Lecture by Christopher Thornton (National Geographic Society)

Lecture by Christopher Thornton (National Geographic Society)


My name is Peter van Dommelen. And I’m the Director of the
Joukowksky Institute here. And it’s my great pleasure to
introduce our speaker tonight. Our speaker tonight is
Christopher Thornton, who works at the National
Geographic Society and has come here for,
actually, two things. He’s come here for this
talk and for another event tomorrow, which
I’ll say more about. At a moment, Chris works at
the National Geographic Society as the Senior Director
of Cultural Heritage and also as the interim
vice-chair of the Committee for Research and Exploration. And it’s particularly
that division of Research and Exploration
that he has worked for longer. And several of us, in
the room here, I think, have corresponded with
him in that capacity, either as applying for a grant
or reviewing for a grant. And therefore, it’s actually,
certainly, for my own, I find it wonderful to be able
to welcome him here in person. But Chris is coming here not
so much to talk about grants , although that is a small
workshop he will actually be leading here tomorrow. So if anyone’s interested,
please get in contact with me if you haven’t heard
about it before. But he’s coming here to talk
about his own research, which I think is always more
interesting than just talking about grants. [LAUGHTER] It depends if you
need money or not. [LAUGHTER] Well, it’s what interests you. And that comes together
with another thing that Chris does, which he’s also
the director of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the site of
Bat in the Sultanate of Oman. And there you’ll see the
connection with his research, coming up. Chris did his Ph.D. at the
University of Pennsylvania and taught there
for a short while, as well as at George
Mason University, but shortly after that joined
National Geographic, where he’s worked ever since. As I said, his job moved
to National Geographic. He works on topics
with cultural heritage but also, in general,
makes connections with anthropology, archeology,
astronomy, geography, geology, and paleontology. So you can see the connections
with several of the people here in the room. He currently also serves
on the scientific boards of several journals, dedicated
to the archeology of the Middle East, as well as on
the US Commission to UNESCO as an advisor
on cultural heritage. So you see, clearly, those two
points, heritage, Middle East, united, of course, by
archeology, which is what tonight’s talk is about. “Kitchen Colonialism or
Blatant Miscegenation, An Interpretation
of Indus Cooking Pots in the Oasis
Towns of Central Oman.” Chris, off to yo. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] That intro gets longer
every year, doesn’t it? But anyway, thank you,
Peter, for inviting me. Brett Kaufman was my
link to come here. And thank you, Brett. And Jess and Sarah
in the front office have been amazing,
some of the easiest work getting flights organized. Everything I’ve ever had. So I’m very appreciative. And thank you all for coming. I know that the weather
tonight was a little awful. So it’s nice to
see you all here. So yes, so today, I’m
going to talk a little bit about my research. If you do have questions
about National Geographic, I hear there’s a reception
later, so we can do that then. And I’ll be here, tomorrow
morning and around lunchtime, talking with some grad
students about our programs. And if anyone’s interested,
faculty, students, or undergrad, we
have options for all. So please come find me. All right, let’s crack in. So one of the great
epistemological problems in archeology can be
stated quite simply. How do you go from this to this? That is how do we
understand ancient peoples from the materials they left
behind, most especially, of course, the pottery,
which is fairly ubiquitous in late
prehistoric times, essential to everyday life
and yet frustratingly silent? Decades ago, professional
archeologists argued vociferously that pots do
not equal people, in reaction, of course, to culture history,
with its reliance upon hordes of itinerant ceramics
wandering the landscape. The reasons why a
new ceramic type might appear in a particular
region are, of course, complex and multifarious. And usually, they do not
involve the migration of large groups of people. But of course, groups of people
do migrate and did migrate. And ceramics can be our first
indicator of new populations entering a region. However, one generally
needs sufficient additional contextual information
about these ceramics to substantiate the
claim for immigration. For example, scholars
of the Near East are now fairly comfortable with
the idea of the Kura-Araxes, early trans-Caucasian migration,
from the lower Caucusus around 3,000 BC, as indicated
by new ceramic types, such as Khirbet
Kerak-ware in the Levant or red-black-burnished ware
in Anatolia and Yanik-ware in Iran. All three types are different,
but they all stem, arguably, from the same migration. They’re accompanied,
of course, by changes in household structures,
subsistence economies, craft technologies, and other
obvious indicators that we have an entirely
new population moving into these regions. Such assemblages are often
called packages, taken, of course, from V.
