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BAR S2740 2015

Briish Foundaion for the Study of Arabia Monographs No. 16


Series editors: D. Kennet & St J. Simpson

ARBACH & SCHIETTECATTE (Eds)

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its


Neighbours: New Developments
of Research
Edited by

Mounir Arbach
Jrmie Schiettecatte

PRE-ISLAMIC SOUTH ARABIA AND ITS NEIGHBOURS

BAR International Series 2740


2015

2740 Arbach el al cover.indd 1

03/07/2015 12:54:32

Briish Foundaion for the Study of Arabia Monographs No. 16


Series editors: D. Kennet & St J. Simpson

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its


Neighbours: New Developments
of Research
Proceedings of the 17th Rencontres Sabennes
held in Paris, 68 June 2013
Edited by

Mounir Arbach
Jrmie Schiettecatte

BAR International Series 2740


2015

Published by
Archaeopress
Publishers of Briish Archaeological Reports
Gordon House
276 Banbury Road
Oxford OX2 7ED
England
info@archaeopress.com
www.archaeopress.com

BAR S2740
Briish Foundaion for the Study of Arabia Monographs No. 16

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its Neighbours: New developments of Research. Proceedings of the 17th
Rencontres Sabennes held in Paris, 68 June 2013
Archaeopress and the individual authors 2015
Cover illustraion credit: Inscripion of Amdn Bayin Yuhaqbi and Alhn Nahfn Gate
(AFSM archive, M. Maraqten)
ISBN 978 1 4073 1399 3

Printed in England by Digipress, Didcot


All BAR itles are available from:
Hadrian Books Ltd
122 Banbury Road
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OX2 7BP
England

Table of contents

I. FRENCH & ENGLISH SECTION


Two silver vases of Greco-Roman style from the treasure of wd ura (Yemen)
Sabina ANTONINI DE MAIGRET, Christian Julien ROBIN ....................................................................................3
Qatabanian jars in the port of Sumhuram: notes on the trade by sea in South Arabia
Alessandra AVANZINI .......................................................................................................................................13
Snake, copper and water in south-eastern Arabian religion during the Iron Age: the Bithnah and Masf
evidence
Anne BENOIST, Ccile LE CARLIER, Julie GOY, Michele DEGLI ESPOSTI, Barbara ARMBRUSTER,
Gaffar ATTAELMANAN ......................................................................................................................................21
Qabr Nabi Hd, le sanctuaire dun prophte prislamique
Christian DARLES ............................................................................................................................................37
Qabr Hd revisited: The pre-Islamic religion of aramawt, Yemen, and Mecca
Werner DAUM ................................................................................................................................................. 49
Sur linterprtation du terme b t : nouvelles suggestions
Serge A. FRANTSOUZOFF................................................................................................................................... 73
Contacts between Ethiopia and South Arabia in the rst millennium AD: an overview
Fabienne DUGAST, Iwona GAJDA..................................................................................................................... 79
Pottery in Sacred Contexts.Everyday Equipment Tableware for Ritual Meals Offerings?
Sarah JAPP ....................................................................................................................................................... 95
Sacred spaces in ancient Yemen The Awm Temple, Marib: A case study
Mohammed MARAQTEN .................................................................................................................................. 107
Permanence et volution dun modle de temple saben : le temple Barn
Solne MARION DE PROC ................................................................................................................................ 135
Ethio-Sabaean libation altars First considerations for a reconstruction of form and function
Mike SCHNELLE ............................................................................................................................................... 143
Process of the formation of the image of South Arabia in the Greek literature in the Classical and
Hellenistic periods
Barbara SZUBERT ............................................................................................................................................. 153
Archaeometric study of the Aqaba Pottery Complex and its distribution in the First Millennium CE
Paul YULE, Michael RAITH, Radegund HOFFBAUER, Harald EULER, Kristoffer DAMGAARD ............................. 159

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its neighbours: new developments of research

II. ARABIC SECTION

[A new Sabaic dedicatory inscription: study of its historical and semantic features]

..............................................................................

[The ancient settlement at al- Uaybiyya. A city on the outskirts of afr, the capital of the kingdom of Saba and dh-Raydn]

......................................................................................

[Archaeological discoveries of the late Sabaean period in the city of Shuqra. New data about funerary practices in use
during the 1st century AD at the site of al- ama]

.................................................................................

[Three new Qatabanic inscriptions commemorating the goddess Dht-Fantum]

................................................................................

[More Sabaean inscriptions and rock drawings from Jabal Qarwn]

.....................................................................................
()

[A new Sabaic inscription dedicated to the god Almaqah Master of DNN]

.......................................................................................

[A new Qatabnic dedicatory inscription: historical and semantic features]

........................................................................................

( )

[Three new dedicatory inscriptions commemorating the Awsanite god BLW]

