BHS 18

A Stone Age Burial Ground and Settlement in the Desert

BHS 18 is an important site of the Late Stone Age – the so-called Neolithic period. Radiocarbon determination of the site has provided a date of 4780-4610 BC. This 5th millennium BC date makes this as the oldest radio-metrically dated inland site in UAE and of great significance in terms of archaeological research within the Arabian Peninsula.

The site is located nearby Jebel al-Buhais within the central sector of the Emirate of Sharjah and consists of a graveyard and adjacent camp sites. The recent discoveries at Jebel al-Buhais indicate that a mobile population of herders existed in eastern Arabia long before the first sedentary settlements were founded in the area. These herders roamed the semi-desert plains along the Hajar Mountains with flocks of sheep, goats and cattle to supply them with milk and meat. The camel was not yet tamed in the early 5th millennium BC however a few fragments of camel bones found at the site indicates that wild dromedaries existed in the area and that they were occasionally hunted together with gazelles, Oryx, and wild asses.

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No houses or even strong tents or sheds were built by those nomads. The only traces of their household activities are fire places in the form of shallow pits lined with large pebbles and still filled with thick layers of black ash. These people first arrived at the foot of Jebel al-Buhais more than 7000 years ago and their repeated visits were probably due to the presence of an ancient spring which stopped flowing around 4000 BC. The traces of this spring at the slope of the Jebel was recovered and successfully traced by specialists from the Institute of Environmental Physics of the University of Heidelberg (Germany).

At a slightly later phase, probably just after 5000 BC, the area became the burial place for this group of people, and it seems to have been in use for a prolonged period. Over time, perhaps as many as 1000 individuals were buried in an area of less than 20 meters in diameter down slope of the ancient spring. Many graves contain ibone bundlesi, indicating that the respective person had died and been left to decay elsewhere before the bones were collected and brought back to a final resting place at the foot of the mountain.

Members of the group who died closer to the site were buried in shallow pits lying on their sides with their arms and legs bent. Most of these individuals were fully adorned with ornaments made of shells, colored stones and pearls. Graves often contained more than one body and the arrangement of the bodies sometimes indicated close relationships between the deceased. One grave contained the skeletons of two women and one man lying close together on their right sides. The man was placed between the women, with his left hand resting on the hip of the lady in front of him. All three of them were adorned with beads and shells.

Another interment contained five individuals who had been placed in each other’s arms at the time of burial. Laboratory research on the DNA fragments preserved in the skeletons indicates that these people were probably related. It is interesting to see that the lady in front wore a pierced carnelian bead at her nose, while the other lady had a pearl at her lower lip.

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Usually one can only speculate about what may have caused the death of more than one person at a time. In general, the skeletons uncovered at BHS18 indicate that the people were well nourished and in good health. However traces of skull injuries, usually healed but sometimes recognizable as a probable cause of death, can be found on many skeletons. Apparently, a herders life in the plains of al-Madam was not always a peaceful one and it is possible that the simultaneous death of whole families may be attributed to tribal conflicts. It is interesting to note that some of the individuals buried in the grave yard have survived a special form of cranial surgery called iTrepanationi which involves cutting opening the cranium – probably as a treatment for cancers.

Apart from skeletal remains numerous animal bones and stone tools were found during the excavations. No pottery whatsoever has ever been found at this site.

VISITING BY APPOINTMENT ONLY

This site is not open to the public, it is accessible by appointment only, please click on the button to fill out a request for an appointment.