Gordon Childe’s notion of the Neolithic package
accompanying early farmers as they swept into Europe. But what happens when we
don’t have an assemblage? What happens when all
we have is sherds? Can we make
meaningful statements about population
demographics based purely on the presence or
absence of non-local pottery types? And I’m sure many of you
struggle with this as well. So as we think
about that question, let me explain the current
predicament that I’m struggling with at my own project, located,
here, in southeastern Arabia, at the UNESCO World Heritage
site of Bat, in the Sultanate of Oman. So in the second half of
the third millennium BC, the ancient peoples of
Oman and the UAE played a really important role
in long-distance trade, both as producers of
essential materials, such as copper,
diorite, and chlorite, but also as mediators between
the expansionist states of Mesopotamia,
the Indus Valley– called here Meluha,
that was the Acadia name– and southern Iran. The Acadians called
this land Magan. But they seem to have
known very little about it. Sadly, this is also true of the
archeologists who work there. Excavations only began in
this region in the 1970s. And systematic surveys
of Oman have really only begun in the past few
years, believe it or not. Our project was one of the
first to use radiocarbon dating, to give you an example. Until recently, most
known sites were defined by the presence
of third millennium tombs, these beautiful tombs that are
found often on ridge lines. You see the bottom-left. And they’re still standing,
5,000 years later. They’re really wonderful
monuments of the Bronze Age. And occasionally,
there are also these– they’re called
tower sites, you see at the top-right– I’m supposed
to be pointing at things. But you can see that? Yeah, good. –tower sites and
occasionally settlement sites, with rectilinear architecture
suggesting domestic contexts. However, these settlements
are usually ignored, because the tombs have
all the fun stuff. The tombs are easy to find. So generally, people are
serving tombs, excavating tombs. We know a lot about the tombs. We know very, very little
about the settlements. So in 2007, the late
professor Gregory Possehl, at the University of
Pennsylvania Museum, began a project, in Oman, that
took as its mantra, no more tombs, and set out to better
understand the settlement patterns in Oman. As part of this project, we
conducted the first ever survey of the monumental third
millennium towers, thereby delineating
a clear core area of what was probably Magan, with
at least four major centers. You see there Hili,
at the top-left, Bat, Bisya, and Khashbah. And I’ll return to a few
of those a bit later on. So the Omanis invited us to
begin excavations at Bat, one of these four
major centers, which is located in a
relatively fertile oasis, at the intersection of
a number of large wadis. Of course, this is a
very arid environment. The wadis are dry riverbeds
that occasionally flood. But ultimately, that’s
where the groundwater is. So you need the wadi
systems in order to have a substantial
settlement in this region. That was true in the Bronze Age. And it’s true today. The third millennium
landscape around Bat is incredibly well-preserved
and is fully integrated into the modern town. Every hilltop in this area is
covered with those cairn tombs that I showed you earlier. There are literally
over 1,000 of them. And they’re really beautiful. It’s a beautiful landscape. It’s what made it a
World Heritage site. And in fact, many of
the Bronze Age towers, we now have seven
or eight at Bat, depending on who you talk to,
are still standing even today. And I’ll show you some
pictures of that in a bit. So it’s a really
wonderful place to work, both for the archeology
of the Bronze Age, but also for people
like me who are interested in cultural
heritage and looking at how the community, today,
engages with their past, which we can talk about later
if you’re interested. So we excavated a few of these
towers, between 2008 and 2012. Work that is currently
being written up into the very first
archeological site monograph ever published on
an Omani prehistoric site, believe it or not. And I’m happy to talk
more about the towers later if you’re interested. Long story short, we’re not
exactly sure what they are. They have different functions. But they were platforms. They were not towers. They were platforms
on which something was built, probably in mud
brick, which we no longer have. Whether it was a
ritual structure, whether it was the house
of a significant person, we’re not really sure. But anyway, they’re
incredibly interesting. They’re incredibly monumental. They’re about 60 feet
across, 50 to 60 feet across. In some cases, today,
they’re still 15 feet high, with blocks a meter cubed. They’re pretty impressive
given that these were small-scale societies. So during excavation
of one of these towers, we discovered, as you
see here, on the right, rectilinear structures,
outside the tower, with domestic refuse, hearths,
ground-stone tools, et cetera. C14 dates prove that
these structures were contemporary with the tower. That is dated
around 24, 2,300 BC. So abutting this
monumental structure, we have these rectilinear,
what we would call, domestic structures. The domestic refuse, associated
with these structures, was full of the
typical local pottery. This is called Umm
an-Nar pottery. So you see it here. It tends to be very
fine, simply painted, linear bands, that kind of
stuff, very identifiable. But we were also surprised by
the variety of non-local types. So these are fragments
of Indus black slip jars, which I’ll talk in a bit. This is a very unusual
type, red-on-buff ware. It is made of the same material
as the black slip jars, but there’s absolutely
no parallels for it in the Indus civilization. And I’ve shown it to Pakistanis
and Indians scholars. They’ve never seen it
before, but, clearly, it’s coming from the same region
as the black slip jars. So that’s very interesting. We have some really interesting
Harappan polychrome design ware, which is usually
only found at Mohenjo-daro. It’s not even found
at many other sites. So why it’s at our site,
nobody has any idea. Luckily, Greg Possehl,
who was our director, was an expert in the
Indus Valley civilization, because I would not
have known these types. And it was great to have him
there, total by accident. And this type, which is the
star of the show tonight. It doesn’t look like much. But we’ll get back to that. That is a fragment
of a cooking vessel. So we had all these
non-local types, right? Not totally unusual
in the Bronze Age. So with the exception of
a handful of sherds, which came from Iran or
Mesopotamia, the vast majority of the non-local ceramic
types, which make up about 5% of the whole collection,
are from the Indus Valley civilization or of Indus type. And we could talk about that. They include, just to show you–
these are examples, actually, from the Indus,
not from my site. So these are black on
red painted vessels. These are the black slip jars. They were the amphorae
of the Bronze Age. Before the
Mediterranean kicks off, these are what were being
used to ship everything around the Persian Gulf
and the Arabian Sea. They are ubiquitous in Oman. You cannot go to a Bronze Age
site without finding sherds of these amphorae, which
