A peek into Neolithic activity
July 10 2013 12:33 AM
Spencer in Trench 53 at Wadi Debayan archaeological site.
Spencer in Trench 53 at Wadi Debayan archaeological site.


Exploration of a trench, opened at Qatar’s oldest settlement Wadi Debayan during the recently-completed season of archaeological excavation, has been described as “peering through the keyhole of time.”

As one of the earliest Neolithic-Chalcolithic sites in the Gulf, Wadi Debayan has evidence of human occupation dating back to 7,500 years ago, as proven during the past three years of excavation, conducted as part of the Qatar National Historic Environment Record (QNHER) Project.

“One of the most dynamic aspects of Trench 53 is that it really shows the changing environments of the Wadi,” said site supervisor Peter Spencer, a member of the University of Birmingham team, which is jointly developing the QNHER Project with the Qatar Museums Authority under the guidance of Faisal al-Naimi (Head of Antiquities).

Gulf Times had reported recently that a total of four previously unknown burials, dated to over 5,000 years ago, were found at the historic location, situated on the northwestern side of Qatar to the south of the site of Al Zubara and the Rá’s ‘Ushayriq peninsula.

Faisal al-Naimi

The 25m-long trench has been excavated across a beach ridge which has revealed many overlying prehistoric layers. Postholes, which could be seen across the trench, are related to the earliest phase of activity, and it requires a further opening of the trench to get a complete picture of what they were used for.

“These relate obviously to some kind of structural activity. Since this used to be an intertidal environment, these postholes could have been used for anything from huts to fishing nets,” he explained.

Every layer investigated in the trench has been truncated by incursion by the sea. There has been lot of erosion. Towards the seaward side there appears to be remnants of some plant material, setting fire and cooking or processing of some material.

“Everywhere we excavate below the beach ridge we find remains of Neolithic activity, which shows how features in the landscape can preserve important archaeological deposits. Towards the landward side we are getting discrete dumps of homogenous material, such as pits full of shell fish, fish bones, and dugong bones. These waste materials give lot of information on the diets and activities of the inhabitants,” Spencer said.

The remnants found in Trench 53 depict a concentration of animals and shell fish from many different environments. There are deep water fish, animals like dugongs and turtles, whereas shell fish from both low energy tidal environments such as mangroves and high energy rocky coastlines have also been found.

“So, the inhabitants of the Wadi were accessing many different environments, processing some materials for either consumption here or for taking to somewhere else,” Spencer said.

More Ubaid pottery sherds, an import from Southern Mesopotamia, have been found in the trench, especially towards the landward side. The team have also found what is thought to be a more local Arabian ware from the Neolithic, but as yet no pottery production sites have been found.

“There is a very dense burnt layer that is sitting on top of all this activity. That is where you get an explosion of pottery and bones. It seems to be an area of concentrated activity, and interestingly enough there are few areas where we found structural remains within this later phase. This is just a window to the past. What we need to do is open that door and have a much wider look, hopefully during the next season,” Spencer added.



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