Page 1

** 64 ** Black boats of Magan: some thoughts on Bronze Age water transport in Oman and beyond from the impressed bitumen slabs of Ra's al-Junayz Serge Cleuziou & Maurizio Tosi

In an archaรงological perspective, the understanding of cultural and technological evolution depends on material remains. For a maritime population the most spรงcific artefactual indicator are objects related to watรงr transport (e.g. McGrail 1985). So far the information available on the types of water crafts used in prehistoric Mesopotarnia and along the shores of the Arabian Peninsula has only been indirect, recovered from models, rock carvings or other figurative representations (Johnstone 1980: 171-184). At Ra's al-Junayz, the eastemmost point of the Arab World jutting towards India from the rocky coastline of Oman (fig. 63.1), excavations by the Joint Hadd Project have yielded direct information on boats used during the third millennium BC.1The evidence comes from impressed slabs of a bitumen compound, found in buildings of Period II (c. 2500-2200 BC). The present paper aims at providing an initial description of the finds and the preliminary analyses carried out so far, together with an evaluation of its historical implications.2

Lack of direct information Between 1985 and 1994 some 300 bitumen slabs and lumps have been recovered from site RJ-2 at Ra's al-Junayz, in eastern Oman, bearing on one side deep impressions of reed bundles and possibly wooden planks, lashed together by ropes. They are scattered thro'ughout the whole sequence of Period II, spanning the second half of the third millennium BC. The occasionai presence of barnacles or their imprints on the smoothed outer side confirms them as parts of the caulking envelopes of boats, recovered from repaired or disused boats, to be stored at the site for further utilization. The slabs may then represent an exceptional source for vital information on the Bronze Age boats and Arabian seafaring populations that enabled trade connections between India and the Near East during the third millennium BC. Our knowledge of water transport during this period derives from a few references in cuneiform texts and sketchy representations. The major exception is the dismantled plank vessei buried beside the Great Pyramid at Gizeh (Lipke 1984).:JIt was Khufu's Funerary Sun Boat. In spite of the precious Lebanese cedar wood and the sophisticatcdtcchnologyuscd, it was onlymcantto sail a few miles 01' Nilc watcrs from thc Death Housc at Mcmphis to the Pyramid. The far humblcr imprcssions from Ra' s al-Junayz might instead tcll us a more direct tale


Serge Cleuziou & Tosi

about the vessels and men who challenged the ocean to link the countries around its shores. We should bear in mind that the complexity of boat construction bears no direct relation to the actual navigational skills that allow sailors to cover long distances across the ape n sea. As far other information relative to the ancient Middle East, the most consistent data can be gathered from Mesopotamia. Boats are no exception. The most thorough investigation on early Mesopotamian materials is the regrettably still unpublished work of C. Qualls (1981). From the study of 403 representations dating prior to 2000 SC, Qualls could safely conclude that 'the boat tradition of Mesopotamia began no later than 5000 sc'. It was an indigenous process of technological advancement, 'based on the natural resources of Mesopotamia, i.e. reeds and bitumen and possibly hides' (Qualls 1981: 287).4 Sails would have been known very ear1y, by the end of al-Ubaid times. as confirmed by a clay model with a mid-ship socket far a mast from the Eridu cemetery (Qualls 1981: 14). These bundle boats would have lasted several months in water, longer if enveloped with a bitumen coating. Since quite a few early models bear traces of bitumen slip or black paint, it is assumed that this type of sea-faring vesseI had been in generaI use since Ear1y Holocene times. The Ubaid pottery probably travelled across the Gulf as cargo on such vessels. Cuneiform textual information is still too contradictory to pro vide us with reference information (e.g. Salonen 1939; 1942; Sauren 1971). However, an Ur III administrative text from Girsu, CT 7-31, gives a list of items related to boat construction.5 As it mentions Magan, now generally accepted as including the whole of or parts of Oman in the third millennium SC, it is widely referred to in historical discussions. It also deserves to be quoted in full far its technical interest: the list specifies the following items in relation to boat building: 178 large palm trees, 1400 large pine trees, 36 large tamarix, 32 large sedu trees, IO tamarix of 3 cubits, 8.28 tons of palm fibre ropes, 1.02 tons of palm fibre strings, 1.250 tons of reeds, 810 kg of alfalfa, 600 [or more] ox hides, 1.344 tons of goat's hair, 595 litres of fish oil, 4260 bundles of sid reeds, 12,384 bundles of reeds, 951 cubic metres of asphalt far the coating of Magan type boat.


