Excavations at
Ras al-Hadd, Oman

Project leader

Department of the Middle East 

Supported by

Ministry of Heritage and Culture, Oman

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Excavations at Ras al-Hadd 2013

The first season of renewed excavations at site HD 13 at Ras al-Hadd took place between late January and mid-February 2013 within the courtyard of the village’s imposing fort. Thanks are due to the Ministry of Heritage and Culture for their generous support and invaluable assistance in enabling it to happen.

The fort at Ras al-Hadd consists of a square structure with three towers and a large interior courtyard and the excavation trench was situated in the south-east corner of this area. The brief excavations were conducted within a five metre square area in order to assess the potential for further, larger scale work; specifically to establish whether the present fort structure was built on a natural rise in the landscape or whether it was situated on a man-made mound with earlier occupation phases.

The oven room from villa E12.10

The fort at Ras al-Hadd

The excavations were highly successful and, as we had hoped, showed that the fort stood on a much older archaeological site. Three phases of occupation were found.

Phase 1, late 19th – 20th century AD

The fort battlements proved useful for photographing the excavation
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    The fort battlements proved useful for photographing the excavation

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    Emmer wheat spikelet fork (variable pressure scanning electron microscope). © Caroline Cartwright

From the outset it was apparent that the courtyard of the current fort had been lowered during the process of its restoration and refurbishment in the early 1990s. This was made obvious by the excavation of a number of pits that looked as if they had been cut from the surface, but which contained material no later than the early part of the twentieth century – including rifle cartridge cases of types normally associated with the late nineteenth century.

Phase 2, 17th – 18th century AD

The 17th-18th century fort wall foundations (left) with associated mud-brick paving, cobbled alleyway bound by stone walls and a tanoor oven at HD 13, Ras al-Hadd

The 17th-18th century fort wall foundations (left) with associated mud-brick paving, cobbled alleyway bound by stone walls and a tanoor oven at HD 13, Ras al-Hadd

Below the foundations of the current wall we discovered the foundation stones of an earlier fort building which is more-or-less on the same alignment. The foundations of the earlier fort are set into a dense layer of mud-brick-like material, which was designed to provide a firm construction layer in order to secure and consolidate the underlying soft, sandy deposits. Associated with this earlier fort was an area of mud-brick paving, a cobbled track or alleyway bound by stone walls and a tanoor oven.

The ceramic finds associated with this phase are largely characteristic of the late Islamic period. Of particular importance for the archaeological dating of the fort are fragments of pottery including groups such as coarse bodied Chinese blue and white with internal stacking rings characteristic of the seventeenth – eighteenth century, and red and yellow ware dated to the mid-seventeenth to eighteenth century.

Phase 3, early Iron Age, 13th–11th century BC

Excavations of the deep Iron Age layers at the Fort site (HD 13) Ras al-Hadd
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    Excavations of the deep Iron Age layers at the Fort site (HD 13) Ras al-Hadd

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    Excavating layers of shell-rich deposits next to the possible cairn dating to the Iron Age

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    Recording an Iron Age structure at the Fort site

Directly below the features associated with the early fort there was a substantial deposit of greyish sandy material containing large quantities of shells, fish bones, turtle bones, bird bones and charcoal. Fish identified so far include tuna, black-tipped reef shark, queenfish, trevally, parrotfish, grouper, snapper and barracuda. Some shells also appear to have been selected for bait, decorative or utilitarian purposes, such as cone shells for beads, cowries, olive shells and pearl oysters.

Previous excavations in the area have suggested that the green turtle was a source of food and HD13 has also provided considerable quantities of turtle bone, some burnt. There are a few sheep/goat bones as well, but marine species dominate.

The sandy deposit proved to be of considerable depth (in excess of 2.5 metres by the end of the season), and although generally of the same character, distinct layers were recognized within it on the basis of the proportions of different fish bones and shells. Altogether, the impression is gained of an area set aside for industrial usage, most probably for the processing of fish and shellfish. The ceramic assemblage within these deposits is entirely handmade with irregular profiles and forms typical of the early Iron Age assemblage from eastern Arabia.

In the western half of the trench a structure was found that might have been a cairn burial. It appeared to have been robbed or disturbed in antiquity. The sub-rectangular structure was capped by stones and blocks of sandy conglomerate. The interior fill was composed of sloping, banded layers of grey sand and yellow silt and similar layers of silt and sand had been heaped over the top.

Given the nature of the abrupt change from the seventeenth-eighteenth century fort and these Iron Age layers it seems likely that an extensive levelling operation had been conducted prior to the fort’s construction, removing all traces of intervening occupation phases.

Having established that there does appear to be substantial underlying Iron Age deposits within the site, a larger season of work is planned to start in January 2014.