........................................................... ,

II

I. FRENCH & ENGLISH SECTION

Depuis leur cration en 1997, les Rencontres Sabennes ont vocation runir annuellement les spcialistes de lArabie
mridionale prislamique et des rgions voisines, archologues et pigraphistes, an de prsenter lavance des recherches
rcentes dans la discipline.
Chaque anne, un thme privilgi est propos sur lequel les participants sont invits se pencher. loccasion des
17e Rencontres sabennes, qui se sont tenues Paris les 6, 7 et 8 juin 2013, ce thme fut La religion dans lArabie
prislamique : territoires du sacr et espaces sacrs .
Au moment o la situation ne permet plus de conduire de travaux de terrain en Arabie du Sud et o la communaut
scientique se consacre la synthse dun corpus pigraphique et archologique abondant, les religions arabiques
prislamiques apparaissent comme lune des cls de comprhension de ces socits et comme un lment-cl dans la
dnition des identits locales.
Ce thme tait motiv par une question principale : dans quelle mesure les cultes et pratiques religieuses structurent-ils
le paysage et la socit de lArabie prislamique ? Cette question se dclinait autour de plusieurs registres : origine des
panthons arabiques ; lien entre forme architecturale, divinit et entit territoriale ; rle du plerinage dans la dnition
des identits ; extension gographique des cultes vous aux diffrentes divinits de lArabie prislamique ; consquences
de lmergence des pratiques monothistes sur les temples paens ; ruptures et continuits entre pratiques prislamiques
et islamiques.
Dans ce volume, outre les chapitres qui portent sur ces questions, plusieurs contributions sont consacres lactualit
de la recherche en Arabie mridionale et sur son pourtour. Cest ici loccasion pour plusieurs spcialistes ymnites qui
continuent uvrer sur le terrain de prsenter les rsultats de travaux indits. En dpit des circonstances difciles, nous
ne pouvons que saluer leur tnacit dans la poursuite de leurs activits de recherche.
Nous tenons enn remercier lensemble des institutions qui, par leur soutien nancier, ont permis la tenue et la
publication des 17e Rencontres Sabennes : lUMR8167 Orient et Mditerrane (CNRS, Universit Paris 1, Universit
Paris Sorbonne, EPHE) ; lUMR7041 Archologie et Sciences de lAntiquit (CNRS, Universit Paris 1, Universit
Paris Ouest) ; le programme Coranica [ANR-10-FRAL-018-01] de lAgence Nationale de la Recherche et de la Deutsche
ForschungsGemeinschaft ; le Labex Resmed [ANR-10-LABX-72] ; le Labex DynamiTe [ANR-11-LABX-0046] ;
lUniversit Paris-Sorbonne ; le CEFAS et le ministre des Affaires trangres franais.
Nous remercions enn MM. Derek Kennet et St John Simpson davoir accept la publication de cet ouvrage dans la srie
des monographies de la British Foundation for the Study of Arabia des British Archaeological Reports.

Paris, le 26 mai 2015


Jrmie Schiettecatte & Mounir Arbach

Snake, copper and water in south-eastern Arabian religion


during the Iron Age: the Bithnah and Masf evidence
Anne BENOIST, Ccile LE CARLIER, Julie GOY,
Michele DEGLI ESPOSTI, Barbara ARMBRUSTER, Gaffar ATTAELMANAN

and to gain life, conscience, richness and prosperity. Under


this aspect it has been related to metallurgy and mining. 4
In South-East Arabia, the snake has been represented as
well, from the third millennium BC onwards. 5 But an
important development of the importance of the snake
symbol can be noticed during the Iron Age, where snake
gurines and snake decorations in relief on pottery
vessels appear in several collective places, interpreted as
sanctuaries or places of ceremonies (Fig. 1). Five sites that
can reasonably be interpreted as cultic places have been
studied in South-East Arabia among which are Bithnah
and Masf , both excavated by the French Archaeological
Mission in the United Arab Emirates, in collaboration with
the Fujairah Authority for Tourism and Archaeology. In
these two places, the snake symbol occurs frequently. 6
No local written sources can help us to explain the
signications related to the occurrence of this symbol in
South-East Arabia but several elements in Bithnah and
Masf have conducted us to underline a possible particular
link between snake and copper and between snake and
water. These elements are discussed in the present article.

Abstract
Excavations of two Iron Age cultic sites at Bithnah and
Masf (Fujairah, United Arab Emirates) have provided
data documenting cultic rituals dedicated to a divinity
represented as a snake practised by south-eastern Arabian
populations during the Iron Age (1200-300 BC). On the
basis of archaeological data as well as of rst results
obtained by chemical studies, a possible connection
between the attributions of the deity represented by the
snake and the regional economic background, in which
copper and water might have played a major rule is
discussed by the authors.
Introduction
The symbol of the snake was a common feature in the
Middle East during Antiquity, appearing in several regions
(Mesopotamia, Elam, Near East, Bahrain, Yemen, NorthWest Arabia). This ambiguous symbol is related to life and
death, 1 poison and healing, which explains its frequent
association with medicine. 2 But it is also a symbol of
fertility related to vegetation and sweet waters springing
out of the ground, and is frequently associated to the
protection of the harvest. 3 It is also related to knowledge
permitting humans to dominate primary forces of chaos

Collective and cultic spaces at Bithnah and Masf


Bithnah and Masf territories are both located in the
Hajjar mountains north-west of Fujairah. Bithnah is in the
valley of the wd Ham, Masf in an area with perennial
sources, from which the wd s Abadilah, Ham and Siji
spread out in different directions. In both places, the Iron
Age occupation was marked by several sites, including a
fortied area erected on a rocky outcrop, and a place with a
collective building and cultic installations located on a low
terrace down in the valley.

Under this aspect the snake can be associated to necropolises in places


such as ath-Tughrah, near Petra, where a stone statue representing a
snake is standing at the entrance of the northern necropolis (SACHET
2006: 184 no 302 and pl. 100). In Egypt, the snake symbol was
associated to the god Apophis, guardian of dead chaos.
In Mesopotamia, the snake symbol was an attribute of Ninaz, lord of
medicine (DHORME 1949: 121). In the Gilgamesh epic, the snake is stealing
the plant of immortality from the hero. In the Book of Numbers, a bronze
snake statue is edied by Moses on order of Yaveh for healing diseases
related to snake beating (Book of Numbers 21.19; JOINES 1968).
In Mesopotamia the snake was also an attribute of the god
Ninguishzidda, son of Ninaz, god of vegetation and fertile land
(DHORME 1949: 121). In Egypt, the cobra snake was also associated
to the goddess Remenutet a provider of harvest and crops, and was
protecting infants as the guardian of their secret name (LURKER 1980:
100). In Susa (Elam) the snake symbol was related to Inshushinak,
the god of fertility related to sweet waters springing out of the ground
(MIROSCHEDJI 1981). In the Near East, the snake symbol has been
attached to the goddess Ashtoret, and associated to breast, birds and
sheep, symbols of fertility (KOH 1994). In ancient Yemen, the snake
appears on pillars of Banat Ad temples in the Jawf, together with
trees, ibex, antelopes, and dancing women (ARBACH & AUDOUIN 2004;
BRETON 1998: 66, 2011; SCHMIDT 1982: 151; ANTONINI 2004: 88).

