Early Bronze Age Towers


Scattered along the Hajar Mountains, there is a particular type of monuments whose function and purpose animates the academic debate since the first archaeological expeditions in the Oman Peninsula during the ‘70s, the so-called Early Bronze Age Towers. The study of these most intriguing contexts is one of the scientific objectives of MASPAG, and their charm has inspired our logo!

Swerida e Thornton, 2019. Al‐Khafaji site plan indicating excavated area around the tower and Maspag logo. By University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

At the end of the 4th millennium B.C. (i.e. the beginning of the Bronze Age),  a radical change in the relationship between human communities and their landscape is archaeologically documented along the Oman Peninsula, known as Magan. First, the famous Beehive burial mounds begin to be erected on the ridges of the Jebel, hundreds of thousands of these funerary monuments still characterize the landscape of Oman (do you remember the post on al-Ain?). The Early Bronze Age (EBA) Towers are part of this phenomenon of monumentalization of the landscape, but unlike the Beehive mounds whose function is ascertained by anthropological findings and grave goods, archaeologists still discuss the function of these monuments. Defense, resource storage, water management, copper workshops, political siege?

Cable and Thorton, 2012. Figure 20.9 Map showing the location of the known third-millennium BC
Thornton, Cable and Possehl, 2016. The Bronze Age Towers at Bat, Sultanate of Oman, cover image. Ph. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Despite the huge geographical area on which they are documented, the nearly 70 EBA Towers identified today in the Oman peninsula (of which only a few today is stratigraphically excavated), have common characteristics both from an architectural and archaeological point of view.

Eddisford and Phillips, 2009. Excavated 3rf mill towers in the UAE and Oman

They rise in the valleys along the course of wadi, surrounded by the Jebels on which dozens of Beehive mounds are lined up along the rocky ridges. The tower itself, is characterized by a circular stone or mud-brick wall, reaching a diameter of ca. 20 meters. At the center of the stucture, a stone-lined circular shaft or “well” is normally identified amongst a complex of internal walls that formed “compartments”. These compartments were not rooms, per se, but were filled with compact rubble and sand. Given the absence of human activity and the scarcity of archaeological material within the structure (similar contexts are called sterile), the interpretation of these monuments is not yet clear and is changing with the advancement of discoveries. Recent excavations have revealed a higher level of complexity of these structures than initially envisioned. For instance, the Bat Archaeological Project documented different satellite structures built during the course of multiple centuries around the circular stonewall of Tower 1146. Thanks to these new investigations today the Early Bronze Age Towers seem to be more like a circular raised platforms rather than properly called towers, like the massive Islamic medieval ones for example.

Swerida e Thornton, 2019. Al‐Khafaji structure plan indicating excavated area around the tower. By University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Döpper and Schmidt, 2019. Excavations at Building V at Al-Khashbah. By the University of Tübingen

What is clear however is that these monuments, along with the surrounding mounds, are the result of an impressive collective effort. They left us the trace of a complex mobile society that has spread in space with it a well-defined cultural identity and completely different economic and political adaptations and choices from the contemporary urban cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley – despite frequent and established exchanges.

Lombard, 1999. Third millennium recunstructed exchange network

MASPAG intends to carry out research on these intricate monuments through the investigation and study of the archaeological context of the oasis of Dan, of which we will carry out the first topographic survey during our next excavation campaign scheduled for December 2021. The objective will be to create a basic documentation of the landscape, and to conduct a surface survey to identify the major contexts to explore deeply in the future.

Further reading:

Lombard – 1999 – Bahrain. The Civilisation of the Two Seas

Potts – 2000 – Ancient Magan The secrets of Tell Abraq

Cable and Thornton – 2013 – Monumentality and the Third-millennium Towers of the Oman Peninsula

Bortolini and Munoz – 2015 – Life and Death in Prehistoric Oman. Insights from Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Funerary Practices (4th-3rd mill. BC)

Thornton, Cable and Possehl – 2016 – The Bronze Age Towers at Bat, Sultanate of Oman: Research by the Bat Archaeological Project, 2007-12

Degli Esposti – 2016 – Excavations at the Early Bronze Age Site ST1 near Bisya Sultanate of Oman. Notes on the Architecture and Material Culture

Döpper – 2018 – Towers and ditches in third millennium BC Eastern Arabia

Döpper and Schmidt – 2019 – A Hafit Period Copper Workshop at Al-Khashbah, Sultanate of Oman

Swerida e Thornton – 2019 – al‐Khafaji reinterpreted New insights on Umm an‐Nar


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