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Sociology and Anthropology

Land of Frankincense Archaeological Project

Land of Frankincense Archaeological Project

In May to July 2013, Dr. Lewis directed the inaugural field season of a long-term UALR archaeological excavation project at Al Baleed, a large ancient port city on the Indian Ocean coast in southern Oman. Al-Baleed was a major trading port along the late ancient and medieval frankincense trading routes. It is now part of the “Land of Frankincense” UNESCO World Heritage listing and an archaeological park visited by more than 45,000 people a year.

The archaeological excavations at Al-Baleed investigate the emergence of the globalized social and economic networks we are fully enmeshed in today, including what daily life was like at an important multi-ethnic port city during ancient and medieval times. Al-Baleed was famous for the export of frankincense and Arabian horses, although a wide range of goods and people from across the Indian Ocean passed through its gates. Excavations in homes and public spaces examine patterns of urban life as they developed uniquely in southern Arabia in the context of its far-reaching global trade connections.

A short summary of the results of the inaugural 2013 excavation season:

In this, our first season of excavations at Al Baleed, we not only successfully excavated a large area of a major building on site, but we also established the procedures for excavation, recording, collection, and analysis that provide the foundation for the project for years to come. A second, equally important aspect of our project building has focused on working with Omani colleagues of the Land of Frankincense to create a strong cooperation between the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Omani Office of the Advisor to His Majesty the Sultan for Cultural Affairs, and the Al Baleed archaeological museum and park.

Our international team consisted of five specialist directors: Dr. Krista Lewis, Principle Investigator and Mission Director; Kristy Miller (MHAMS), Lab Director; Dr. Sarah Graff, Assistant Director and Ceramic Analyst (Arizona State University); Dr. Lamya Khalidi, Assistant Director and Lithic Analyst (CNRS, France); and Brian Miller, IT and Digital Art. The team also included several Omani colleagues and 18 hired workers.

Our excavations this season explored eight distinct rooms or spaces that are culturally significant, all part of a single large building mound located in the important, highly mounded southwest part of the site near one of the city’s main gates. Within the excavated area, we revealed nineteen major cultural features including walls, channels, stairs, and a plastered basin. Although analyses of the excavation results are still in progress, the building appears to be a combination merchants’ house and goods storage facility. The building is composed of distinct levels related to multiple occupation periods. During the summer 2013 excavation, we opened up seven large excavation units, for a total excavated area of 175 square meters (the size of a moderate family home in the US), which, however, is less than 20% of the size of the entire building mound. The features, walls, and living surfaces that were exposed during this season date to approximately AD 1500-1650.

During our first season of excavation at Al Baleed, we also spent a lot of time establishing the excavation and recording procedures that will provide a solid foundation for years of future research at the site. We developed a customized, standard set of recording practices, including a comprehensive Al Baleed database to organize, present, and analyze the excavation data. The excavation database and recording system has been specially built for Al Baleed by our team using the latest technology, and it does not exist anywhere else in the world.

Along with the new database system, we also have pioneered a unique and modern field recording system that allows us to collect data into the computerized database system directly in the field while the excavation is ongoing. This approach allows for more information to be gathered quickly and accurately and allows for more efficient integration of multiple seasons of data. This will lead to better interpretations, analysis, and presentation of data. This new recording system we created will not only be useful for primary scientific purposes, but also for training programs and educational use, including advancing museum display and interpretation of information and artifacts from Al Baleed.

Updated 2.19.2014