January 11, 2019 | Maria Curtis
We spent the day with our colleagues from Sultan Qaboos University and Temple University at their excavation site in Saham, Oman. The site is one of the oldest known settlements in the Arabian Peninsula and its inhabitants were in touch with other civilizations in the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia. This site was of particular significance for its copper production and trade, which was the basis of its economy and what may have led to its ultimate demise. The settlement is located near a reliable water source, and the topography was ideal for building permanent housing for a stratified society where people of different classes could be in contact, yet live at a distance from others. The use of drone photography has made it possible to see larger areas in a single glance, making it easier for archaeologists to decide which areas to begin excavating.
So far they have found evidence of permanent settlements dating back 2,500 years, with layers of newer habitation built on top. The material objects excavated here suggest a highly sophisticated knowledge of copper production, and a highly developed social world that had complex and fascinating funerary traditions which reinforced group identity and cohesion. Some of the artifacts include copper symbols used in ceremonies, the oldest yet excavated in the region, as well as the oldest known clay incense burner in a lamp still perfumed in frankincense. Functional, yet brilliantly designed objects such as storage jars and feeding bowls for either babies or the elderly, were carved from stone and are still perfectly intact. The small decorative details and fine craftsmanship tell us a great deal about this ancient people's aesthetic and appreciation for beauty. It was a very humbling experience to touch the ashes from the hearths of an ancient civilization, and to touch stone mortars where they likely ground grains for bread.