21

Under that aspect it was present in the temple of Hathor at Timna,


which was built at the entrance of copper mines (ROTHENBERG 1972).
The relation between the symbol of the snake and knowledge and
understanding is also evocated in Genesis 3 by the episode of the fall
of man from Heaven.
Snake representations are for example attested on stones marking
the entrance of large collective graves in Umm an-Nar (an example
exhibited in al- Ayn Museum) as well as on some pottery jars
discovered at Bidya-2 (AL-TIKRITI 1989: pl. 80.A). Some of the painted
motives depicted on second-millennium pottery from Tell Abraq
(one example exhibited in Sharjah Museum) or Kalba (CARTER 1997:
Fig. 30.4) could also be interpreted as schematic crawling snakes.
Fifty-six snake representations listed on the pottery shards at Bithnah
and 269 at Masf (this, including fragmentary ones). Plus sixty-eight
snake gurines in Masf (almost all complete).

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its neighbours: new developments of research

Fig. 1. Location of sites where representations of snakes occur in the Iron Age south-eastern Arabia,
including Bithnah and Masf (A. Benoist. French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E.).

Both sites also included one or two small constructions,


fully open on one side. At Bithnah these consisted in one
and later two small 1 2 m rectangular buildings opening
northwards, each one including a mudbrick platform
where cultic objects might have been standing 11. These
two constructions included most of the braziers (incense
burners?) collected on the site12. At Masf , a 5 3.50 m
construction opening to the west was found at Masf -3,
60 m south-west of the collective building13. There was no
mudbrick platform there but four squared podiums were
erected in front of the entrance. All the snake gurines and
more than 90 % of the snake representations recorded in
the area came from that building (Figs. 45), the pottery
of which consisted almost only in small braziers (footedchalice-shaped vases and long-handled bowls). 14
On both sites, two small constructions set next to the
collective building could also have been used as open air
altars. At Bithnah it was a low circular construction in clay,
with alignments of stones drawing a coiled snake on top. 15
Pits including broken jars with snake decorations were

Both Bithnah and Masf included a building with a large


rectangular room marked by rows of postholes or pillar
bases, which was used as a meeting place (Building B at
Bithnah: Fig. 2.1, Building of Masf -1: Fig. 3.1). 7 In both
places, these buildings were reconstructed twice, with some
minor changes. In Bithnah a lateral room used for domestic
purposes was added to the meeting room in Level 3; in
Masf -1, the meeting room was surrounded in all three
levels by several lateral rooms used for storage and domestic
purposes. 8 In the three levels, small bowls, spouted vessels
and braziers were collected inside the main room, whereas
storage jars were found mainly inside lateral rooms.
In both places small pits, some walled with stones, were
concentrated in a circular area lined with small stones next
to the collective building. At Bithnah some pits closed by a
layer of clay or stones 9 included deposits of animal bones
coming from sacrices. Small empty vertical pits were also
present. They might have been used for liquid ablutions. In
Masf only empty vertical pits were yet found10.

11
7
8
9
10

12

For a detailed description of Bithnah remains, see BENOIST et al. 2013.


BENOIST, BERNARD, BRUNET et al. 2012: 149153.
BENOIST et al. 2013: Zone A, Figs. 6063. SKORUPKA et al. 2013.
Locus 489, Level 1. BENOIST 2013: Fig. 7.

13
14
15

22

BENOIST et al. 2013: Buildings J and K, Figs. 6671.


BENOIST & ROUGEULLE 2013: 160162, Figs. 112114.
BENOIST, BERNARD, CHARBONNIER et al. 2012: Figs. 1011.
BENOIST et al. 2011: Figs. 1118.
BENOIST et al. 2013: Fig. 78.

Snake, copper and water in south-eastern Arabian religion during the Iron Age, A. Benoist et al.

Fig. 2. Map of Level 2 at Bithnah with details of the eastern altar L, around which were offerings of copper
(V. Bernard. French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E.).

23

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its neighbours: new developments of research

Fig. 3. Map of Masf -1 and 3 with details of Masf -1, Level 1 and Masf -3, Level 2 (V. Bernard. French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E.).

24

Snake, copper and water in south-eastern Arabian religion during the Iron Age, A. Benoist et al.

Fig. 4. Snake representations at Masf -3: snake decorations on pottery vessels


(A. Hamel and T. Sagory. French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E.).

25

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its neighbours: new developments of research


indicate (although not demonstrated) that the smelting site
was active contemporaneously with the Iron Age cultic area.
The metallic copper droplets collected from the buried
jars in front of the altar present several compositional
similarities with other copper items from Bithnah. All
include traces of cobalt (between 0.01 and 0.06 ppm),
nickel (between 0.08 and 0.17 ppm) and arsenic (0.01
and 0.06 ppm), which is not surprising given their wellknown occurrence in Omani ores. Most important, copper
prills also include copper sulphides such as chalcosine
or chalcocite (Fig. 6: microscopic view): this suggests
that smelting was operated in partially inefcient
conditions. These small droplets are usually associated
with fortuitous formation during smelting, and a normal
procedure would imply their recovery and re-melting
in order to obtain a more homogenous copper. Their
composition however shows that this rening did not
take place. This, added to the context of their deposition,
suggests that they were intentionally deposited there for
some symbolic/cultic reason. Besides, their homogenous
size, comprised between 0.5 and 1 cm, indicates a
possible sorting. The deposition of such products
connected with copper smelting (droplets in the jar and
slag on the ground) can in our view be interpreted as
evidence for a link between copper working and the
snake symbol within a religious context.

