An 'early Muslim settlement' discovered in Saudi Arabia

A fascinating settlement, believed to date to the 7th century CE, has been discovered in Damman, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Dr. Ali I. Al-Ghabban, Deputy Secretary-General for Antiquities and Museums, made the announcement on Monday and was confident in the dating of the site due to the ceramics and other artefacts unearthed so far.

The site is in the Al-Raaka district and within 1km of the Arabian Gulf, but it is not evidence for a fishing industry that is provoking interest, but rather evidence for the the processing of dates.

Although the existence of the site has been known for some time, actual excavation commenced only three months ago and is taking place in cooperation with Saudi Aramco which holds title to the land and which hopes to build a contractor training centre on the site. The excavation team, however, is solely Saudi.

The settlement seems to have been well planned, with about 20 separate 'houses' discovered to date, all of four to five rooms. A well is also located with each cluster of buildings, with 5 being discovered so far. The exciting aspect of the construction of the buildings is that each has a special room which Al-Ghabban considers to be for conserving dates. The floors of these rooms are in the form of furrows and it is proposed that dates were stored thereon and juice collected through the furrows. Whether this hypothesis is supported by known practice in ancient or modern date processing was not mentioned by Al-Ghabban.

Arttefacts recovered from the site so far include clay utensils, pottery with inscriptions, seashells, iron bars and, bizarrely 'a pair of scissors'. Al-Ghabban says that the settlement, which is not mentioned in any literature, ancient or modern, is a very early Muslim village. He does not cite his evidence for this, but perhaps the inscribed pottery gives a clue. This would be a very early Muslim settlement indeed (the Islamic calendar starts in the equivalent of 622 CE) so it will be extremely interesting to hear more of the evidence for this proposition as the excavation continues. In the meantime, the image of the furrowed floor provides a fascinating glimpse into an early highly developed agriculture processing system.