is very interesting. They’re tall, too. They’re about this
high off the ground. So they’re really, really big. They’re sometimes
called “onion jars.” Anyway, these perforated
vessels, which are generally argued to have been used
for dairying practices. So that’s interesting, too. That’s an example of what
they might have been used for. And we come to the cooking pots. So these are cooking pots from
the Indus Valley civilization, so from India and Pakistan. These are not the same fabric
type that we find in Oman, but it’s exactly the same shape. And I’ll get to that. So traditionally,
cooking wares have been held up by archeologists as
the local ware par excellence, right? They’re utilitarianism. They’re usually undecorated. That is, they’re ugly. And they are generally rather
course and poorly fired. So they break easily, and
you find them in fragments everywhere. And nobody pays attention
to them, generally. But of course, that’s
not always true. So one example, Sarah
Graff, for example, has argued that certain
well-made cooking wares of the late 4th and
early 3rd millennium BC, in northern Mesopotamia,
were actually traded widely, more
so than the painted finewares of the period. Because these
cooking wares, which were tempered with a very
specific, heat resistant stone, required specialized knowledge
of ceramic technology in order to make
them heat resistant. While the finewares
and other pottery types could be imitated
locally without advanced knowledge of
ceramic properties. So I always hold that up as
a nice example of sometimes the cooking wares are traded. So Indus cooking pots
are interesting, in that, as I say, the ceramic
fabric in the Indus is the same as
other Indus pottery. But in Oman, it’s
made of local fabric. So it’s not that
the fabric, it’s not that the ceramic technology
would have been traded. In fact, it very much looks
like they were made locally. What’s interesting is the form. So this form of cooking pot
is very specific to the Indus. And the way it
worked, so you see that raised carination on
the shoulder, and, above it, it’s slipped. You see both examples here. Below it’s not slipped. And that’s very intentional. Because what they
would do is they would create a slurry, so
kind of like a wet mud, of clay, grit, sand. And they would put it on that
unslipped part of the vessel. And Mark Kenoyer called
that the sacrificial layer. And then that pot would get
put in the fire, full stew or curry, I guess. But anyway, full of
whatever they were eating. And that sacrificial
slurry, that layer on the outside, that
would burn and break and blister and all of
these things, because it’s kind of like a ceramic. It’s just not fired, right? After the cooking was done,
they would break off the slurry, and the pot could be used again. Versus cooking vessels,
generally, we’re made of chaffy, really
course material that was as heat resistant
as they could get, but still they would break. They would crack. They would blister. They would burn. And eventually, you’d have to
throw them out and reuse them. So Indus vessels
were specifically designed to be usable over
and over and over again because of this slurry. So it’s the form,
itself, which is the technological advancement
not the fabric in this case. Where are we? So until recently, these
unique cooking vessels were thought to be contained
only in the Indus Valley. But since we identified
them at Bat, in 2009, and published them,
other projects in Oman have begun to
recognize them as well. And in fact, we’ve
started going back to older excavations,
of the ’70s and ’80s, and finding examples of
these pretty much everywhere. The examples from Oman,
such as this one from Bat, share the same form,
as I mentioned, with the Indus types,
but the fabrics are more similar to local
Omani ceramics, that is they’re very fine, and
they’re very lightly fired. They’re actually not very
good as cooking pots, which is an interesting thing. The same is true, interestingly,
of the perforated jars that we have. Remember, I suggested they
were used for dairying. Again, we have perforated
jars, but they’re made of a local ceramic type. They’re not imported directly
from the Indus Valley. And some of those
perforated jars have been studied chemically
and been shown to be local. So we know that for a fact. It’s not just the fabric. So what’s going on? Are these local limitations
of a highly specialized and culturally indicative
culinary technique or evidence of people, from the Indus
Valley, coming to central Oman and bringing with them their
traditions of cooking vessels? Are these not cooking
vessels at all? We don’t have coarse wares in
the Bronze Age, all finewares, other than the black slip jars,
which are storage vessels. So before we begin exploring
the meaning of Indus materials at Bat, most of what we knew
about the Indus and ancient Megan came from one site,
a site called Ra’s al-Jinz on the east coast of Oman. Ra’s al-Jinz is one of a number
of Bronze Age sites located on this eastern-most point
of the Arabian Peninsula, pointing, as it does, towards
Pakistan and Northwest India. A lot of these sites have
a lot of Indus materials, up to 25% in some cases. So there’s a very
strong suggestion that this is a key area
for Indus-Magan relations. So the major third millennium
site at Ra’s al-Jinz is located on top of and
next to this fossilized dune, that you see here,
which is just located where a freshwater wadi– again,
one of these dry riverbeds– empties into the Indian Ocean. So excavations by the
Italian and French teams, over the past three
decades, have been extensive but unfortunately,
poorly published. But what we do know is that this
particular multi-room structure was involved in processing
marine resources, fish and shell mainly, for export,
as well as doing a bit of shell beadmaking themselves and
other small scale crafts, little bits of metallurgical,
little bits of ceramic-making, that kind of stuff. Interestingly– oops. Sorry. Interestingly, this structure
contained numerous Indus artifacts, including painted
pottery, black slip jars, with the inscriptions,
bone and ivory combs– you see at the bottom-right. These are very telling– and
even a few stamped seals, so typical Indus
Valley stamped seals. A terrible picture, I apologize. But there you go. It’s not published, so
I use what I get, right? Here, it was
argued, was evidence for a real Indus colony site. The Indus were known
as expansionist. They had colonies
in Central Asia. They had colonies
in central India. And here, they are colonizing
the east coast of Oman. Everybody agreed on that point. Everyone was happy with it. And I don’t disagree with it. But Ra’s al-Jinz is
out here, totally on the periphery of what I would
call ancient Magan or at least the core of ancient Magan. And the sites,
themselves, on the coast, bear very little resemblance to
what we call the tomb and tower sites of the interior. Tomb and tower
sites have hundreds of these stone cairn tombs
and anywhere from one to seven or eight of these
large, monumental towers. The sites on the coast
might have five cairn tombs and no monumental structures,
whatsoever, mostly mudbrick. So a very different culture
on the coast than what’s going on in the interior. So we don’t see that as a
representative example of what we might be seeing at Bat. So in the interior, itself,
very few sites, as I mentioned, have been excavated and even