found around that construction. At Masf a rectangular


podium 1.2 2 m was erected on top of the area that
included the small vertical pits. 16
Finally, there might have been in both areas an altar or a
monument built on a high place, visible from far away,
which was symbolically placing the whole territory of
Bithnah and Masf under the protection of the snake. At
Bithnah this monument was found on top of a rocky hill
located south of the collective building, consisting in a
small squared podium surrounded by stone steps, with a
possible snake representation on one of them. This podium
was accessible by a partly stoned path. A complete footed
brazier and several fragments of long-handled bowls were
found next to the monument.
At Masf such a monument might have existed on top
of the site of Masf -5, located on a rocky hill in the
southern part of the valley. The site of Masf -5 is a Late
Bronze Age settlement which has yielded a material very
distinct from the Iron Age collections. In this area, only
ve vessels clearly dated to the Iron Age were found on
the surface. All consisted in footed braziers, one of which
bears a snake decoration on the foot.
The snake and copper
in South-Eastern Arabian religion
Copper offerings at Bithnah 17
A small concentration of copper slags was found lying on
the ground near the open air altar (Structure L: Fig. 2.2)
whose shape suggests the representation of a coiled snake.
The slags were deposited north of the structure, in front
of what would be the snakes head. The presence of these
slags is even more remarkable considering the absence of
any related evidence of metalworking taking place in the
area, neither in the form of re traces nor of stone tools
(crushers, anvils, etc.).
Next to this slag concentration, a pit hosted two
large storage jars, one decorated with a raised cordon
representing a crawling snake (Fig. 2.2, C.544). Dozens
of small rounded metallic droplets were collected at the
bottom of the pit, fallen out from the jars that broke inside
the pit (Fig. 6: macroscopic view).

Copper-base items from Masf


Copper snakes and votive weapons from Masf-3
From small open building Masf -3 comes a collection of
sixty-eight copper gurines of a crawling snake and ten
miniature weapons, one with a snake incised on the blade
(Fig. 5). Their morphology and manufacturing techniques
were studied by Barbara Armbruster.
Most of the snake gurines were realized shaping a
rod, which was attened and curved by hammering
(Fig. 5.69). They thus display a at body and an oval,
triangular or diamond-shaped head, sometimes raising-up
to reproduce a typical move of these reptiles. The mouth is
in some cases indicated by an incision made with a chisel.
Two snakes from Masf -3, circular in section, were shaped
by compressing the borders of a at strip and rolling it
between two at surfaces (Fig. 5.6, left snake). The head
was attened and raised using tongs.
Finally, four gurines were cast in a low wax mould
(Fig. 5.34). All appeared awkwardly made, with an
irregular body and no detail visible on the surface. Three
of them presented at ribs on both sides of the head and
tail, indicating that they were cast in a single mould
and separated in a second moment. Cast snakes all had
conical pins on the lower part of the body, with a rounded
or attened end (Fig. 5.5), whose function is yet unclear:
they might have xed the snakes to their supports, but
there is no trace of material that could indicate on what
they might have been xed. Besides, their rounded or
attened end appears somewhat inconsistent with such
a hypothesis.
The majority of snakes were undecorated. In some cases,
a punch or a pointed tool was used to ornate some of the

Analyses and results 18


After a macroscopic typological classication of the slags,
polished sections were analysed by optical microscopy
and Electron Probe Micro Analyser (EPMA).
Copper slags from the cultic site were compared with
slags collected at an undated copper smelting site located
in the same valley, 400 m north-east of the Iron Age site,
which had been recently bulldozed to provide space for a
new sheepfold. 19 Slags from both sites display a similar
morphology and have a similar composition, which could

16
17
18

19

Locus 489, Level 2: BENOIST 2013: Fig. 6.


PILLAUT et al. 2013.
These items were studied at the CRPG at Nancy by S. Pillaut (MA
student) under the supervision of A. Ploquin and C. Le Carlier.
Site 54 (Bithnah-L). CORBOUD et al. 1994: 106.

26

Snake, copper and water in south-eastern Arabian religion during the Iron Age, A. Benoist et al.

Fig. 5. Snake representations at Masf -3: metal gurines and incised knife
(A. Hamel, T. Sagory, B. Armbruster, M. Drieux. French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E.).

27

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its neighbours: new developments of research

Fig. 6. Copper prills from Bithnah: Macroscopic and microscopic views


(S. Pillaut. French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E.).

twenty-two copper or copper alloy furnace bottoms 20 and


ingots, likely to be of ancient date (Fig. 7.4). The other
jar was buried in the oor of a long room in the northern
part of the building in Level 1B (Figs. 3.2, 7.1) and had
been covered by the construction of a wall belonging to
Level 2. It was sealed by a sort of at clay lid, in turn
covered by two stones, and yielded 126 copper or copper
alloy items including ingots and unshaped furnace
bottoms (Fig. 7.23).
Copper and copper alloy ingots are mostly disc-shaped
with a roughly at upper surface and a lower irregular
one. The latter shows gravel and sand imprints and
supercial inclusions, as well as gas-porosities that appear
during cooling (Figs. 7.5, 7.8). A very limited number of
ingots are otherwise oval or round-shaped with a planoconvex prole and again with an irregular lower surface
(Figs. 7.7, 7.9). The recurrent unevenness of the lower
surfaces of these ingots, and the fact that they enclosed sand
and small gravel, indicate that they were probably shaped
in a hole dug in the oor. Furnace bottoms show a broadly
semi-circular prole although with many irregularities
(Fig. 7.6). There are also irregular-shaped fragments that
correspond to metal owing inside the furnace (Fig. 7.10).
Ingots weight ranges from 450 g up to 2 kg, while furnace
bottoms can reach 3 to 4 kg.
Supercially, the metal appears green with abundant dark
red inclusions due to corrosion of iron-based components
and to the likely presence of cuprites. After cleaning and

hammered ones with small circles and/or dots, representing


the eyes or scattered on all the body (Fig. 5.89).
Ten votive weapons were found together with the snake
gurines, including three miniature knives, ve miniature
spearheads, and two triangular arrowheads shaped by
hammering a copper rod.
Knives have a double edged blade. Two have a concave
handle, one ending in a small disc-shaped pommel. The
third one has a long straight tang with a diamond-shaped
end, which could recall the shape of some of the snake
gurines head. The blade of one of the knives bears
an incised decoration representing a crawling snake,
incised with a chisel in combination with a pointed tool
(Fig. 5.12).
Miniature spearheads have a rounded end and look
similar, though obviously smaller in size, to some
Bronze Age specimens.
The two arrowheads are actually closer in size to normal
arrowheads collected from a number of Iron Age sites in
the region. They are triangular with a at midrib. One of
them has geometric incisions of a type also encountered
on several other Iron Age sites. Another arrowhead was
retrieved in the collective building of Masf -1 (see below).
Copper and copper-alloy ingots and objects
from Masf-1
An Iron Age jar containing copper or copper alloy ingots
was buried into the oor of two rooms belonging to
Level 1 of the collective building in Masf -1. Another
was buried in the reception room of Level 2: although
a recent disturbance was made evident in the retrieving
of a few modern objects, the jar also contained some

20

28

This term is used here to indicate masses of molten metal which were
left inside the furnace for whatever reason and solidied there.