The materials are evidently to bc used far the making and repair of different types of water transport. The very large number of pine trees listed can only bc cxplaincd by a widespread use of wooden vesscls of the kind best exemplified by Khuf'u's boat at Gizeh. Thc list groups the material according to a kind of mercan-


.~ .


BlllCk hoat.l' qf Magall







. Ubaid sito, e Bronzo Ago ,ires

Ras al-Hadd


} Fig. 64.1. Map of the Omani Peninsula

with sites mentioned


in the text.

tile classification with asphalt mentioned as the last item. This might be significant: although asphalt was certainly used as a caulking material for alI kinds of boats, the scribe felt it necessary to add the specification 'for the coating of Magan type boats'. It is also interesting to note that 951 cubic metres of asphalt (3170 gur), a truly enormous amount, is listed just after huge quantities of reed bundles of different types. Somehow, the classification associates the water crafts related to the Gulf with asphalt-coated boats, most likely built with reed bundles. Given the unique nature of tbe text, not much more can be said at this point.

Bitumen finds from Ra's al-Junayz A total of 329 bitumen pieces have been recovered so far in the mud brick buildings of Period II at Ra's al-Junayz. These buildings were only periodically occupied, most likely during the winter season from September to March, when the end of the NE/SW monsoon made fishing most rewarding. The buildings are fairly standard in layout and construction techniques, with a rectangular plan, composed of three to four large rooms, occasionally including two smaller ones on the side. Finds from within are in a primary context and include objects related both to fishing, such as copper hooks or stone net sinkers, and to craft activities, mainly represented by fragments of shell rings at various stages of manufacture associated with the tools involved in the processo Potsherds, including fragments of several large Indus storage vessels, were also found in direct contextual associations, fllrther pointing to the multi-functionallitilization of these structures.


Serge Cleu::.iou & Tosi

Buildings I and II are the earliest excavatcd so far. They were built at some time during the 25th century BC. Building I can be divided into at least two parts: the first includes rooms 4, 5, 12 and small rooms I and 2, while the second one consists of rooms 6 and 7 with remnants of others stretching to the north in a straight row. Building Il is a four-room complex erected against the earlier Building L Building III extends to the south and should have been used during the same periodo Thirty metres to the northwest, \Vehave exposed another aggregation of successive buildings (VnI, vn, VI and IV) whose construction began during the last phase of use of buildings I and II, probably sometime during tbe 23rd century BC.6 This northern aggregation remained in use after the abandonment of buildings I and Il. The excavation of buildings I and n has yielded 274 pieces of bitumen of various shapes and sizes. Most of them were found in discrete groups inside the buildings, forming three clusters, one in each unit (fig. 64.2). The northern section of Building I yielded 68 pieces in room 6 and a single one in room 7. The southern part yielded 49 pieces in small room 2 (fig. 64.3) and 24 in room 4, mainly concentrated near the door between the two rooms.7 Room 17 in Building n yielded 106 pieces, with only two other small lumps in room 14 and two in room 3. In the northern aggregation of buildings, still under excavation, 56 pieces were found during the winter 1993-94 season. A very small lump comes from room 2 of Building VI, the latest one so far in the sequence. The remaining 55 pieces were concentrated in a round shallow pit dug in the northwestern corner of room 6 in Bui1ding VII. Apart from these finds, one can only mention two more minor concentrations of bitumen: three smalllumps in Building In, room 1, and six among a group of five parallel small walls (Building V), associated with a later phase of occupation of Building I. This distribution of bitumen pieces in discrete clusters suggests a near primary setting in storage locations. We believe that, at least during the earlier phases of use of the houses, each unit had its own storage for the bitumen reserve. It may be worth noting that a Harappan copper stamp seal (Cleuziou & Tosi 1990: fig. 18) and a smashed black-on-red Harappan painted jar with painted peacocks (MĂŠry 1988: fig. 35) were found associated with bitumen in room 6 of Building II, while a Harappan ivory comb was found in Building n room 2, where bitumen lumps are also associated with several export items such as cut Fasciolaria trapezium shells (fig. 64.3) and lumps of pyrolusite, a magnesium ore crushed for the manufacturing of eye dyes.