fewer have been published. The French excavations
at Hili were never completely published. But we know that a large
variety of Indus ceramics were found there,
because they tell us so. And I’ve seen one
example of a cooking pot. So I know that there were some
of these cooking pots there. And some of them,
as I mentioned, were made of local clays. This is the work of
Sophie Mery, in Paris, who has done chemical
analysis and petrography on a lot of these ceramics. She’s the one who’s
argued that a lot of these perforated
vessels, which are called fingernail-impressed
plates, which is another Indus type, they are
clearly Indus type, but they’re clearly
made locally. So that’s another
interesting piece of evidence that we’re playing
with a little bit. At a site called Bisya or
Bisya-Salut, which is perhaps the most important
center of Magan, the monuments there
are absolutely massive. They’ve hundreds
of massive tombs. It’s a really, really
important site. None of the material
has been published over 30 years of excavation,
which is bad, bad, bad. Although, recent salvage
work, by a small Italian team, has produced some good reports
of the work they’ve done there. And funny enough, they
published and Indus seal, which is nice to see. But they published three sherds
in their preliminary report, two of which are Indus,
and one of which, right here, is one of
those cooking pots. So again, suggesting to me that
the cooking pots we’re finding are not unusual. They’re probably at
all of these sites, but nobody’s noted them before
or mentioned them before. Mark Kenoyer, who is a
leading scholar on the Indus, is now working in Oman. And I had him come and
look at all of our pottery. He was the one who studied the
cooking pots in the first place and talked about the
slurry and stuff. And he confirmed that these are
definitely Indus style cooking pots. So I feel really
good about that. Made locally. So let’s move on. So at Bat, even before he
began working there, really, from the very beginning,
we were starting to find– looking back at
the old Danish excavations, in the ’70s and ’80s,
this is one of the towers, still standing, that
the Danes excavated. And we looked back at
some of their pottery that’s, in storage, in Oman. And sure enough, there’s Indus
pottery there– not published. I’m just going to keep saying
that over and over and over. For all you grad
students, don’t do this. And we knew that, in the tombs–
so there’s a German team that’s been working at
the Bat cemetery, again, surveying and excavating
tombs, since the early 2000s. And they found all
sorts of goodies. Imported Iranian-wares
are very common. These are incised grey wares. Mesopotamian-inspired
artifacts– this is a cylinder seal but
locally made in a local style. You would not find
this in Mesopotamia. But also some Indus stuff,
so etched carnelian beads is a classic indicator of Indus. And again, remember those
combs, the bone and ivory combs? This is a fragment
of one of those. So we knew that, in the
tombs, at Bat, there was Indus material. But when we went there to
work on the towers, Greg and I, Greg Possehl and
I, had no expectation of finding Indus material. Usually, the towers have
very, very little remains other than stone that
has sort of fallen. It’s a very architecturally
driven project to work on the towers. From a material point of
view, they’re fairly sterile. So we were very pleased that,
even in the first season, we came up with black-on-red
painted Indus-ware. This is imported. This is not local. Imported black slip
jars and probably locally-made perforated jars. They haven’t been studied yet,
but we’re working on that. We’ll talk about that in a bit. So we’ve also found, which is
kind of exciting, some really unusual Indus artifacts. So this is one of the towers
we’ve excavated, 1156. This is a local ceramic. This is an Umm an-Nar
ceramic sherd, a rim, with an Indus sign on it. So that’s unusual. And this etched carnelian
bead, again, to my eyes just looks like an Indus import. Mark Kenoyer, again,
is really the expert on beads of the Indus. And he can look at these beads
and tell you where in the Indus it was made and
that kind of thing. He took a look at this bead,
and he said, this is not Indus. And I said, well, what
do you think it is, Mark. He’s like, I don’t know. But the way that
they drilled it, he could tell by the drilling. He said this is not the way
the Indus people drilled, anywhere in the
greater Indus Valley. He suggested this is
being made locally. Another interesting
point of evidence. This all adds up to nothing. But it’s all very intriguing. Don’t you love archeology? Again, let’s return to
the domestic context. It was in those
domestic contexts that we were really finding the
largest abundance and variety of Indus materials,
including those cooking pots. So in 2013, we switched gears. We stopped excavating
the towers. And we embarked on a new phase
of research really focused on Bronze Age households,
the first time, in all of Oman and
the UAE, that anyone looked at Bronze Age
households, which I thought was kind of crazy. It doesn’t take a
genius, but there you go. An obvious place to
start, we were very lucky that Karen Frifelt, the
Danes, in the ’70s and ’80s, they did a big survey of Bat,
and they named all the regions. And they called one of the
regions “the settlement slope.” So it seemed like
a really good place to start looking,
because there was copious rectilinear
non-monumental architecture, that you can actually
see on the surface, popping out of the ground,
little walls and corners and that kind of thing. That’s where it is. The settlement slope
is located on kind of a steep hill alongside
the northern wadi, so this line here
if I can get it. This is actually a road, today. It is technically
a dry riverbed, but it’s used as a gravel road. And the structures
are all up here. I don’t know if you
can see them very well. But all of those sort
of orangey lines, like that, those are all
rectilinear structures, unexcavated, just kind
of on the surface. Let me see, where was I? So they’re just north
of the alluvial plain, which contains two towers. There’s the tower that I
showed you, in the photo, that the Danes excavated, that
beautiful, 15-foot tall tower, and then the one that
I showed you earlier, with the rectilinear structures
right against it, which is down here. That alluvial plain runs all
the way along the settlement. And there are towers in
there, but there’s also a tower on top. And that was the
one I showed you that had the etched carnelian
bead and that inscribed sherd. So we actually went, originally,
to the settlement slope to dig the tower, because
that was our mandate was digging these towers. So when we excavated– this
is tower 1156– we were surprised to discover that the
rectilinear walls that seem to abut it on the south
side– you can see down here. These walls were sort of
popping up on the surface. And we assumed that, like
the tower on the alluvium, they were abutting
and contemporary. In fact, they run
over the tower. The tower was dismantled
in the Bronze Age, and they put houses
on top of it. We were able to get really
good dates for the tower, 28 to 2,600 BC, one of the
earliest towers we have. We were really
pleased with that. But we couldn’t date those
houses, unfortunately, because they were