Snake, copper and water in south-eastern Arabian religion during the Iron Age, A. Benoist et al.

Fig. 7. Copper and copper alloy ingots from Masf -1 (A. Hamel, J. Goy, M. Drieux, A. Benoist.
French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E.).

29

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its neighbours: new developments of research


looks like a small, roughly rectangular copper or copper
alloy ingot, with a large cavity on the upper part and a
convex lower surface showing gas porosity (Fig. 8.3). The
arrowhead mentioned above was collected on the oor of a
western lateral room of Level 2. It has a long at tang with
a diamond-shaped end, which makes it a rather uncommon
specimen (Fig. 8.4).
Finally, some small unshaped copper fragments were
found scattered around a broken storage jar in a western
room of Level 2.

drilling into the sound metal masses in order to get the


samples for analysis, the original colour of the metal
was revealed, varying between reddish, more yellowish
and occasionally almost white: this indicated already at
the naked eye the compositional heterogeneity of the jar
contents (Fig. 7.5).
Other copper nds from Masf-1
The disturbed jar in the reception room also contained
fragments of a copper or copper alloy shallow bowl with
convex prole, rounded rim and a succession of horizontal
ribs in the upper part of the body, below the rim (Fig. 8.1).
Other copper items were found inside the building; these
include the single-edged blade of a knife, collected on the
oor of the reception room of Level 2 (Fig. 8.2), and what

Analyses and results


Slags and ingots from Masf were classied on the basis
of macroscopic features as outlined above, similarly
to what was done for the ones from Bithnah; polished

Fig. 8. Copper objects from Masf -1 (V. Bernard. French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E.)

30

Snake, copper and water in south-eastern Arabian religion during the Iron Age, A. Benoist et al.
sections obtained from the slags were then examined
by Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and Energy
Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS) probe to reveal their
composition. Ingots and other copper or copper alloy nds
were analyzed by Inductively Coupled Plasma Atomic
Emission Spectrometry (ICP-AES). Besides, X-ray
uorescence analyses were conducted by G. Attaelmanan
at the U.A.E. National X-Ray uorescence Laboratory in
Sharjah. The results show a good correspondence between
this method and the ICP-AES one, which will make
possible further non-destructive analyses on that material.
Twenty-four ingots and twenty furnace bottoms were
analysed in total; ingots included two oval-shape and four
round-shape ones with plano-convex prole, and eighteen
discoid ingots of two different sizes.
The analytical results concerning ingots and furnace
bottoms seem to indicate that these two categories belong
to two consecutive stages along the chane opratoire
from the ore to nal artefacts (Table 1).
The rst stage, i.e. the smelting of copper ores, is represented
by furnace bottoms. Indeed, many of them consist of copper
with variable rates of iron as the main impurity, and more
occasionally remarkable quantities of arsenic and/or nickel.
These data are comparable with the composition of copper
prills found trapped in the slag, which display a lower
copper content but the same pattern of impurities. Clearly,
these microscopic prills escaped the metalworkers control
and as such their composition is rather incidental. Overall,
however, the high yield in copper of the furnace bottoms,
paired with the scarcity of copper lost in the slag, indicate a
quite efcient smelting process.
The second stage of the process consisted in rening the
copper obtained from primary smelting: most of the ingots in
fact show a clearly lower iron content than furnace bottoms,
and this is attainable just with simple re-melting operations.
Difference in the iron content of the ingots, with several of
them reaching values above 10 %, probably indicate that
these were also intended to be further rened (Fig. 9).
One of the most interesting issue concerning ingots was
the possible correlation between shape and composition,
which could eventually facilitate the identication of the
material when traded. Currently available data exclude
such a hypothesis, and no specic composition can
be associated with a particular ingot shape. However,
remarkable differences in composition would have been
revealed by the different colour of the ingots: among the
sampled specimen, one in particular shows a peculiar,
bright whitish colour, depending on its exceptional nickel
content above 60 %.
The real nature of this ingot will require further detailed
investigation; what is important to note here is that such an
excess in nickel would make it almost impossible to work.
The same is also true for all those ingots for which a high iron
content was detected and that would need further rening.
A rst limited sample of artefacts coming from Masf
was also analysed. It included four cast snakes and one
spearhead from Masf -3, one bowl from Masf -1, and
one knife blade from Masf -1. Hammered snakes were
too heavily corroded to allow the sampling of sound metal.

This corpus is clearly too limited to be of statistic relevance.