of the finds

The bitumen finds of Ra's al-Junayz include some two hundred complete objects, while the rest are fragments still difficult to classify owing to their small size. Several of the latter are lumps, roughly moulded by hand, or broken pieces worn by exposure. Objects include both impressed and unimpressed pieces. Unimpressed objects are the largest finds and they probably represent quantities of bitumen prepared for storage. They were shaped by hand-beating and can bear


Black !Joats

4 Magilll




Building I : room VI

~ N


Building I

Buildlng Il :





Fig. 64.2. Ra's al-Junayz, site RJ-2. Plan of the excavated areas with distribution of bitumen pieces among structural remains.

later residual impressions on parts of the surface. They usuaIly come in two shapes: plano-convex loaves and tlat-sided, brick-shaped blocks. Only a single specimen ol' an intact plano-convex loal' has been l'ound, l'rom the later context in Building VII room 6. It weights 2.7 kg. Flat-sided blocks had rounded comers and were 5 LO7 cm thick. Their weight ranges l'rom 0.8 to 1.5 kg. On cIose examination, on the large loal' l'rom Building VII room 6 one can still recognize


Serge Clellzioll & .\!(/urizio Tosi

Fig. 64.3. Ra's al-Junayz, site Rl-2, Building I, room 2. Close-up view from west of exposed fIoor deposit with bitumen pieces arTanged in a shallow pit among Fascio/aria shells and other stored objects, Period Ha. Note at the centre the impressed slab no. 35 recovered from a bundle boat.

the lines of contact among the different pieces that were aggregated under conditions of limited plasticity. This suggests a possible form of storage. In this shape, bitumen pieces could even travel in the boat itself to ensure a supply of the materiaI for repairs during sea trave!. The impressed objects are on average much smaller (fig. 64.4). Their weight ranges from 70 to 800 grams. The two main shapes are slabs and three-sided pieces. Slabs are squarish-shaped pieces with a flat section, 1-4 cm thick, the largest being some 25 cm long. They bear deep impressions on one side only, while the other is smooth. These impressions are either from mats or lashed reed bundles. Although an occasionaI string or a knot can be found associated with the mat impressions, most ropes are associated with bundles that were very tightly bound together. Three-sided pieces are usually quite small in size. They originate from lumps or bitumen pushed between corner sections 01'bends in the bundle setting. They often bear impressions 01'knots and might be associated with the strcngthening 01' thc kcel in criticaI parts. They may associate two faces with reed bundle impressions and one racc with mat imprcssions. In onc or two cascs, somc impressions can ne intcrprcted as thc product or coating against a piecc 01'wood. An intcresting casc is lump 548 wherc a piccc of wood is ticd togcthcr by a rope to a cane from Phragmilcs rced.




Black !Joat.\'o(Maga/l






o. 70






; , !









5i :::J





i ,










I '


I i







56 ..

lI)II-, 112 l'''





168 1% 224 252 280 308 336 364 392 .. . . WEIGHT



i I


\288 1316 "..


1372 14.."




Fig 64.4, Ra's al-Junayz, site RJ-2. Weight distribution of biturnen pieces expressed in grarns. Range of rnain types is indicated below. The two intact loaves are the largest specirnens found.

The impressions range from a millimetre to a centimetre deep and cover the whole of the inner face. They are presently under study and will not be further detailed here, although major pattems are already evident. The reeds have been identified as Typha sp. by L. Costantini, who also occasionalIy mentions Phragmites sp., apparently in a different setting. Reeds, c. l cm in diameter8, are arranged in bundles laced at regular intervals with twisted ropes, 8 mm in average diameter, that coi l several times around the bundle (fig. 64.5b). Mats are made from interwoven slit-cut reeds, usualIy in groups of three or four forming a 2-3 cm meshed work (fig. 64.6). The smoothed outer surfaces are irregularly preserved, and imprints of the vegetaI inclusions in the material (see below) very often appear (fig. 64.5a). They never bear any imprint. Encrusted bamacles were found on c. 20% of the significantly preserved material (fig. 64.7). The actual remains of these crustaceans are stilI present on some pieces, but most often they can also be detected by very distinctive impressed circles in the bitumen, 8-15 mm in diameter and 1-2 mm deep. The density varies from one impression every 4-5 cm to a fulIy covered surface up to 5-6 per IO cm2. Bamacles never occur on the impressed face or on the edges of the lump. Barnacles are crustaceans of the 'entomostraca' group. They can live in various maritime cnvironments. Some specics develop on coastal splash-zones9 while other colonize the keels 01'the boats after a few weeks in tropical waters. Although the precise identirication or the harnacle is stili to be carried out, their presence leads


