By Siraj Wahab
Published in Arab News on Tuesday, February 9, 2010
A 7th century village has been unearthed in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province near the shores of the Arabian Gulf. Researchers say the village, in the Al-Raaka district of Dammam, has been dated to the early Muslim era.
“From the materials that we have discovered at the site, such as ceramic pottery and other artifacts, it is quite easy to ascertain the period to which they belong,” said Dr. Ali I. Al-Ghabban, deputy secretary-general for antiquities and museums.
He showed all the artifacts that have been recovered from the area so far. They include clay utensils, pottery with intricate inscriptions, a highly rusted and broken pair of scissors, seashells and iron bars.
The site is located behind the headquarters of the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry on a parcel being developed as a contractor training center by Saudi Aramco, which holds title to the land.
“The Department of Antiquities has known about this site for more than 30 years. We knew about this in 1977, but the actual excavation commenced only three months ago. We are carrying out this exercise in cooperation with Saudi Aramco,” Al-Ghabban told Arab News. “We undertake excavations when all elements are in place. Now was the best time to work on this site, and so we did.”
Perhaps crude by today’s standards, Al-Ghabban said the community was well planned. “This is an elaborate village compound. So far, we have discovered about 20 houses. We hope to discover more. These are separate houses, and each house has four to five rooms. What is common to these houses is that there is a special room for conserving dates. The floors of the rooms where dates are said to have been stored are in the form of furrows. Those early people used to keep dates here and then collect the juice from these dates through the hardened furrows.”
Also, in each cluster there is a well. “So far, five wells have been discovered. We don’t know if they still contain water, but we will at a later stage.”
Al-Ghabban said there was no mention of this village in any history book. “Nothing is mentioned anywhere. We will do more research, and when we have enough interesting information, we will publish it.”
Although foreign universities and museums often take part in Saudi archaeological explorations, Al-Ghabban said this was strictly a Saudi dig. “The Saudis are highly qualified and able to do the job,” Al-Ghabban said of the team. “We don’t have any international collaboration at this site, though there are sites in the Kingdom where international archaeologists are involved in field work.”
Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province holds many archaeological sites buried in the desert sands. A gold mask was found earlier at the closely guarded ancient city of Thaj, some 250 km from Dammam. Despite reports in local newspapers linking the two sites, Al-Ghabban said they were mistaken.
“There is no connection between this site and the site in Al-Thaj. They belong to two different periods,” he said. “These were early Muslims, and probably they were in this region because it was on the trade route starting from Jubail and Al-Hasa. Since the Arabian Gulf is less than a kilometer from here, there is every possibility that these people were involved in pearl fishing.”Al-Ghabban expressed hope that the find would remind Saudis of a long and rich cultural heritage. “We want the local people to be the guarantors of our heritage. Without their help not much can be done,” he said. “These sites have historic value and will help in understanding the history of this region.”