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The formation of a southern Red Seascape in the late prehistoric period: Tracing cross-Red Sea culture-contact, interaction, and maritime communities along the Tihamah coastal plain, Yemen in the third to first millennium BC (2007)

The formation of a southern Red Seascape in the late prehistoric period: Tracing cross-Red Sea culture-contact, interaction, and maritime communities along the Tihamah coastal plain, Yemen in the third to first millennium BC (2007)
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  The Formation of a Southern Red Seascape in the Late Prehistoric Period: Tracing Cross-Red Sea Culture-Contact, Interaction, and Maritime Communities along the Tih ā mah Coastal Plain, Yemen, in the Third to First Millennium BC   Lamya Khalidi Yemen holds a geographic position that naturally lends itself to trade and interaction on a number of different levels. With the Red Sea to the west and the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean to the south, Yemen, as it is defined geo-politically today, has for millennia had direct access to the seaways of the Indian Ocean and Red Sea worlds (Map 2:1). While its interior is a mosaic of topographies and landscapes, including the high-altitude mountains that loom at 3800 m above sea level over its desert interior to the east, the Tih ā mah coastal plain to the west and the south-western coast near Aden to the south, these extreme geographical contrasts have not acted as an impediment to overland and maritime trade and interaction from the early historical periods onward.  Map 2:1 Satellite map situating the Arabian Peninsula and more specifically Yemen within its larger geographic context, with the African Horn to the west and south and  India to the east. Early historical sources vouch for the existence of extensive overland trade routes during the period of the rise and fall of the South Arabian desert-kingdoms and later the highland kingdom of H     imyar, in the mid- to late-first millennium BC . However, prehistoric interaction remains elusive due to a dearth of comprehensive and systematic prehistoric research in certain regions 1  and at 1  For a more detailed discussion see Crassard and Khalidi 2005. major geographical interfaces where evidence for culture-contact and interaction would be more noticeable. This  paper presents data that demonstrate that by the third millennium BC , there was regular maritime interaction  between the Yemen and Horn of Africa coasts. Fieldwork carried out between 2003 and 2005 by the Tihamah Coastal Survey 2  along the Yemeni Tih ā mah coastal plain began to define prehistoric settlement in relation to its contemporary landscapes and to trace inter- and intra- regional interaction, which proved to be multi-directional. Using systematic survey strategies to show densities and distributions of materials across settlements, micro-zones and macro-zones, as well as tracing the introduction of certain materials and tool types, the data collected clearly point to the corridors of the Red Sea as the means by which most of the obsidian found along the Tih ā mah arrived and by which the two opposing coasts were culturally intertwined. 3  Most of the data recovered were compared with material culture typologies from regions of Yemen with a longer history of prehistoric research. These included typologies formulated by the Italian Archaeological Mission in the Khawl ā n area 4  and those of the Dhamar Survey Project in the central highland area. 5  In addition, results were compared to those of a survey mounted in the western escarpment area along the W ā d  ī   Zab  ī  d, 6  an area chosen  precisely because it lies midway between the highland and 2  Survey project directed by L. Khalidi, carried out in cooperation with the Yemeni General Organization for Antiquities, Museums and Manuscripts (GOAM). The team members included Dr Krista Lewis, Ahmed al-Mosabi and Essam Hamana. In 2003 the fieldwork was funded by a Fulbright IIE grant. 3  Khalidi 2006. 4  Costantini 1986, Costantini 1990, De Maigret 1981, 1988, 1997, De Maigret et al  . 1990, Fedele 1984, 1985, 1990, Francaviglia 1989. 5  Barbanes 2000, Edens 1999, Edens and Wilkinson 1998, Edens et al  . 2000, Ekstrom and Edens 2003, Gibson and Wilkinson 1995, Wilkinson et al.  1997, Wilkinson 1997, 2003, Wilkinson and Edens 1999. 6  The Hazm al-‘Udayn Survey was directed by L. Khalidi and carried out in cooperation with GOAM. The team members included Dr Krista Lewis and Muhammad al-Qadhi. Fieldwork was funded by a grant from the American Institute for Yemeni Studies (AIYS). See Khalidi 2006: 48–122. 