Serge Clel/:.iol/ & Tosi


Fig. 64.5. Ra's al-Junayz, site RJ-2. Outer (a) and inner (b) view of impressed bitumen slab no. 35 (Building r, room 2). Note lashing rope impressions across long reeds.

to the conc1usion that the pieces of bitumen were part of the coating of a seagoing assemblage, before they were stored in Period II houses at RJ-2. The fact that most of these pieces bear the same impressions but no barnacle encrustations also indicales lhat not cvery part or the assemblage was in permancnt contact with sea watcr. Wc lhcrefore propose to identify the bitumen pieces as parts of a caulking cnvclopc. Barnac1es add to thc weight or thc boat, and creale an uncvenness that significanlly rcduccs its spccd. T. Scverin (19g2) reminds us thatthc remaval of barna-


B/ack hoa(s (!{MlIgeil/


Fig. 64.6. Ra's al-Junayz. site RJ-2. Inner view of impressed bitUmen slab no 250 (Building II, room 17) with mat impressiono

E 'u

Fil{. M.7. Ra's al-JlInayz, site RJ-2. Olltt:r vit:w 01' imprt:ssed hitumcn slab no 182 (Building I, roOIl16) with cncrllstcd barnaclcs.



C/{'I/ cC:Ma/( lĂŹ)si

cks was cffcct~d wheoev~r thc bl1atscould b~ dried. aod it was common practic~ to apply an anti-fouling coating of lime and l1lutton fat to prot~ct the keel. It is therefore possible that the large al110untof bitumen applied and the thickness of the slabs was not exclusively for water prooting, but also as a protection against the crustaceous pest. The removal of the shells directly from reed bundles or wooden planks would have critically damaged the boats structure. The bitul11en pieces found can be interpreted as parts of the envelope removed during repair \vork and stored for re-use. An Ur III cuneiform text (WMAH 3. RVL25) quotes '900 kg of bitumen recuperated [literally 'stripped'] from a boat'.IO lnclusions AlI bitumen pieces are fulI of inclusions, which account l'or a very significant al110unt of their total volume. After a preliminary examination of the earlier group under the microscope, Costantini has identified that the great majority of inclusions are crushed Typha reeds, mixed with other species from swamp vegetation. It means that the same materia! used lO make the boats was also employed in the caulking massoBroken palm leaves were also used, and some rare examples of barley seeds, straw, date kernels and Phragmites reeds are occasionally found. The lumps also contained fragments of barnacles mixed into the paste, probably as a result of the heating and melting of re-used parts of caulking. The imprints of reeds are ubiquitous, present in every part of all pieces and quite well preserved. It means that the reed fragments do not originate accidentally from the contact of the reeds forming the structure of the keel. It also means that the bitumen slabs had not yet been re-used, otherwise the imprints would not have been so well preserved and aligned. The presence of barnacle fragments also suggests that bitumen was re-used with the addition of fresh vegetation each time. The positive advantages of this dense vegetaI temper are obvious. It diminishes the specific weight of the waterproofing coating paste. It increases the plasticity and adherence when applied, as well as elasticity against humidity and thermoclastic stress. Il

At present, Typha does not grow in the Ja<lan. To establish whether it was there in the Bronze Age will require further specific investigation.12 It is a very criticaI questiono As later discussed, the bitumen originated outside Oman. The question is whether the boats. from which the bitumen pieces originate were actually built in Oman using imported asphalt, or were only repaired locally by heating the slabs removed and re-tempering the paste with new reeds.

Chemical analyses Or Giuseppe Scala, a chemist at the Institute for Applied Technologies to Cultural Heritage in Romc has carri ed out a first set of analyses using gas-chromatographic spectrography. A total of 16 specimens from thc carlicr buildings have bccn examined (tablc 64.1). The rcsults indicate that the paste of the slabs was an artifi-


Utae/.; /)()ats (~j'Magi/Il


Table 64.1 Ra's al-Junayz, site RJ-2: gas-chromatographic analyses of 16 bitumen pieces

Samplen o 75 316 21 311 313 50 282 223 236 215 249 247 239 238

Provenance Room Unit 1-4 1-6 1-6 1-6 il-3 Il-17 Il-17 Il-17 Il-17 Il-17 il-17 Il-17 il-17 Il-17

