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Pre- and Protohistory

As-Sabbiya (Kuwait)

Fourth season of work in As-Sabbiya, Kuwait

Dates: 14 March – 23 April 2010

Polish team:

Dr. Łukasz Rutkowski, field director (PCMA)

Dr. Franciszek Pawlicki, archaeologist (PCMA)

Katarzyna Hryniewicka, archaeologist, archaeozoologist (freelance)

Ewelina Mizak, doctoral candidate (University of Warsaw)

Łukasz Wojnarowicz, archaeologist (freelance)

Students of archaeology: Aleksander Leydo, Maciej Okulus, Izabela Sztuka, Piotr Zakrzewski (University of Warsaw)

Kuwaiti team:

Sultan Ad-Duweish, head of the team

Hamed Al-Mutairi, Mustafa Ansari, Khaled Salem and Talal Abdullah Shameri, archaeologists

For the fourth time, at the invitation of the Kuwaiti National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, a PCMA expedition excavated archaeological sites in the As-Sabbiya region. For the first time, however, following an agreement reached between Mr. Shehab A.H. Shehab, Director of the National Council’s Department of Museums and Antiquities, and Prof. Piotr Bieliński, Director of the PCMA and head of the Kuwaiti-Polish Archaeological Mission, the Polish mission will be working in two shifts, spring and autumn. The autumn campaigns are to be devoted to investigating an Ubaid period settlement site (SBH 38, see Al-Sabiyah in the 2009 Newsletter PCMA), while the spring team, for which this campaign in the spring of 2010 is the first, will focus on the exploration of tumuli graves, completing the excavation of a well site SM 12, investigating other well sites, and continuing an extensive survey of the region started in 2009.

Concentration of tumuli graves within the Bahra area
Based on the 2009 survey, 14 stone structures situated on a high plateau within the northern part of the Bahra area (sites: SB 60-73) were selected for archaeological investigations [Fig. 1]. Four tumuli graves (SB 60, SB 61, SB 65 and SB 66), as well as a small stone structure (SB 62) were excavated this year.

Fig. 1. Topographical map of the excavated zone in the Bahra area (Mapping and digitizing R. Łopaciuk, editing Ł. Rutkowski)

Tumulus grave SB 65
Stone mound SB 65 measured 8.20 m in diameter and approx. 0.90 m in height. Numerous loose stones scattered over the grave and around it indicated that the coat had actually been higher, but still it is the largest of the excavated tumuli [Fig. 2].

Fig. 2. SB 65: (a) before exploration, (b–c) after cleaning, (d) during measurements, (e) grave chamber, (f) section through tumulus (Photos Ł. Rutkowski and E. Mizak [d])

A bell-shaped grave chamber measured approx. 1.00 m and 1.40 m in diameter (at the top and bottom respectively) and reached approx. 1.20 m in depth, being hewn partly in bedrock. Its bottom was additionally paved with thin large slabs of stone. Unlike the formerly explored graves, the chamber did not have a separately constructed wall. Instead, it was encircled with 10-12 layers of thin and well fitted slabs, mostly overlapping like roof tiles and descending towards the mantle fringe.

The chamber had been penetrated before, the plunderers leaving behind in the fill some tiny fragments of human bones and a few pieces of metal. However, several personal adornments, some of good quality and made of semiprecious materials, were found while sieving sand from the northern half of the tumulus. The assemblage consisted of six beads: one agate, three carnelian, one tusk shell, and frit(?). There was also a small collection of copper-alloy items: seven pieces of very thin metal sheet (including one with double perforation), three almost identical socket-like objects with bent, sharp endings, and one broken, semicircular item [Fig. 3]. The finds must have constituted only a fraction of the original grave goods.

Fig. 3. Assorted finds from SB 65 (Photo
I. Sztuka)

Tumulus grave SB 60
SB 60 turned out to be a most unusual tumulus grave in terms of its internal construction, at least in comparison with the burial mounds excavated by the mission since 2007 (see Al-Sabiyah in the 2008 and 2007 PCMA Newsletters). At first glance, after removing the sand cover, the stone mound (approx. 6.50 m in diameter and 0.90 m high) did not differ much from other tumuli [Fig. 4]. It seemed to represent a type of mantle with the perimeter lined by large slabs inclined towards the center of the mound. Upon exploration, however, these slabs proved to be leaning against an almost square inner stone frame which measured 3.20 by 3.50 m and was 0.70 m high. The base of the frame was made of elongated slabs up to 1.60 m long, arranged vertically in straight lines. Moreover, the whole space within the frame was densely packed with stones and - surprisingly - did not form a grave chamber.