35     N ATURAL R  ESOURCES AND C ULTURAL C ONNECTIONS OF THE R  ED S EA  lowland study areas. Finally, a landscape and site reconnaissance in Eritrea 7  added a comparative African  perspective to the study of the Yemeni Red Sea coast. Sites surveyed in the Tih ā mah were relatively dated based on three carbon-dated late prehistoric sites in the coastal  plains area, namely the site of Midamman in the central Tih ā mah, excavated by Keall and the Royal Ontario Museum, 8  and the site of Sabir near Aden. 9  Finally, the work of the Italian Archaeological Mission to the Tih ā mah that concentrated on early Holocene settlements 10  near the foothills was useful in relatively dating earlier and later period sites. Fieldwork concentrated on systematic survey with a focus on archaeological landscape methodology. The main study area falls in the central Tih ā mah, between the w ā d  ī  s Zab  ī  d, Rima’ and Kuway’. The eastern boundary of the survey area is situated near the site of Kashawba’, approximately halfway across the 30–60 km wide coastal  plain, while the western boundary consists of the littoral itself where the majority of transects walked began or ended. The Tih ā mah is a hyper-arid flat coastal plain with a sub-tropical climate. This plain is wrought with sand dunes in differing stages of erosion and formation and is green with agriculture and wild vegetation near the w ā d  ī  s and their deltas. Given the sparse vegetation cover along most of the plain, there is little protection from sand and wind erosion and the deflation of ground surfaces is widespread making it a difficult terrain to cover. Sites are often  partially buried by shifting sands or have been heavily deflated. Given these difficulties, the survey began by sampling a range of terrains. Certain landscape features such as the coast and the river deltas were proven to be more intensively inhabited in the prehistoric period. These river deltas acted as natural conduits for contact and movement and were more favourable due to their  proximity to crucial resources. The central Tih ā mah survey recovered 133 sites in total, sixty of which were relatively dated to the early Holocene  period and 49 of which were late prehistoric. 11  Aceramic mono-specific shell middens dominate the early Holocene 7  An archaeological reconnaissance survey was carried out  by L. Khalidi in Eritrea with the cooperation of the  National Museum in Eritrea. Fieldwork was funded by CAORC. 8  Keall 1998, 1999, 2000, 2004. 9  Buffa 2002, 2003, Buffa and Vogt 2001, Vogt 1997, Vogt and Sedov 1997, 1998, excavated by Vogt and Sedov, and the site of Sihi in the Saudi Tih ā mah, excavated by Zarins (Zarins and Al-Badr 1986, Zarins and Zahrani 1985). 10  Cattani and Bokonyi 2002, Tosi 1985, 1986 as well as the work of Phillips (Phillips 1997, 1998, Phillips 2005). 11  Khalidi 2006: 179. sites, which date between the seventh and fifth millennium BC . These were mainly located along the littoral and along the banks of the rivers and deltas where stable mangrove tidal creeks once flourished and provided the source of sustenance for the hunter-forager  populations inhabiting the area. 12  The inter-fluvial steppe included light scatters interspersed with light concentrations of molluscan shell, occasional lithic tools and equid remains. These signatures can be interpreted as debris left over from temporary hunting camps in areas that were lightly forested and were ideal roaming grounds for wild equid and ostrich in the early Holocene. The tool kit of these periods consisted of bifacial parallel pressure-flaked projectiles made mainly from jaspers, rhyolites and cherts that were acquired in the w ā d  ī   beds. What appear to  be the earliest projectiles are large in size and standard-ized in their shape and workmanship. By comparison with the site of al-Shumah, these can be dated to sometime in the seventh millennium BC . 13  None of these bifaces are made from obsidian, a material that does not seem to appear on sites in the area before the sixth millennium BC 14  when the same bifacial tradition was carried out but with gradual changes in the form, size and workmanship. A technologically parallel bifacial industry, but one entirely restricted to obsidian, appears on sites comparable to one excavated by the Italian Archaeological Mission and dated to the fifth millennium BC . 15  These tools are also standardized and are all smaller in size and thinner than their predecessors. During these periods, settlement distribution is relatively similar, with sites continuously distributed along the w ā d  ī   and the edges of the tidal creeks. In addition, there is evidence for seasonal or temporary presence in areas of the inter-fluvial steppe and a drop-off of early Holocene sites towards the interior. The appearance of ceramic sites is confirmed by the early third millennium BC  onward at sites such as Ma’alaybah near Aden, 16  as well as during the early occupational  phases at the sites of Midamman and Sabir. 17  These sites are characterized by an altogether new material culture repertoire, one that includes a sand-tempered and high-fired ceramic tradition with intricate decorative elements and forms. Ceramics found on the surface of sites are dominated by decorated oval-cross sectioned handles and fenestrated vessel fragments as well as hole-mouth pots and burnishing. The appearance of these ceramics is accompanied by a new settlement strategy which includes multiple period shell middens with later ceramic elements evenly clustered along the w ā d  ī   banks and areas of the littoral, and large sites located where the main w ā d  ī   course reaches the sea and at the formation of the deltas. 