94 14 2 1 85 861 856 856 856 856 861 860 856 856-A

Composition Organic part 1norg-,micpart % Tallow % Gypsum 51.84 4.63 48.16 5.08 43.48 56.52 14.35 42.41 57.59 33.40 47.52 4.25 52.48 15.58 53.18 46.82 14.88 48.30 5.16 51.70 20.60 50.13 5.43 49.87 20.04 44.90 5.79 55.10 17.02 9.25 44.09 55.91 15.34 49.38 53.62 17.85 47.33 8.41 52.67 57.11 42.89 17.15 54.90 45.10 18.67 51.31 3.80 48.69 0.29

* not searched

- not found

Gas-chromatographic analyses of 16 specimens of bitumen pieces indicate that with a single exception (sample no. 5) they were prepared with al: 1 proportion of inorganic and organic parts. Note among most of the latter the presence of tallow, added to increase plasticity and bond the amalgamo

cial compound, containing almost equal parts of organic and inorganic elements. According to Scala's report, four main components were mixed to prepare the paste for caulking. The organic part, ranging around 50% with two exceptions (no. 2 = 9.46% and no. 12 = 21.05%), contained asphalt and a 4to 9% portion of tallow. The inorganic one is made of calcium carbonate (CaC03) and magnesium carbonates, probably originating from the bituminous rocks. In 8 specimens (nos. 3-10) the inorganic part also contained a 25% to 33% fraction of calcium sulphate (CaS04) or gypsum. The very low quantity of sand present, as indicated by the iron parts, supports the assumption that the paste is a fully artificial product. Tallow would have been added to increase plasticity to the hot mass to be applied immediately before cooling. Gypsum would have transformed it into a very hard and impermeable masso Scala suggests that it would have greatly increased the water-resistance of thc caulking paste. Gypsum is almost systematically associated


Sergl' Cleuziol/ & L'vIaurizio Tosi

with bilumen in Mcsopotamian texts, and it is probable that it was delivered t,)gether with bilumen to the workers. In one case, Gude;}(CA 16.7-12) mentions a joint importation of gypsum and bitumen from the mountain of Madga (PĂŠtrequin 1989: 36-37). As reported before, the problem of the envelope's weight \vas solved by tempering the paste with a large amount of crushed vegetaI matter. mainly reeds. The thickness of the applied caulking ranged between 2 to 5 cm. In spite of the uneven . .surfaces covered, adherence was very tight as shown by the quality of the lmpresslOns. Provenance

of the bitumen

Bitumen is rather scarce in Oman, and according to preliminary isotopic analyses by Dr J. Connan, an Omani origin for the bitumen of Ra's al-Junayz can safely be excluded. A Baluchi origin can also be ruled out. The 1513 C isotopic value for the pieces of Ra's al-Junayz, between -27.5 and -27.9 prn/PDB is significantly different both from that of Omani Precambrian bitumen (-34 prn/PDB in average) and that of Baluchi samples (-20 prnlPDB).13 In contrast, it matches the values of natural asphalt from northern Iraq (Fattah, Kiffri), and that is probably where it originates. A possible, although less likely alternative, is Luristan. New analyses will be carried out to ascertain such conclusions.14 The importance of northern Mesopotamian sources of bitumen for the supply of the Sumerian cities is well attested in cuneiform texts. Ur 111economic texts mention the mar-sa, a special institution present in various towns that had authority over ship-building and navigation, and also the bitumen trade. It usually reached the cities on boats, at least in some cases special boats (Finet 1985: 43). Many varieties of bitumen are quoted in the texts, witb different prices. Taking into account the fact that some measures of weight or of capacity were used according to each variety, it can be assumed that it travelled in solid or liquid formo Several varieties were used in the coating of a boat. Pots witb a capacity of C. 90 litres recurrently appear for tbe transport and storage of a fluid variety of bitumen. In addition to the problem of its provenance, anotber difficulty is the fact that several sources could be mixed in the same item. Mixing different varieties was a common practice in southern Mesopotamian ship-building (PĂŠtrequin 1989: 33), a practice even mentioned in literary texts (Gilgamesh 11.65-66). The bitumen trade was probably important in the Gulf. Bitumen pieces or pots containing bitumen or coated with bitumen have been found at many sites in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Of special interest are the impressed pieces found at (Ain al-Shaikh, a coastal site in the vicinity of Bahrain that 'may have been used to process bitumen for caulking or otherwise working with reed boats' (McClure & al-Shaikh 1993: 118). They are dated of the Ubaid Period, around the end of thc sixth millennium SC according to calibrated CI4 (McClure & al-Shaikh 1993: 110) although a later, Early Dynastic date, cannot be excluded according to lhe typological aspects of lhe material (Hermansen 1993). Reedimpresscd lumps of bitumen with vegelal lemper are common in levels IIa-<: al




