Earliest Islamic site in Qatar found in collaborative project

School staff, UCL Qatar and Qatar Museums join forces!
Earliest Islamic site in Qatar found in collaborative project

View of Trench 27 from the south after excavation. From left to right, Buildings 1 and 2, with spaces indicated by standing members of the excavation team

 

The Crowded Desert Project, led by Dr Jose C. Carvajal Lopez of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, started in 2015 as a joint adventure of Qatar Museums and UCL Qatar, funded by the Qatar National Research Fund (NPRP8-1582-6-056). The aim of the project is the study the historical development of nomads and sedentary people inhabiting an area of 25 Km2 in the northern desert of Qatar. Between 2015 and 2017, the team of the project surveyed a total area of c. 4698 ha with different intensities.

 

The team dedicated the season of 2018, the last season of fieldwork, to the excavation and documentation of Yughbī, one archaeological site mapped for the first time in the 1970s by Beatrice De Cardi, a pioneer archaeologist in the Gulf. The site was thought to be the result of a process of sedentarization of a nomadic group in 600-900CE. Four trenches were opened and five buildings were investigated. Ceramics, glass, metal, stone vessels, shells and fishnet weights made of different materials were recovered. A highlight was a set of fishnet weights found under a wall collapse and arranged in a spiral pattern. Such pattern was consequence of their attachment to a net which was hanging from the collapsed wall.


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Work-in-progress image of the excavation of the set of fishnet weights found in a spiral pattern

 

The radiocarbon dating of several samples has placed the architectural phase of Yugbhī in between 662 and 778CE, that is, in the Umayyad period of the Islamic era. A phase of ephemeral architecture was identified before (532-670CE) and a phase of frequentation was found between 760 and 882CE. This makes Yughbī the earliest archaeological site of the Islamic period in Qatar, probably founded by a group of nomads who became progressively sedentarized between the Sassanian and the Islamic periods. The site was abandoned by the end of the Umayyad period, but was probably frequented and revisited.

The significance of this excavation is very important for the narratives around the rise of Islam. In the Persian Gulf it is assumed that the population of the early Islamic period rose dramatically after the foundation of Baghdad in 762CE and the establishment of strong trade links with China via the Indian Ocean. This is the first excavation of a rural nomadic site which offers confirmed dates earlier than the birth of Baghdad (600-700CE), and therefore opens the consideration of a different sequence of events during these critical centuries of the beginning of the Islamic Era.

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