A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
An undisturbed trove of relics reveals the trading patterns of a Bronze Age society.
Within days of opening a trench at Tell Abraq, I was walking on the walls
of a circular fortification built around 2200 B.C. and staring at painted
pottery from the late third millennium. This was a pleasant surprise. I had
already been excavating for some years in the United Arab Emirates
(U.A.E.), a corner of eastern Arabia known for its inland expanses of
desert and gravel plain, at a site several miles to the north with an
abundance of Roman glass, Parthian pottery, and even the odd Indian coin,
attesting a lively international commerce in the first century A.D.
Impressive as this was, I felt it was possible to push back local history
to an even more remote past, and Tell Abraq, where I had found a few pieces
of broken pottery lying on the ground, seemed a promising place to explore.
Soon after the ancient walls and painted pottery came to light, my
University of Sydney team stumbled upon a circular stone tomb of the sort
commonly used for collective burials in the Early Bronze Age (2500-2000
B.C.) in the region of Oman and the U.A.E. Here, to my astonishment, we
found nearly 400 bodies from a massive unlooted burial, a time capsule of
ancient Magan, a culture intimately connected to a trade network linking
Mesopotamia, Iran, Arabia, Afghanistan, and the Indus Valley. The tomb had
never been plundered because it had been sealed ca. 2000 B.C. by several
feet of accumulated settlement deposit as the site of Tell Abraq grew up,
over, and around it.
Daniel T. Potts is Edwin Cuthbert Hall professor in Middle Eastern archaeology at the University of Sydney, Australia.