Black hoats of Magall


Qal'at al-Babrain (H!1Ijlund& Andersen 1994: 409 & fig. 2047), belonging to one of the many uses of vegetaI tempered bitumen at me si!e, bUI no barnac\es were ever found on the flat side, leaving their interpre!ation open. Outside the Gulf, a mid-fourth millennium grey-ware pot used to heat bitumen was found in the later layer of RH-S, a mid-Holocene site near Muscat (Cleuziou & Tosi 1989: 29-31). ThankslO the extensive work on Omani pottery devdoped by S. MĂŠry (1991), it is possible to single out the origin of the pottery found at RJ-2. 3000 sherds from the excavation have been examined so far. Residues of bitumen have been found on less than ten sherds belonging to medium or large vessels of buff ware tha!. according !Oboth petrographic and chemical composition, is of Mesopotamian stock. These are also the only Mesopotamian sherds identified so far at the site. Almough me possibility mat mese were bitumen-coated vessels can always be mled out, we can accept that recuperation was not the only source of bitumen for the inhabitants of Ra's al-Junayz. Raw material also reached me area in jars. One of mese sherds (fig. 64.8) bears a large incised sign that can be interpreted as me cuneiform sign 'Kisal' .l5 Small jars used to transport bitumen have also been identified by McClure and al-Shaikh (1993: 114-118) at (Ain al-Shaikh in Saudi Arabia.


Fig. 64.8. Ra's al-Junayz, site RJ-2. Potsherd from a buff ware Mesopotamian jar from Building !lI, stili bearing traces of the bitumen it contained and a 'Kisal' sign incised after firing. (Drawing by L. Mariani.)


Serge Cleuziou & Maurizio Tosi

ConcIuding remarks According to Sean McGrail's classification of water transport, boats are floating devices whose buoyancy is derived from tbe construction of tbe whole vesseI, as opposed to rafts rnade by assembling individuaI floating elements (1985: 296). Two techniques have been used worldwide to make a boat: from a 'watertight shell' or from a '\Vater-proof frame'. The bitumen coated vesseis of Ra's aI-Junayz belonged to the secdnd class, McGrail's type C-I2, described as 'skeletons built with water proofing envelope made by transformations'. As such they would be included in tbe sauie category of the reed bundle framework boats described by Sargon of Assyria and Strabo, as well as tbe 18th century tarada, the modern quffa of Iraq or the zaima of the Gulf, ali wickerwork vesscls covered with bitumen 'transformed' from a solid mass of asphalt into a \Vater-proofing enveIope. McGrail provides tbe folIowing technical description for this kind of boats: 'bound bundles Iashed togetber to produce a hollow form, and waterproofed with bitumen' (McGrail 1985: 5). Even at this early stage of reconstruction, the boats from Ra's al-Junayz appear to have been built \vith a very different technique of assemblage than Heyerdahl's reconstructions, directly drawn from the traditional totora boats of Lake Titicaca (1978: 30-33, fig. 4). The South American boats are made \vith 'a doubIe-cylinder hull with no knots ODcriss-cross ropes' and a slender papyrus rol! in-between them to strengthen the keel. The main cylinders are very bulky, 1.00-1.30 m thick. On the contrary, the bitumen-coated hulIs of the Ra's al-Junayz boats bear impressions of 20-30 cm thick bundles, tightly lashed by rope windups regularIy set at short distances. The hull would have been built of several such cylinders that could. have been assembled in a way very much alike the sewn wooden planks of historical Indian Ocean sea crafts. It might be possible that, contrary to our expectations, bundle boats and sewn plank ones shared quite a few technical aspects in their manufacture. Whetber the bitumen-coated bundle boats of Ra's al-Junayz would have covered the trip from eastern Arabia to the western shores of India is still open to question, since there is no way of knowing if they \Verethe only type of boat used in tbe area. However. as pointed out by Johnstone (1980), 'reed crafts, widespread on ali the Arabian and Red Sea coast, would have been prominent along those roUtes'. Pliny the Elder, quoting Eratosthenes, repc5rtedthat vessels made of reeds used to take twenty days LOcover tbe distance from the mouth of the Ganga to Sri Lanka.