right at the surface. It was all very mixed-up, it
was denuded, that kind of thing. So we decided we needed
to move somewhere else. And to better understand
these domestic structures, we looked for the
flattest area we could find in this
topography, which was there, at least the flattest
where you could actually see there were structures. This is also, by the way,
the western-most part of the settlement
slope, and it’s right where it meets the cemetery. And the cemetery goes off for
like two square kilometers, with hundreds of
these cairn tombs. So we’re right at the juncture. And it’s kind of
an interesting– there’s a whole
other talk I could give about kind of
private and public space and that kind of thing. But we’ll skip that for now. So this is what it looked
like, that flat area. See how flat it is? I was very pleased. There’s a little corner of
a wall popping up there, you can see. You can see these random little
walls and stuff sticking out here. But we were very
worried this was going to be basically completely
deflated, that we weren’t going to find things in situ. But we thought, hey, worst
case, we can trace the walls, and, at least, we
can get a sense. By the way, this whole
surface, the only pottery you find on the
surface is Bronze Age, which is very helpful. We don’t have the Roman
problem that a lot of you have. So it was great, because
we were pretty confident that these houses were
going to be Bronze Age. Luckily, they were not
right at the surface. And actually, in some cases,
the floors were about a meter below the surface, which
was very unexpected. I also have a funny
story about making one of the Penn
grad students dig a trench underneath the floor. I said, look, let’s just
get down to bedrock. It can’t be very far down. Let’s just do it, because
you’re supposed to do it. So she’s digging
through scree, which is like crushed, sharp
rock, angular rock. And she’s like,
Chris, this sucks. There’s nothing in this. Can we just stop? And I was like, no, no, no,
Kate, keep going, keep going. She went down another meter
through this angular rock. She hated me, hated me. And at the bottom,
we found a hearth. And that hearth was dated
early fifth millennium. It’s the oldest
radiocarbon date we’ve got for all of Southeastern Arabia. Ha! Take that, Kate Morgan. Anyway, sorry, I’m on a tangent. So domestic structures,
we were able to find. And we were able to find some
good floors, good context, hearths, thank god,
with charcoal in them. So we have a really good
radiocarbon sequence. We also have a ceramic
sequence, which is unheard of for this region. So we’re very pleased. I’ve got some great grad
students working on that. Yeah, ceramics, right. So lots of the local, painted,
fun ceramics, which I just think are so neat, because I’ve
looked at them far too long. We even found a sickle, right? So they’d long assumed that
these people were farmers. We didn’t actually
have proof of that. So it’s kind of nice to find
a sickle, particularly one in metal, for us metal heads. This is kind of a big deal. One other thing,
just to show you, so remember, one of
things that I’m suggesting is that maybe there was
a migration of some kind. Whether small or large,
there was a migration of people from the East. And one of the
interesting patterns we see– this is a
horrible plan, I apologize. This is the oldest
structure in that complex. So the walls of
this date– that’s where the floor
was a meter down. At the base of those walls, was
a nice hearth, 24 to 2,300 BC. Really nice to see. What’s interesting is that
200 to 300 years later, they build all of these
expansions on either side. But, most especially, they
split the house in half. This is just one structure. I’m not going to write
a dissertation on this. But it’s interesting to me
that, in an area where there’s plenty of room to
expand, they kind of had to crunch-up a little bit. Now that could just
be population boom. This is the height of the early
Bronze Age for this region. They’re trading with Mesopotamia
and Iran and the Indus. And they’re getting wealthy
and exciting and whatever. So it’s possible there was
just a huge population boom. Because they figured things
out, and they’re getting wealthy and having more kids. It’s also possible that there
was other stressors leading to more population, such as
immigration from all areas. Who knows, right? So this is one of the
things we need to find out. So like I said, that’s
actually the trench of despair I made Kate Morgan dig. But that’s the hearth. Ta-da. But anyway, one of
things we’re also bringing to Oman, for the
first time, was flotation. Smiti Nathan is a
Ph.D. student at NYU. She’s doing
archeobotanical studies. We’re floating all of our
floors, all of our hearths, just trying to get any
botanical information. Also, we’re doing
microdebitage, trying to see if we can
find out anything about the way these
houses were used. You know, typical
domestic archeology stuff, but, in this region,
it’s like a revolution. It’s just crazy. But that’s important,
because, ultimately, we need to understand this. We need to understand–
this is a beautiful town– Hamarat, I think it’s
called, in central Oman. It’s an 800-year-old town
that people still live in. It’s a beautiful sight. But I love it,
because it gives you a vision of what Bat might have
looked like in the Bronze Age. Because here, they’ve
got the fields. It wouldn’t have
been terraced, PS. But let’s just say that
was a flat alluvial field, with farming fields in it. But you see how they built
upon the slope above, right? Why take up the good
land to build your house, when you need that for farming? So you build up on the slope. So we kind of need to
recreate the environment. We need to recreate
the way people lived. And that’s a really critical
part of the larger project. But let’s go back to my original
question, these darn cooking pots. Are these local imitations
of a highly specialized and culturally indicative
culinary technique– I asked that
before– or evidence of people from the Indus
Valley actually living in central Oman? Said another way, did
the Indus civilization hold such sway over the
people’s minds of Magan, in the late third
millennium BC, that they sought to emulate even the
most prosaic behaviors, a kind of kitchen colonialism? Or can we infer that
the style of cooking came with people, perhaps women,
from the Indus civilization, who perhaps married into
families of ancient Magan, a practice that
still goes on today. Women are imported from
India, from South Asia. They marry into
families, usually as a second or a third wife. That’s the blatant miscegenation
that I lured you all in with, right? It’s this idea that, perhaps,
they were intermarrying, and that was what was
causing this local pottery. They weren’t bringing the
pottery with them, obviously. But they wanted to cook in the
way they were familiar with, and maybe that’s what they did. So three decades of
gender archeology thrown right out there. Women were cooking. Let’s just leave it. Sadly, I have no
answers for you yet. This is a great talk, OK. My team are still
working– thank God– in three areas with
contemporary domestic deposits from the Bronze Age. One of them, obviously,
in Bat, I showed you. We’re still working on that. There’s a satellite
settlement called al-Khutm, which we discovered. And we’ve been doing
some work there. And one of our Ph.D.