Anyhow, some preliminary comments can be made with
great caution.
All the objects but one, namely the knife from Masf -1,
are made of copper. Besides, all have an extremely pure
composition, with minor impurities, in this case with the
exception of the bowl also coming from Masf -1. The
most interesting observation concerns the difference in
composition between the spearhead and the knife blade.
The latter is in fact the only true bronze among the analysed
artefacts, with a tin content around 15 % which qualies
it as a rather good quality weapon. As such, it could have
served a real, everyday use function; the spearhead could
obviously have been an actual weapon as well, but the lack
of tin alloying and the fact that it was found in the same
archaeological context as the snakes could possibly indicate
that it was intentionally manufactured without wasting
precious tin since it was destined to a symbolic, cultic use.
One main point emerges from the archaeological and
archaeometric evidence collected both at Bithnah and
Masf : the deposition of items related to metalworking
(namely copper working) in contexts that can be identied
as collective/cultic places appear to be a rather common
practice. The heterogeneity of the offered items and their
inaccurate production, with cases of semi-raw or unrened
materials being deposited, indicates that the intrinsic value
was not linked to the objects themselves, but rather to the
metal or, even more likely, to the metallurgical process
itself. This in fact requires a high degree of specialization,
with a knowhow which was likely transmitted under strict
control, and was commonly endowed with a sort of magical
breeze: through the mastery of re, the metalworker was
literally capable of changing one matter into another.
Besides, the raw material comes from the underground, and
this is one of the aspects which could possibly contribute
to explain the link with the snake symbol.
Further evidence of a possible correlation
between snakes and copper: Salt and Sarq al- ad d.
Copper-base objects and evidence of copper working are
also reported, at different scales, from the Iron Age sites of
Sarq al- ad d and Salt. Both can be somehow interpreted
as collective and possibly cultic sites in which the worshipped
deity could have been represented by the snake.
Sarq al- ad d is located in the desert environment of
south-eastern Dubai Emirate. Several different periods
of occupation are attested at the site, spanning a large
chronological frame which goes from the third millennium
to the end of the rst millennium BC, and possibly to the
1st century AD. 21
What is relevant here is that the large inventory of objects
dating to the Iron Age includes a remarkable number
of artefacts, both in pottery and in metal, which can be
associated to the same reverence for snake that is attested
at Bithnah and Masf . Excavations in the western part
of the site provided quantities of Iron Age metal objects

21

31

HERRMANN et al. 2012.

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its neighbours: new developments of research

Sample
Code

Object type

Location

Ag

As

Bi

Co

Cu

Fe

Ni

Pb

Sb

Sn

Zn

S02

Copper droplet

AWH-09.001

0.00

0.00

0.04

0.19

51.91

47.47

0.34

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.05

S35

Copper droplet

ASW-11.001

0.00

0.00

0.05

0.57

72.10

24.47

2.77

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.05

S37

Copper droplet

ASW-11.001

0.00

0.00

0.07

0.34

78.05

20.56

0.94

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.04

S67

Copper droplet

ANO-11.001

0.00

0.05

0.05

0.15

65.81

33.33

0.16

0.00

0.00

0.30

0.13

022-1

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

1.54

0.09

0.12

85.09

14.14

0.20

0.01

0.01

0.00

0.09

022-10

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

0.76

0.09

0.31

77.05

23.56

0.27

0.01

0.01

0.00

0.09

022-11

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

1.54

0.09

0.47

95.10

2.17

0.71

0.01

0.01

0.00

0.10

022-13

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

2.07

0.09

0.30

90.27

7.57

0.26

0.01

0.01

0.00

0.10

022-15

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

2.34

0.08

1.12

63.96

34.72

0.60

0.01

0.25

0.00

0.08

022-2

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

0.49

0.09

0.11

95.33

4.02

0.21

0.01

0.00

0.00

0.10

022-6

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

11.44

0.08

0.63

67.02

17.33

3.84

0.23

0.75

0.00

0.25

156-51

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

0.57

0.07

0.65

60.38

41.22

0.76

0.01

0.01

0.00

0.08

156-52

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

14.40

0.09

0.20

81.49

0.23

3.16

0.06

0.31

0.00

0.09

156-53

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

0.02

0.10

0.05

96.30

3.67

0.08

0.01

0.00

0.00

0.10

156-105

Furnace bottom

MSF1

0.00

0.70

0.05

0.07

98.32

0.31

0.49

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.06

002-4

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

22.32

0.07

1.14

52.89

18.16

6.62

0.03

0.33

0.00

0.09

010-56

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

0.09

0.09

0.09

92.16

8.16

0.03

0.01

0.01

0.00

0.09

022-12

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

0.00

0.08

0.02

99.15

0.64

0.08

0.01

0.00

0.00

0.07

022-14

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

0.01

0.07

0.08

93.96

5.96

0.37

0.01

0.01

0.00

0.07

156-30

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

1.03

0.05

0.27

87.81

3.30

7.34

0.03

0.08

0.00

0.08

156-34

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

2.28

0.03

0.20

90.27

4.87

2.69

0.02

0.01

0.00

0.07

156-39

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

9.14

0.02

1.43

19.92

5.02

63.34

0.19

1.07

0.00

0.32

156-40

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

7.37

0.05

0.30

73.25

1.03

17.69

0.10

0.10

0.00

0.11

156-43

Ingot

MSF1

0.01

1.35

0.06

0.25

88.12

7.79

3.02

0.02

0.01

0.00

0.08

156-76

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

0.00

0.05

0.10

93.99

3.68

2.11

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.07

156-82

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

0.28

0.07

0.05

96.45

2.65

0.40

0.01

0.00

0.00

0.07

156-84

Ingot

MSF1

0.01

0.00

0.08

0.03

98.25

1.20

0.36

0.00

0.00

0.00

0.07

156-101

Ingot

MSF1

0.00

0.72

0.07

0.24

71.47

26.22

1.16

0.00

0.01

0.00

0.11

205-16

Snake

MSF3

0.00

0.03

0.07

0.01

99.32

0.31

0.19

0.01

0.01

0.00

0.07

205-56

Snake

MSF3

0.00

0.04

0.07

0.01

99.33

0.26

0.20

0.02

0.01

0.00

0.07

213-44

Snake

MSF3

0.00

0.03

0.07

0.00

99.51

0.14

0.15

0.01

0.01

0.00

0.07

213-60

Snake

MSF3

0.02

0.54

0.07

0.00

98.92

0.14

0.08

0.04

0.13

0.00

0.07

205-35

Pointed Object

MSF3

0.01

0.09

0.07

0.03

99.08

0.43

0.22

0.02

0.02

0.00

0.08

94-002

Bowl

MSF1

0.01

0.24

0.07

0.18

95.26

2.78

1.61

0.02

0.01

0.00

0.09

051-009

Knife

MSF1

0.01

0.33

0.06

0.01

83.66

0.83

0.05

0.05

0.05

14.95

0.06

Table 1. Chemical composition of selected examples of copper and copper alloy items from Masf and other sites in Fujairah region
(AWH: Awhala; ASW: Wd Aswani, site A; ANO: Anonymus, site located north of Wd Aswani)
(J. Goy. French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E.).

