|11 November 2011
Qatar's earliest human settlement found
Environmental archaeologist Dr Emma Tetlow of the Qatar National Environment Record (QNER) recently revealed that carbon dating of organic remains from Wadi Debay'an, a site a few kilometres south of Al Zubara on Qatar's north-west coastline, has yielded the earliest yet known date for human occupation in Qatar - 7,500 years before present.
Excavation of the late Neolithic fish midden at Wadi Debay'an allowed specialists to determine which species were found in the Arabian Gulf at the time and which formed preferred fish catches. Archaeologists found sea shells, including those of pearl oyster shells and murex, and bivalves which have been pierced for use as ornaments, flint tools and fragments of pottery. A solitary canine tooth may have come from a domesticated dog or could have belonged to a fox or a jackal - more research has to take place on this specimen.
The 41 stone tools found so far date to the late Neolithic period of around 6000 years ago and are finely worked. Some are made from a beautiful chocolate-coloured tabular flint. There are also 141 sherds of painted Ubaid pottery, made in Mesopotamia in what is now modern Iraq, at the same period. A piece of dark ironstone may have come from a meteorite and perhaps was valued for its rarity. Ancient human bone generally does not survive well in Qatar, but the highly fragmented remains have been found of a burial.
These fish-eating inhabitants of Qatar were not living in isolation but as part of a wide pattern of settlements throughout Asia. This was made clear by the discovery of a deposit of obsidian, which has been sourced from the Taurus Mountains in Turkey, thousands of kilometres away from the site.
What may prove to be a post-hole for a dwelling has been excavated; evidence that at least for part of the year people were staying beside their main food source rather than leading a purely nomadic existence. A hearth near the post-hole yielded the earliest date of 7,500 years ago.
Organic remains of insects, plants, wood and diatoms - microscopic unicellular organisms, such as plankton, which form fossil deposits - yield a wealth of information once under the microscope. From these experts can learn much about the climate at the time, the vegetation coverage and the fauna. In the Neolithic period the climate was much wetter than it is today, and sea levels were higher. Dr Tetlow said that carbon dates have revealed evidence of continuous occupation of the Wadi Debay'an sites from the Neolithic right through to the Bronze Age, covering a span of some 5000 years.
Edited from Gulf Times (7 November 2011)
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