In spite of their geographical maIginality from centres of industriai production, either in Oman or beyond, the coastal popuIations of the Ja < lan in the Bronze Age already depended on trade for their basic means of livelihood. All hooks, chisels, blades and other tools for daily activities were made of copper imported from at least 80 miles inland; no day was 10calIy available for any pottery . production; plant food grew only on the lower reaches of the Wad"i al-Batha, some 40 miles away. This mcans that by the mid-third millennium BC, lifestylcs and economie activities along tbe shores of eastem Arabia \Vere already structured into a multiplicity of conremporary spccializations controlled by the same groups


Black boats oJ lvlagan


through seasonal differentiation or social spccia!ization structured within forms of lineage aggregation (Lancaster & Lancaster 1991). Beyond thc establishment of the earll' Indo-Arabian conjunction, the complex forms of soci al engineering that \vouId have granted seafaring Arabians the necessary background to buffer the disruptions connected with all Iong-distance maritime enterpriscs wcre laid. Thc real technoIogl' that enabled the birth of this high-risk trade venture was a social one. The boats were not particLlIarIl' advanced and anl'wal' thcl' wOLlId nat ha ve been a safe means of transportation far the millennia to come. The basic navigational skiIls had certainIl' deveIoped by mid-Ho!ocene times. What madethc establishment of the Indian Ocean trade possible is embeddcd in the social constrLlction of the Arabian way of life, which, during thc fourth millennium BC, progresscd parallel with the growth of cities and states alI araund Arabia, in Mesopotamia, Iran, India and Egl'pt.

Notes I The Joint Hadd Project is the result of a collaborativè scheme bctween the Dqnr!mcnt of Antiquities of the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture of Oman. the ERA 41 of the Cemre de Recherche Archeologiques of French CNRS and the Istituto Italiano per il j"kdio ed Estremo Oriente (IsMEO) of Rome. The British Museum has aiso par!icipated in the joint eifor! l'or thrce seasons, developing a separate program in the nearby Ra's al-Ijadd area. Research at Ra's alJunayz begun in ]985 with excavations at site RJ-2. foliolVing the accidental discQ\'ery of a inscribed Harappan potsherd in 1981, and hav'e cominued fo~six more seasons til! the presem (e.g. Cleuziou, Reade & Tosi 1990). 11l1e Ra's aI-Junayz Birumen Project has been made possible by tbe kind collabor;lt!on of Dr Ali A. Shanfari, Direcror GeneraI of Antiquities of Oman, who has allowed thc temporary e"por! of the material, presently stored in Rome within the premises of IsMEO. Thanks are due to D~ Vincenzo Francavigli~, Director of the Institure for Applied Technology to Cultural Heriwge of the ![;lii~n CNR (IT ABC), who has prompt!y responded ro our request de\'e!oping a specific rese~rch E:1èfN their analytical study within the ,'v!ontelibrettiRescarch Area in Rome.. .-\mong the scientific staif of ITABC we acknowkdge Dr Giuseppe Scala in par!icu'.lr for carrying out in a very brief ?criod a first rOlInd of analyses using liquid st~Hegas-chromarography, while Dr A!essandr" L~zzari has a,sisted and advised the authors on many different aspects of the work in progresso Dr Jacques Connan from the Centre scientifique Cami-Sali.:, EIf-Aquitaine at Pau has incorpora;ed Ra's alJunayz samples in a generai programme on the origin of archaeological birumes. Dr Lorenzo Costantini, Head of the B ioarchaeological Laborarory of IsMEO, has collaborated in several joint working sessions, not onIy by providing the first identitìcations of plants inclusions and impressions, but al so in a,more criticai perspecti\'e to define the research pathways for such a r.ew type of materia!. Re!evant comparative indications on the Jchrlryoph:Jgoi and their boats in classical texts

ha\'e been suggestedby Mr Oscar Nalesiniand Dr Stefano Pracchia.The authors \\'ish tO thank in particular the specialists working on the Oman project for their generaus support :mJ aJvi>e: in particular we would like ro remember Dr Sophie Méry. ìv1rVincent Charpentier ar.d !>olrJean-~brc ChoffJet. Dr Luca Bondioli with his great computer knowkdge has always offered us the mos! friendly assistance in de\'eloping the data management bases, while at the apposite end of the. cognitive process,our hisroricalperceptionshave greatly benefined from suggestions by Dr k:mJacques Glassner. Photographs are due to the authors and Mr Giovanni Silvestrini of Is?\lEO. Drawings, unless otherwise spccified. are the work of Angela Bizzarro. Hélène Da\'id 3nd Giuseppe Tilia.


