Fragmentary Endings: A Discussion of 3rd-Millennium BC Burial Practices in the Oman Peninsula

Article excerpt


Monuments to the dead in the form of graves and tombs comprise the majority of archaeological features surviving in the two countries on the Oman Peninsula, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Sultanate of Oman. Archaeological sequences for both these countries have been well established through an assessment of tomb architectural style (e.g. Haerinck 1991), as well as associated material culture such as ceramics (e.g. Taha 1974) and bronzes (e.g. Magee 1998). Archaeological studies have predominantly focused on typologies. As a result, relatively little attention has been given to the burial practices themselves. This paper seeks to provide a comprehensive review of current knowledge of tombs dating to the so-called Umm an-Nar period (c. 2500-2000 BC) in the Oman Peninsula. Until recently, few synthetic analyses of these tombs, encompassing detailed excavation and skeletal analyses, have been undertaken. One particular Umm an-Nar tomb, Unar 2, has been extensively analysed, augmenting our understanding of the burial practices at this time.

Umm an-Nar burial structures

Initial interest in the archaeology of the Oman Peninsula occurred in 1958 as a result of oil prospectors finding archaeological remains when working on the island of Umm an-Nar, adjacent to the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (Fenelon 1976: 120). Following an initial inspection, a Danish team excavated between 1959 and 1965 and provided the first insight into material culture dating to the 3rd millennium BC. The so-called Umm an-Nar period was named after the island on which remains were first found (Frifelt 1991). The most prominent remains dating to this period are the monumental Umm an-Nar tombs.

Despite a relatively short history of archaeological research in the UAE, over 65 of these tombs have been recorded and documented in one form or another, including excavation of approximately a third of them (TABLE 1). The results from surveys and excavations show that the tombs are located throughout the Oman Peninsula in coastal, piedmont and desert (oasis) environments (FIGURE 1).

TABLE 1. Summary of Umm an-Nar tombs in the Oman Peninsula.

site/location                     date (BC)        diameter     no. of
                                                   (metres)    chambers


Tomb 1, Umm an-Nar                2700-2200           11          2
 Island (Abu Dhabi)

Tomb 2, Umm an-Nar                2700-2200           12          10
 Island (Abu Dhabi)

Tomb 4, Umm an-Nar                2700-2200          8.5          2
 Island (Abu Dhabi)

Tomb 5, Umm an-Nar                2700-2200          6.5          2
 Island (Abu Dhabi)

Tomb 6, Umm an-Nar                2700-2200          5.5          2
 Island (Abu Dhabi)

Tomb 7, Umm an-Nar                2700-2200           3           0
 Island (Abu Dhabi)

Tomb 9, Umm an-Nar                    --              12          6
 Island (Abu Dhabi)

Tomb 10, Umm an-Nar                   --             8.75         5
 Island (Abu Dhabi)

Tomb 11, Umm an-Nar                   --              --          1
 Island (Abu Dhabi)

Tomb 12, Umm an-Nar                   --              --          1
 Island (Abu Dhabi)

Unar 1, Shimal north             c. 2400-2200        11.5         8
(Ras al-Khaimah)

Tomb I, al-Sufuh (Dubai)          2400-2300          6.5          6

Unar 2, Shimal                    2300-2100          14.3         12
 (Ras al-Khaimah)

Tombs A & B                        late 3rd          8.25         4
 Mowaihat (Ajman)                 millennium

Tell Abraq                         c. 2100            6           2
 Umm al-Qaiwain)

Kalba (Sharjah)                       --              --          --


Tomb 1059, Hili (Abu Dhabi)           --              12          2

Tomb A, Hili (Abu Dhabi)              --             7.29         4

Tomb B, Hili (Abu Dhabi)           c. …