12  Cattani et al  . 2002: 33. 13  Ibid., 34. 14  Ibid., 44. 15  Tosi 1986: 407. 16  Buffa 2002, 2003. 17  Buffa et al.  2001: 446, Keall 1998: 146. 36    L AMYA K  HALIDI :   T HE F ORMATION OF A S OUTHERN R  ED S EASCAPE   37    Figure 2:1 Obsidian geometric microliths: circle segments (left). All of these circle segments are retouched on the circular edge and are either made from bladelets or from flakes; arches, triangles and trapezoids (right). (a, b) Tool or waste?: obsidian pieces esquillées is characterized by removals from opposing ends (bipolar flaking). This effect is often acquired when the stone acts as a wedge or chisel during indirect percussion o anvil. The force of the hammer on one end and the anvil on the other produces removals from both ends as well as the scaled edges typical of these pieces. Drawn by J. Espagne. The larger sites such as Midamman and Kashawba’ are characterized by dense pottery middens, low mounding and, in most cases, earlier third to second millennium BC  megalithic elements often re-used in the foundations of early first millennium BC  partitioned buildings. 18  Survey work in the Tih ā mah coastal plain has yielded a surprisingly diverse and rich lithic assemblage. In many ways these tools have provided the most accurate chronological indicators for sites in the area. Furthermore, the types and densities of the primary materials available have been useful not only in determining the period, but also in tracing contact and interaction in the case of non-available stone resources. Both the smaller and larger late prehistoric sites are characterized by a remarkable increase in the density of obsidian, present in the form of 18  Keall 1998: 140, 145.   N ATURAL R  ESOURCES AND C ULTURAL C ONNECTIONS OF THE R  ED S EA    Map 2:2 Satellite map of the Central Tih ā mah Survey Area located between the w ā d  ī   Zab ī  d to the south and the w ā d  ī    Kuway’ to the north. The circles represent the density of obsidian present in the area (the smallest circles = no obsidian, while the largest circles constitute activity areas with the highest densities of obsidian debitage).  M  ap by L. Khalidi relatively large amounts of small debitage and waste, small globular flake cores and a tool kit consisting of geometric microliths and  pièces esquillées  made from obsidian (Figure 2:1). Site interaction can be interpreted on a micro-regional level on the basis of the form (tool, debitage, waste) of the obsidian, its context and its distribution. Obsidian geometric microliths and small  pièces esquillées  are found side by side, the latter synonymous with a bipolar flaking technique and an economic use of small amounts of material. 19  The two technologies are found on smaller dispersed sites along the littoral and the riverbanks as well as on significantly larger sites located at the junctures of the rivers, that is to say, along the shoreline and towards the interior where the delta begins to form. Besides the obsidian tools, waste and debitage characterize the lithic assemblages on these sites. Activity areas have been identified where the densities of obsidian are relatively high and the lithic waste suggests knapping (Map 2:2). As at the sites of Midamman 20  and Sihi, 21  the presence of 19  Crassard in press. 20  Crassard in press, Rahimi 2001. 21  Zarins et al  . 1986: 43, 48. small obsidian cores, batonnêts , and a high frequency of small flakes and blades present a signature for a bipolar flaking technique on anvil and the preparation of backed geometric microliths by percussion and perhaps on anvil. The highest density of obsidian is found on sites near the mouths of the deltas and along the littoral, which suggests that the obsidian was arriving by sea (see Map 2:2). The lithic assemblage further suggests that obsidian was being worked in the Tih ā mah itself and appears to have arrived in the area in small pre-prepared nodules. Activity areas can be identified interspersed along the riverbanks towards the larger interior sites. Systematic survey was not conducted east of these large interior sites. However, the western escarpment survey located along the interior W ā d  ī   Zab  ī  d demonstrated a massive drop-off of obsidian density in the mid-altitude region. Furthermore, the obsidian in this region was of a poorer quality and did not resemble the obsidian of the Tih ā mah, nor of the site of Midamman, which lies along the W ā d  ī   Zab  ī  d and the Red Sea coast.   38    L AMYA K  HALIDI :   T HE F ORMATION OF A S OUTHERN R  ED S EASCAPE    Map 2:3 Satellite image illustrating the location of obsidian source areas and recovered late prehistoric (third to end of  first millennium BC) obsidian geometric microliths in the southern Red Sea regions of Southwest Arabia and the African  Horn. Geometric microliths have also been found on sites along the coast of northern Eritrea and Sudan (not on map). These tools are evenly distributed along the length of the Tih ā mah coastal plain, while their absence along most of the  Eritrean coastline could be explained by the lack of archaeological fieldwork in the area. Map by L. Khalidi   39
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