Serge Cleuziou & Maurizio Tosi

3 For carIy third millennium examples of wooden boats in Egypt. see also O'Connor 199 I. 4 Mesopotamian bundle boats made of reeds and bitumen are twice quoted in Strabo's Geographikon. first in 16.1.9: ...the overflow of the waters [of the Tigris and Euphrates] ...forms lakes and marshes and reed-beds. which [ast supp[yreeds fronl \Vhich all kinds of reed l'essels are woven. SOnle of these vessels, when smeared M'ith asphalt, con hold water, whereas the others are used in their bare seaee. They also make reed-sails. that are similar to rush-mats or wicker work. (Jones 1930: 205, 207, emphasis ours.) Later on, Strabo confirms the contemporary appreciation for this light watercraft (16.1.15): Now writers state in particular the great usefulness of the dry kind [of asphalt] in Ihe construction of buildings, but they say al so thal boaes are WOI'en wieh reeds al/d, when plastered \Vieh asphale, ore impervious to water (Jones 1930: 217, emphasis ours).

5 The text has been re-published. translated and commented 00 by W. Heimpel (I987: no. 39 in his list of cuneiform sources related lo the Gulf). The traoslalion given here was done for us by J.-J. Glassner. 6 Unti! now, owing to the lack of charred al-Junayz.

Two dales are available


no CI4 dates are availab!e for Peri od II al Ra's

for Peri od ID, which immedialely

follows Period li: 3760i:100

bp (Beta-25903). calibrated to 2316 (2178, 2166, 2143) 1985 BC, and 38201:90 bp (Beta-25905) calibraled to 2453 (2277, 2225, 2207) 2060 se. Calibration wilh CALIB 3.0\. Both dates are obtained from mussels. 7 Three additional

small pieces were found in room 5, and another one in room 12.

8 One should remember that Ihese figures are those measured on the imprints, and are onll' an approximation of the size of aetual imprinting materia!. 9 Balanus amphitn'te present on most of the material (including impressed bitumen) found at 'Ain al-Shaikh in eastem Saudi Arabia belong to these varieties, leading MeClure and al-Shaikh (1993: 109) to conclude that thel' grew on the site al the time it was invaded by a higher sea level. Since RJ-2 stands 12 metres above the present sea level, and as bamacles are onll' found en bilUmen pieces, the same explanation cannot be postU!2.!ed. IOQuotation

after PĂŠtrequin

Il The bitumen to abandon


sIabs of RJ-2 already

34), see also Sauren (1971: 168). answer most of the problems

the idea of coating his reed raft reconstructions

12 Two varieties

of 'reeds of Magan'

are quoted

that !ed T. Hel'erdahl

in lexicographicaI

texts (IjAR.ra

but may simply refer to varieties of reeds aetU:lIly .growing in Mesopotamia 13Balucbi



from Mehrgarh

(1980: 58)

with bitumen.

= Qubullu



1972: 90).

ha ve becn provided by J.-F. Jarrigc.

14Analyses carried out on four samples from Building 1. room 2 at the Centre sciemifique Carni. Sa1iĂŠ, Elf-Aquitaine at Pau (1. Connan. in litteris). 15Information

kindly provided

by Prof. L. Cagni.

SUO M 1\ L i\ I S E N T ( E [) E :\ K ,\ T E :--1 [ t\ ~ T O [ ~1 [ T U K S [ :\ F E N N ( C :E i\ N N 1\ L E S :\ C t\ D F. ~l [lE S C ( E :--; T ( :\ RUM S.lrja-sa. B niJ.:-rom. 271

SOUTH ASIAN ARCHAEOLOGY 1993 Proceedjngs of the Twelfth lntemational Conference of the European Association of South Asian Archaeologists held in Helsinki University 5-9 July 1993

Edited by Asko Parpola & Petteri Koskikallio Volume II

Hclsinki 1994 SUOMALAINEN


1994 Cleuziou & Tosi- Black boats of Magan- some thoughts on Bronze Age water transport in Oman and  
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