Fig. 4. SB 60: (a) after cleaning, (b) during measurements and photographic documentation, (c) exploring inside the frame structure, (d) sieving, (e) exploration of a child burial, (f) square frame structure at the end of excavations (Photos Ł. Rutkowski [a–c], K. Hryniewicka [d], E. Mizak [e], I. Sztuka [f])

Assuming that SB 60 had actually been a funerary construction - a rounded outline had been traced on the top of the tumulus at the beginning of the exploration - the grave chamber must have been very shallow and placed right upon the square stone-packed “podium”. No traces of burial have been found either inside or on the core construction. A secondary burial was exposed, but it was located outside the east wall of the square frame, right below the slanting slabs of the stone mantle. A poorly preserved skeleton of a juvenile lay on its side in contracted position, head facing south. There were no accompanying grave goods. However, the tumulus itself yielded two small finds of interest: a bronze arrowhead and a trilobed object made of lead(?) [Fig. 5]. Both were found near the southeastern corner of the frame, in the uppermost layer of the stone fill. They may have come from a primary burial - assuming one had ever existed. Apart from the metal objects, a small stone mortar was found in the mantle. A similar find was made last year in tumulus SMQ 49 (again see the 2009 PCMA Newsletter) providing an important clue for linking separate graves in terms of chronology and funerary customs.

Fig. 5. Finds from SB 60: bronze arrowhead, trilobed object of lead(?), stone mortar (Photos Ł. Wojnarowicz, I. Sztuka)

Tumuli graves SB 61, SB 66 and small stone feature SB 62
Tumuli graves SB 61 and SB 66 turned out to be almost identical [Fig. 6]. They were of similar dimensions (around 5 m in diameter and around 0.60 m high) and were constructed in the same way with an inner ring of stones encircling the grave chamber and an outer ring made of upright slabs. Both rounded grave chambers (c. 1 m in diameter) were shallow and paved with thin slabs. And both yielded no finds.

SB 62 was a small, simple feature made of loose stones. A few structures of this kind were surveyed last year. The structure measured 2 m in diameter and was 0.30 m high. It did not turn up any finds. Despite its nearness to the pair of tumuli graves SB 60 and SB 61, it should be considered a remnant of a separate stone alignment fashioned at an unspecified point of time.

Fig. 6. SB 61, SB 62, SB 66: (a) view of SB 61 and SB 60 (in the background) after cleaning, (b–c) SB 61 after half the stone coating had been dismantled, (d) SB 62 after cleaning, (e–f) work at SB 66 (Photos Ł. Wojnarowicz [a–b, d], (c) E. Mizak, Ł. Rutkowski [e–f])

Desert well sites SM 12 and SB 23
The investigations of an impressive well SM 12 in the Muheita area were completed this season [Fig. 7]. The well shaft was almost circular, approx. 3 m in diameter at the top and 1.35 m at the bottom. It reached a depth of 3.25 m. The shaft was constructed of twenty-two layers of well-coursed, roughly rectangular stone blocks. The lower part, up to the ninth layer of blocks, was straight, the upper part broadened into what looks like a large funnel.

It is reasonable to suppose that the Muheita well served as a kind of cistern rather than a well. Judging by an iron container (for water?) and a modern rubber seal found near the bottom of the shaft, the well was abandoned only recently, but it could have been constructed at a much earlier date. It could well have been used by pilgrims traveling from southern Iraq to Mecca and by the nomadic tribes living in As-Sabbiya.

Another of the excavated wells, the Dubaij archeological site (SB 23), is situated at the foot of the main plateau of As-Sabbiya about 5 km to the east of the SM 12 well site. Modern remains of the well complex (SB 23–1) can still be seen in the field. They include a sub-rounded concrete enclosure wall, a freestanding concrete pillar (most likely remains of a water-raising device), and a low-roofed concrete emplacement of unidentified function [Fig. 7e]. In the course of this season, the huge shaft of the well was exposed down to the bottom. It turned out to be filled entirely with modern rubbish. Structurally, it turned out to be very similar to SM 12, but with a slightly larger diameter (approx. 3.70 m).

Yet another well structure (SB 23–2) situated some 25 m to the south of SB 23–1 was also excavated. Its narrow stone shaft (approx. 1.20 m in diameter) in its lower part was carved in bedrock.

Fig. 7. Well sites SM 12 (Muheita) and SB 23 (Dubaij): (a–b, d) final work inside the well shaft of SM 12, (c) small well SB 23-2 (e) general view of well complex in Dubaij, (e) large well SB 23-1. (Photos E. Mizak [a], F. Pawlicki [b], Ł. Rutkowski [c–f])

Archaeological survey
An extensive survey of archaeological remains in the vicinity of the excavated zone in the Bahra–Radha region was continued this year. Twelve new stone structures were identified in the 5 square kilometers of area that was surveyed to the south of the modern Al-Jahra–As-Sabbiya road, thus bringing the total of sites recorded during the two seasons of the survey to 139, including 92 tumuli graves, 14 elongated structures, and 33 other features.

[Text: Ł. Rutkowski]

Ł. Rutkowski: luka.rutkowski@uw.edu.pl