32

Snake, copper and water in south-eastern Arabian religion during the Iron Age, A. Benoist et al.
>9699

"#

=>699

)-'.21
1-!*%
1/%!0(%!$
".5+
*-)&%
&40-!#% ".3.,1
#.//%0 /0)++

=9699
<>699
<9699
;>699
;9699
:>699
:9699
>699

!$

9699

>9699

>>699

?9699

?>699

@9699

@>699

A9699

A>699

B9699

B>699

:99699

Fig. 9. Copper/Iron diagram showing how the iron content decreases in semi-nished and nished items, indicating probable rening steps
(J. Goy. French Archaeological Mission in the U.A.E.).

including swords, axes, arrowheads, tools, as well as some


copper snake gurines, copper or copper alloy incense
burners, and pottery including examples with snake
decorations. 22 The site is also associated to a massive
concentration of slag, extending on a surface of some
7 ha. While the original excavators of the site established a
direct link between this industrial production and the Iron
Age levels, 23 results from recent detailed investigations
suggest that it actually might have been taking place, or
continuing, several centuries later, as also indicated by the
substantial occurrence of iron, otherwise constituting an
exceptional situation for the whole region.
No building was revealed during the excavations, thus
raising the question about the possibility of ritual practices
taking place in a desert context, devoid of any architecture.
Collected material was anyhow deemed explicit enough to
reconstruct the presence of a ritual site in the rst half of
the rst millennium BC; 24 besides, a recent geophysical
survey of the site revealed the presence of several buildings
associated to Iron Age II levels, more to the east. 25
Seven complete copper (or copper alloy 26) snake
gurines, plus other possible fragmentary ones, were
also discovered at the site of Salt in Central Oman.
They include hammered snakes similar to the Masf -3
ones 27 as well as some cast snakes, larger in size and
better nished, with small hemispherical drops on the
body meant to represent the scales. An example was
also recovered which shows the partial folding of the
metallic strip to obtain a rounded body, a procedure also
reported from Masf (see above). Coming from different

22
23
24
25
26

27

contexts, not all them being safely dated to the Iron Age
phases of the site, these artefacts are anyhow so peculiar
to south-eastern Arabia Iron Age that their chronological
attribution is not to be called into question.
Copper ingots and amorphous wasters were also collected.
Ingots are discoid or circular with a plain or plano-convex
prole. Their dating is somewhat unclear, as they mainly
come from disturbed contexts; however, a small furnace
and some related discarded copper-base objects, likely
stored for re-melting, can be dated to the Iron Age with
some condence, bearing evidence for at least a small
scale metallurgical activity on the site.
Apart from metallic gurines, snake representations on
pottery are also attested at Salt. 28 While the precise
function of the site still has to be dened, the immense cost
in materials and workforce required for its construction
stands to indicate that it was an important site to an extended
community, probably settled in smaller scale settlements
scattered in the area. 29 A fortied place beyond any doubt,
a cultic function is probably indicated by the numerous
representations of snakes and by the even wider presence of
long-handled bowls (elsewhere referred to as oil lamps), and
has been recently discussed within the regional context. 30
The snake and water?
Fertility related to sweet water (and vegetation depending on
it) is one of the signications attached to the snake symbol
in ancient regions surrounding south-eastern Arabia such
as Elam or Yemen. A similar link might also have existed
in the south-eastern Arabian religion itself, where the
development of irrigation techniques making use of partially
subterranean channels systems provided the fundamental

QANDIL 2005; NASHEF 2010.


Ibid.
HERRMANN et al. 2012.
HERRMANN 2013: Fig. 7.
The up to now unique analysis of a metal snake gurine showed it was
realized in unalloyed copper.
AVANZINI & PHILLIPS 2010: Fig. 19.

28
29
30

33

AVANZINI & PHILLIPS 2010: Fig. 18; AVANZINI et al. 2005: Fig. 17.3.
CONDOLUCI et al. 2014.
BENOIST 2010.

Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its neighbours: new developments of research


basis for Iron Age economy. Contemporary aj are now
well documented on many Iron Age settlements (Hili, Bida
Bint Sa d, al-Madm, Maysar, etc.), and irrigation appears
to have strongly driven the shaping of oases territories
along the foothills, thus playing a fundamental part in the
organization of farmers communities.
Both Bithnah and Masf were located in valleys where natural
constraints limited the cultivable land with no possibility for
extension. This induced the local population to settle along the
slopes and up to the ridges of nearby rocky hills, preserving
the central valley for agricultural exploitation. This is made
particularly clear by the data collected in Masf , where the
excavations revealed the limit of the Iron Age palm grove. 31
Almost all the rocky hills around this ancient palm grove
were occupied by settlements during the Late Bronze and/
or the Iron Age Periods (sites of Masf -2, -4, and -5), while
the only place including sizeable buildings to be located in a
low area was, signicantly, the cultic area described above
(Masf -1 and -3).
The orientation of cultic installations might also have
depended, in some cases, on the presence of water. At
Bithnah, the site was supplied with water by a canal coming
from an undetermined spring located to the north. 32 The
entrance of the two small buildings with podium, the
possible main entrance of the large meeting building in
Level 1, and the possible head of the two open air altars for
which a snake shape has been suggested, all are oriented
northwards, and this could be related to the location of the
water source vital to the site.
At Masf , the open building and the large rectangular
podium were oriented towards the west. Owing to local
tradition, that was the place where water was springing
out of the ground in the sixties: whether or not an artesian
aquifer was springing out in that same area already in the
Iron Age is not clear and will require further investigation.
Besides, mudbricks of the small open building had a peculiar
melted aspect, and, especially along the walls, layers of
clayish sediments were visible, which were partially cut by
deposits of small gravel. This sequence likely derives from
periodic ooding, and raises the question about the possible
intentional location of the building in a place subject to
water ushing. Further research is necessary to test this
hypothesis; nevertheless, a link between such ooding and
good omen for coming harvest appears plausible.
The use of water during ceremonies cannot be excluded.
Libations inside the small vertical pits found at Bithnah and
Masf might have included the offering of water, maybe
poured using small spouted jars with snake decorations
like those found at the site.
Water is obviously related to the possibility of growing
gardens and feeding herds. At Bithnah and Masf incisions
of what could be interpreted as vegetal motives are
sometimes represented on small braziers with horizontal
handle used in cultic places (long-handled bowls). At Masf
snakes representations are also associated to clay gurines of