students, from NYU, is looking at an old
collection, from the 1970s, at a site called
Amlah, where they excavated some domestic
context by accident. And we have those in
the Ministry in Oman, so he’s going to take
another look at those and see if we can engage
with that material. In addition, the Germans left
the cemetery a few years ago. And they’ve been looking
for domestic sites. They worked at a
site called Ziba, which is a beautiful
sight, just north of Bat, which is purely
domestic, no monuments, which is really nice. It’s all on the surface. One of the most
beautiful places. And they’ve now
moved to Khashbah. If you remember, I told you the
four major centers, Hili, Bat, Bisya, and Khashbah. Khashbah was the only one
that had never been excavated, not even a tomb. So the Germans have gone there
and started excavations there, both of the towers
and the tombs, but also doing a little
domestic work, too. So it’s an exciting
time I think. A lot of people are
working on this issue. In addition, we have
two Ph.D. Students. Royal Ghazal, at the
University of Chicago, is doing chemical analysis
of all our pottery from Bat, comparing it to a
few other sites, again, looking at this
local, non-local issue. And Eli Dollarhide,
at NYU, is the one looking at Amlah material. He’s going to be doing a
typology, which we don’t have, believe it or not, and
also doing petrography. So between the two
of them, I’m really hoping we can start getting at
some of the technical issues here. I want to know if
those cooking pots show any evidence of having
been subjected to fire after they were first fired. It’s possible they were
used decoratively, that they weren’t known as cooking pots. They could’ve been
used to hold water, and they just took the shape
from the Indus cooking pots. We don’t know. So something I
want to figure out. In addition, Lesley Gregoricka
is an assistant professor, I believe, at the University
of Southern Alabama. She’s engaged in a very
large-scale isotopic project, which is really interesting. She’s been looking at some
of the skeletons from Bat but also comparing them
to Bronze Age cemetery sites across this
region and doing the very first isotopic work
looking at sourcing of people. And in her dissertation,
she identified a few Bronze Age tombs from the UAE. And she identified at least
four source populations that could not be from Arabia
based on the geology– four. So forget about just Indus. Where are these
people coming from? This is one of the
great questions. So she’s doing really
interesting work. And I think all of these
will sort of come together. So to conclude, let me
re-ask you the question. Can we make
meaningful statements about population
demographics based purely on the presence or
absence of non-local pottery types? The answer to this
question, of course, is no, not without
corresponding evidence in technological
practice, dietary changes, changes in the use
of space, et cetera. You need a context
and a larger package if you want to use that term. I don’t want to leave
you on a negative note. So I’m going to make
a little adjustment. The answer to this
question is yes. So thank you all for coming. [APPLAUSE] Thank you very much
for a great talk and for introducing us to a
region I don’t think many of us were not so very familiar with. So I hope you’re willing
to take some questions. Of course. I assume there might be
questions or comments. Please. Thank you for the talk. I guess my question is about
that faux etched carnelian bead and the piece of pottery,
with the Indus graffiti on it, and how those two things might
help you inform what you’re trying to say about the pots. Because, obviously, they’re– I
don’t know about the graffiti, but at least with the
etched carnelian bead, it’s a non-Indus
product in Indus style. And done in the
technological style that we used to think only
the Indus people knew, right? We had this idea that
it was kind of– etching those beads is not easy. It’s a chemical etch, and
it’s very complicated. And it was long thought to be
sort of an arcane knowledge. And the Mesopotamians,
for example, in the royal tombs at Ur,
is full of these beads. And they were just
gaga for them. And quote, only the
Indus could make them. And what Mark is now suggesting
is that maybe that’s not true. Maybe the Omanis, the Maganians,
whatever, were making it. I mean I think that sort
of cultural hybridity that we’re seeing, in a lot of
things, the pottery, the beads, is really interesting. And again, you get
to this issue of what does cultural hybridity
tell us about demographics. It’s a really complicated issue. Given the amount of
material, the variety of material, my
feeling– and it’s a gut feeling– is that we are
seeing populations move in, whether they’re marrying in
or just merchants coming in or whatever. I’m sorry. I can’t focus my thoughts. I’ve written a paper
about this, where I argue that, in the first
half of the third millennium, you see the
Mesopotamian influence. That is an every tomb of
the early third millennium. There’s always one little jar. And its a Jemdet Nasr,
Early Dynastic I style jar. Long argued an, import,
that they wanted exotica. So they would import one
tiny little jar or whatever its contents were, honey or oils
or whatever, into each tomb. And actually, I’ve started
looking at that pottery and suggesting that actually
it’s not from Mesopotamia. A lot of it seems to be
locally-made, imitation. So I argue that there was
this sort of cultural hegemony or this sort of we want to be
like them kind of mentality. Then interestingly,
the Umm an-Nar pottery is taken from southeastern Iran. So it’s identical in the
early years to what you see at Tepe Yahya, Jiroft, or
whatever, around 2,800 to 2,500 BC. And then by 24, 23, you start
getting all this Indus stuff. So they have their own identity. They have their own
material identity, for sure. It’s all very homegrown. But there are these
sort of three periods of looking outside for
inspiration, I guess. And what’s amazing is
not only, if they’re making the pottery
of the Indus style, but if they’re making those
etched carnelian beads, either it’s an arcane
knowledge, and craftsmen are coming from the
