CLA Students Experience the Wonders of the Umm an-Nar People
By: Nick Santangelo
The Oman Peninsula has been known as “the land of copper” ever since Ancient Mesopotamia. And when archeologist Nasser Al-Jahwari of Sultan Qaboos University and his team started digging around there, they uncovered some incredible finds.
Dr. Al-Jahwari visited the Center for the Humanities at Temple University (CHAT) earlier this month to share some of his findings with College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Anthropology and Geography and Urban Studies students. A packed CHAT crowd took in the professor’s presentation of everything from a series of ancient buildings to human remains circa 2600-2000 BCE.
The tomb was perhaps the most eye-opening find from Dr. Al-Jahwari’s dig. CLA students saw pictures of hundreds of skeletal remains piled into what the professor called “a very distinctive type of tomb.” Distinctive in that there seemed, by today’s standards, to be little respect for the deceased.
“Once the chamber was full of bodies,” explained Al-Jahwari, “they pushed them aside and made a new space for new bodies.”
That meant successive burials in the same tomb with no discrimination for gender, age or anything, really. Interestingly, one thing the caretakers of the dead did concern themselves with, however, was the direction the bodies faced. Every one of them had been placed so that they would face westward.
The Umm an-Nar people who populated the Oman Peninsula during the Bronze Age are actually said to have eventually had a shift in how they viewed the importance of the body in death, though. The tombs became increasingly complex over time, and the Umm an-Nar reorganized the space where the living and the memory of the dead interacted.
the people of the Oman Peninsula were power agents in their own right.
Not everything the team uncovered was quite so macabre, of course. Dr. Al-Jahwari shared images of pottery, metal objects, jewelry and more. A good portion of these artifacts are believed to have come to the settlement the team explored through the copper trade.
Dr. Al-Jahwari explained that the evidence suggests “the people of the Oman Peninsula were power agents in their own right.” Yet he thinks there isn’t enough hard evidence definitively proving as much. The work his team is doing would seem to be making strides toward that, though.
“The number and quality of the ceramics and other finds point to a wealthy society,” he continued.
All of that trade was also an “indication of rising complex social organizations,” said Dr. Al-Jawhri. Interestingly, though, the findings indicate not that the trade continued growing throughout the entire Umm an-Nar period. Instead, the quantity of the pottery uncovered points to the peak of the society’s trade having taken place during the first half of the culture’s existence (2450-2200 BCE).
Among the items found at the dig site were black-slipped jars, the type of which has never been found anywhere else in the Oman Peninsula. The structures Dr. Al-Jawhari’s team found were also a bit unusual for Umm an-Nar, if not entirely unique. Throughout the peninsula, the overwhelming majority of their buildings were round, but the ones the team found were all square or rectangular.
The settlement’s strongest connection to greater Umm an-Nar society, though, may have been those tombs.
“Across the peninsula, all Umm an-Nar societies practiced similar funeral rituals,” explained Dr. Al-Jawhri.
Just try not to think too much about how many remains that means were pushed into single tombs.