnieszka Szymczak
Documentation of remains from the Bronze Age in the area of Wadi Qumayrah (Credit: Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology UW/ Agnieszka Szymczak)

During five weeks of work in the Qumayrah micro-region, more than fifty structures from different periods of the Bronze Age (Umm an-Nar and Wadi Suq cultures) and several Iron Age structures were documented, along with dozens of features from later periods or of undetermined chronology. 

Topograf przy pracy (Fot. CAŚ UW/ Agnieszka Szymczak)
Topographer at work (Credit: Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology UW/ Agnieszka Szymczak)

Among the oldest, dated to the Early Bronze Age, were round stone towers typical of this culture tower tombs.

'In general, traces of settlement from the Umm an-Nar period seem to be most prevalent in the study area. This shows that even a region located in a mountainous hinterland valley could have participated in the economic and demographic boom that occurred during this period,’ Bieliński says. 

To date, the expedition has recorded dozens of previously unknown archaeological sites of various chronologies, from the Neolithic period to pre-modern times. Excavations have been carried out at sites  yielding, among other things, the discovery of a 4,000-year-old game board.

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