Indus to teach them or doing it there– I
guess, but I can’t imagine– or they’re somehow
technologically figuring it out. I mean the people of Oman– I
didn’t mention this too much. This was the largest copper
producer, of that period, anywhere in the world. So before you get the
Cypriot oxhide ingots and all that stuff romping
around the Mediterranean, it was the Maganian copper. They’re called bun ingots. And they’re found everywhere
from the Mediterranean all the way to India
at that period. And that’s all coming from Oman. So they were
technologically advanced. These weren’t like
backwater whatevers. So they could have sort of taken
the idea and made it their own. But, you know, Kenoyer
doesn’t think so, of course. Yeah? Clearly, the conditions
for preservation are quite positive in this area. And you mentioned the number
of tombs, quote-unquote. I’m wondering, what is the
quality and the quality of material that Professor
Gregoricka is working with? Does she have fully
articulated skeletons? Does she have a lot of stuff? It seems to me that
that would be the best prospect for solving some of the
questions you’re working with, with pottery. So sadly, bone does
not preserve very well. The soil is very– I think
it’s acidic or basic. I can’t remember. And it’s very dry. So for example, we have
not found a single animal bone, on our entire
excavations, over eight years. We find fragments
of animal bones. But like an actual
bone, not happening. I found a tooth, once. Goat, right, sheep/goat. So bone does not preserve
very well in most tombs. There’s a team, with
Lesley, and a woman named Kim Williams,
who’s at Temple, who’s a bioarcheologist. And the two them teamed up. And they found a cemetery
where the preservation was pretty good. But what they’ve had to
do, because the bones are so brittle, they can’t
expose the whole skeleton and then study it. So what they’re doing is
they’re studying each component as the excavate it. So they’re able to draw the
way it was sort of laid out. But they have
absolutely no photos. They have photos of the bits. But every time they
expose, let’s say, an arm, that arm will
be disintegrated. So they have to consolidate
them or let them go to pot. So Lesley struggled a lot
with the preservation issue. Could they get any
DNA out of them? I don’t know if they tried that. My guess is probably not,
just because it’s so dry. But I mean, it’s possible,
maybe in the teeth or something. But yeah, nobody
had tried it yet. As I said, archeology
in this region is pretty slow to the
uptake a little bit. So if anyone’s bored
and wants to come out, there’s plenty to do. Yeah? Thanks for the talk, Chris. That was very interesting. And actually, I
share the excitement that I sense you have
working in an area where so much basic archeology
hasn’t been done before. And I was working for a number
of years in southern Armenia. Right. [INAUDIBLE]. There’s nothing but
watery archeology there. We published the first three
dozen radiocarbon dates for the whole of
southern Armenia. And this was only six years ago. No, I remember. I was going to ask you, though,
about the survey work that’s happened in Oman. Because I was beginning to go,
you know, the distribution, you can actually show
the towers indicating what you were describing
as the core area in Magan. So looking at the scale,
there, that’s what? 400 or 500 kilometers long
because the distribution? Yeah. That’s a big area. So what kind of survey
has been done on the area? What methods and how
intensive and by who? The history survey
of in Oman– so there were a few early surveys,
the British, a Harvard team, and the Danes in the ’70s. And they kind of did
that like romp around on the back of jeep
kind of survey. Remember, this area, for
those who don’t know, Oman was closed to the
outside world until the 1980s. So they were invited. And there were no paved roads. People rode donkeys. There were no schools. It was very a medieval society
up until about the late ’70s early ’80s, which is when
they allowed archeologists in. So they were romping
on not roads. And they were kind of
taking donkey trails. So it was pretty limited. They found a few of these
sites, like Bisya, Bat, Hili. I mean the UAE was easier. But very basic through the
’80s, very simple, and they would pick valleys. So through the mountains,
you get these clear passes. And they would find the passes. And everybody stayed on
the coast, by the way, because the coast was better
developed, because of sea trade and whatever. So if you didn’t want to
get typhoid and cholera, you stayed on the coast. If you wanted rabies or
whatever, you went in here. So it was pretty difficult,
even right up until the ’80s in the interiors. So very few people
did work here. And so what you see are tons
of tons of sites excavated along the coast, particularly in
the UAE, which was much better developed. More recently, a
French team started surveying that
Ra’s al-Jinz region and doing a real
modern style survey, using both satellites
and then on the ground, did fabulous work on the tombs. I should say, we
surveyed this area, with an American-Japanese team. Derek Kennet, of the
University of Durham, is now doing this
whole swath up here. So there’s real
surveys happening now, which is really great. Here’s the problem. The marker for all of these
surveys are the tombs. So they find these clusters
of these cairn tombs, and they say, ah, a
big Bronze Age cluster. Those cairn tombs were
used and built all the way through into historic periods. The shapes are different. So when they’re
well-preserved, for example, in the early Iron Age,
they’re rectangular. And they were called hut
tombs, because the ones that are still standing are amazing. They have doors and windows. And you can still sort
of peek into them. They’re really cool. But you think about,
when a tomb collapses, it’s not going to
look rectangular. So they go from circular,
in the Bronze Age, to oval, in the late Bronze Age, to
rectangular in the early Iron Age. That’s an established thing. But when they’re just
sort of collapsed, they just look like pfft. And so what happens is
they do these surveys. And they mark 700