domestic animals at least on three pieces and to birds,


themselves another symbol of fertility. Moreover, a fragment
of a jar bearing an incised sh was also found in the meeting
building. To what extent all these gurations were endowed
with a cultic value and not simple decoration is almost
impossible to say, but they can anyhow illustrate the intricate
ties between snakes, vegetation, water, and rituals.
Some indications on the use of plants in ritual offerings
come from the site of Salt: here, the possibility exists that
date palm inorescences were deposited inside a woven
basket, together with other objects that seem to connote
the context as a cultic one. Besides, from another deposit,
seeds, fruits, twigs and leaves of oleander were recovered.
Although in this case it is more difcult to discern between
a votive offering or a simple waste dumping, it deserves
mention the fact that oleander is traditionally reputed an
effective healing against snake bites. 33
It should also be mentioned here a remark made by one of
the authors (B. Armbruster) about the cast copper snakes
from Masf -3: the shape of the small conical pins below
them, with rounded ends, would in fact be inconsistent
with the interpretation as xing devices. An alternative
explanation could thus be that these snakes were meant
to be shown inside a thin layer of owing water, with the
pins giving the impression they were actually swimming.
Conclusion
Giving a clear meaning to a symbolic representation in a context
lacking from any written sources is a perilous exercise and
requires caution. On the basis of archaeological and chemical
data, we have been suggesting elements of connection
between cultic practices related to snake representations and
an economic background in which copper and water seem to
have played a major rule at Bithnah and Masf . Both sites
are denitely part of a large regional pattern which extended
from the Abu Dhabi region to the southern and eastern parts
of Oman, as indicated by the occurrence of snake symbols in
Sarq al- ad d to the west, and Salt but also Am Dhurra 34
and Adam 35 to the south-east. Observations made at Sarq alad d and at Salt are suggesting that, to some extent, a link
might also have existed in these regions between the snake
symbol and copper industry. At Salt, agriculture and maybe
medicine might also have been among the elds placed under
the protection of the deity represented by a snake.
But Bithnah and Masf are also located in the same region,
only 15 km apart, and we still have to estimate the part
of possible local divergences in ritual practices and their
symbolic background from a place to the other, within SouthEast Arabia. For example, a possible connection between
the snake symbol and cultic practices around graves can be
considered in the Adam region, an element actually missing
in Bithnah and Masf . 36 The rapidity of the development

33
34
35
31
32

36

BENOIST 2013 : 47
BENOIST et al. 2013: Figs. 7475.

34

BELLINI et al. 2011: 27862787.


DE CARDI 1977: Fig. 3.106.
BENOIST, DE CASTJA et al. 2012.
In Adam north necropolis a long-handled bowl, a fragment of a footed
brazier and the broken head of a raised appliqu snake were found outside

Snake, copper and water in south-eastern Arabian religion during the Iron Age, A. Benoist et al.
of researches and the high number of discoveries of snake
representations during the last ten years is renewing the
approach and promising for the future.

during the rst Millennium BC (Arabia Antica, 6).


Rome, LErma di Bretschneider: 93109.
BELLINI C., CONDOLUCI C., GIACHI G., GONELLI G. & LIPPI M.M.
2011
Interpretative scenarios emerging from plant
micro- and macroremains in the Iron Age
site of Salut, Sultanate of Oman, Journal of
Archaeological Science 38/10: 27752789.

Anne BENOIST
CNRS UMR 5133 Archorient, Jals, France
anne.benoist@mom.fr
Ccile LE CARLIER
CNRS UMR 6566 Archosciences, Rennes, France
cecile_le_carlier@hotmail.com

BENOIST A.
2010
Authority and religion in eastern Arabia
during the Iron Age (1150-250 BC), in
A. AVANZINI (ed.), Eastern Arabia during the
rst Millennium BC (Arabia Antica, 6). Rome,
LErma di Bretschneider: 109143.

Julie GOY
University of Paris 1, France
juliegoy@hotmail.fr

2013
Michele DEGLI ESPOSTI
University of Pisa, Italy
Michele.degliesposti@gmail.com
Barbara ARMBRUSTER
CNRS UMR 5608 Traces, Toulouse, France
Barbara.armbruster@univ-tlse2.fr

A Green Paradise: Economic strategies,


collective practices and local ancestors of the
Iron Age community of Masf (Emirate of
Fujairah, U.A.E.), Proceedings of the Seminar
for Arabian Studies 43: 4762.

BENOIST A., BERNARD V., BRUNET O. & HAMEL A.


2012
The Iron Age occupation at Masf . Report
on two seasons of excavations, in D.T. POTTS
& P. HELLYER (eds.), Fifty years of Emirates
archaeology. Proceedings of the 2nd international
conference on the archaeology of the United Arab
Emirates, London, Trident Press: 147159.

Gaffar ATTAELMANAN
National X-ray Fluorescence Laboratory, United Arab
Emirates
aattaelmanan@sharjah.ac.ae

BENOIST A., BERNARD V., CHARBONNIER J., GOY J., HAMEL A.


& SAGORY T.
2012
Une occupation de lge du Fer Masf .
Travaux rcents de la Mission Archologique
Franaise aux EAU dans lmirat de
Fujairah (mirats Arabes Unis), Chroniques
Ymnites 17 [http://cy.revues.org/1803].

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