tombs on the landscape. And they start doing
paleodemographics. They start talking
about the Bronze Age, that this was a major
center, out here, where the settlements are
minuscule and they’re tiny. And I’ve argued– and I get
told to shut up– I said, look, you can’t date those
tombs unless they are so beautifully preserved that
they maintain their style. And that’s one of the big
issues with surveying. Settlement surveys have
never been professional. This survey we did, this
is the major highway, so that shows you. Derek Kennet started
working in this region. And I had actually pointed
him towards Rustaq, because I said this is a major
town today, very well watered, right on the northern piedmont. And notice, everything
here is on the south, south of the mountains. So I asked Derek if he would
do a big survey, because you see these two sites? They built a highway
through here to Rustaq. So we were taking that road,
and we found two tower sites up in the highlands,
which nobody thought there was anything up in the
highlands in the Bronze Age. So the fact that there’s
two big monuments up there suggests otherwise. And that’s just because
there’s a highway. So this is very old school. So he started
doing a survey here and found a massive
site that’s probably as big as Bat or Khashbah. But this is all very new. So yes, modern
surveys have come, but there are some
epistemological issues that we’re still working out. And as I say, a
lot of people are using Google Earth
and satellite now to just be like, oh, we can
just count all the tombs. But they’re just blobs
of collapsed rock, so it’s not the best. Any other questions? Yes? I’ll take John’s micro
question from the micro level. I was wondering about the
place of these cooking pots, you were talking about, in the
overall ceramic assemblage. You mentioned they are
made of a local fabric. And I was wondering if that
fabric is used for other pots– Yeah. –or if it’s exclusively
for this type of pottery. So we only have one fabric. We have one local fabric. It’s super fine. I mean it’s like talc. It’s like baby’s butt. It’s so soft, highly
levigated, lightly fired, so it’s not– sometimes it
even has a light-grey core. But it’s all fineware. And we don’t have
storage vessels. We don’t have traditional
cooking vessels, nothing chaffy. Interestingly, in
the metallurgy, from the very earliest
periods, before they even were making this local pottery,
they used chaffy ceramics for molds and for furnaces,
like little crucibles and stuff. So they clearly
understood ceramic arts. They knew, clearly,
how to make them. But they didn’t. And that’s a really
interesting point. They came very late to the game. They started
agriculture 3500 BC. Everyone around
had been doing it for 3,000 years at that point. It’s sort of bizarre. And they start agriculture. Boom, they start building these
monuments, boom, ceramics, just like that. Even still, over eight
years of excavating, we have found less
than 1,000 sherds. It’s very, very light. So there’s not a lot. And they’re all one shape. That’s the other funny
thing if you’re interested. All the Omani ceramics are jars. They’re little jars. They’re big jars. But they’re all jars. So one of the hypotheses
that we put out there is that they only
needed ceramics, besides the metallurgical arts,
possibly, for water storage. None of them show signs of
sooting or burning or anything. They’re all finewares,
gently painted, but nothing elaborate
for the most part. And some of the jars have
little perforations for hanging. So maybe they’re like lamps. But there’s no sign
of burning, so I don’t know what they– so anyway. Sorry, geeking out on ceramics. Yeah, Peter? I’ve got to ask you more
about the cooking pots. They’re interesting,
particularly, because, I think, there you
might have a possibility to say more about, are
people coming in and so on? And that’s not so much
because of the shape, but because of
what you point to, how they possibly
were used, as you say, with the secondary layer. Because it’s a very particular
technique of cooking. So if you could demonstrate
how they were used, then you could start
talking about what you call culinary practices. Yes. And that way, you’re no longer
talking about actually just the pottery’s shape. Then you start talking about
the people doing things. Correct. You also said you excavated
several hearths in the houses. Yeah. Do they show any
connection with these pots? Because, if you want to
have them buried in ashes, you might expect them
deeper, either in the ground or perhaps with another
ceramic or stone surround to contain ashes
or anything like that. Yeah. I mean most of our hearths
are stone-lined and relatively deep, for sure. I mean there’s no
contextual relation, per se. Most of these ceramics
are found in fill, right? Occasionally, they’re
found on the floors. We have a few whole pots,
but, for the most part, you’re talking
about fill layers. So that’s not
particularly helpful. But yeah, looking
for the slurry, I mean, this is the
holy grail for me, finding the sherds where, if we
could still find that slurry. And in the Indus, where they’ve
excavated for over 100 years, and they’ve got millions
of potsherds by now. I think Kenoyer found five that
still had a slurry on them. So we’re up against that. Also, as I mentioned,
the soil is not great. And all of our ceramics
come out completely caked in lime, which
is a whole other issue that we’re struggling with. Because if we want to identify
them based on painted, we have to use the
vinegar trick, right? And then you immediately
get into issues of dissolving everything else. So this is a whole other thing. So we’re trying to start process
of only vinegaring some and not others. And because then it would
destroy any lipid analysis you ever want to do,
it destroys temper, and petrography, that kind
of thing Lots of problems. But that’s what
makes archeology fun. Anything else? Or are we dying for
a glass of wine? Yes. At that point, since you
were talking vinegar, we don’t serve vinegar,
but we do serve wine. Good sequitur. I like it. So please join me to
thank Chris once more. [APPLAUSE]

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