Indus potters in central Oman in the second half of the third millennium BC. First results of a technological and archaeometric study

"A wide range of Indus artefacts have been found over the past forty years at many coastal and inland sites in the Oman peninsula, including utilitarian and ritual pottery, ornaments, seals, weights and, more recently, terracotta toys for children," write the authors (p. 163). This paper looks specifically at the many pottery fragments found in Oman at a remarkably fertile site for excavators, Salut ST1, and dated to roughly 2400-2100 BCE, which corresponds to the height of the Indus civilization. "At Salūt ST1, the local and regional style of domestic pottery comprises three main functional categories (goblets, open-mouth jars, and suspension vessels), whereas the Indus-style pottery includes cooking pots, perforated vessels, pedestalled dishes, small globular jars with black-on-red decorations, and black-slipped jars. Within the study sample, the most widely represented categories are Indus cooking pots — open and open- mouth pots — and only a few suspension vessels, bowls, and goblets as well as several Indus black-slipped jars" (p. 172). One sherd had the impression of an Indus seal.

As is becoming more common in archaeology, a variety of material analyses are used to determine whether the clay and added material used come from local sources, or whether the pottery was imported. In this case, the black-slipped jars found elsewhere in the Gulf can be shown to have originated in Sindh (perhaps Mohenjo-daro) and not Punjab (perhaps Harappa). A replica of such a jar made from indigenous materials was also identified as "the first and only case identified so far of a black-slipped jar that may have been produced outside the Greater Indus Valley using local clay. The evidence of local production of a black-slipped jar is unexpected because black-slipped jars are a very complex pottery type to produce. Their manufacture involved multiple production stages and the use of different technologies and, most important in this context, required a ware with specific physical characteristics (Dales & Kenoyer 1986: 83–84). Black-slipped jars were tall, large containers c.70 cm high and 50 cm wide on average, with a capacity of 30–40 l[itres] (the largest jars hold as much as 85 l), made in three or more separate stages, that formed a very distinctive curvilinear profile. The presence of layers of black or dark purplish brown slip completely coating their internal and external surfaces suggests that they were probably used to ship foodstuffs or liquids in non-porous conditions (Méry 2000). Black- slipped jars were also very durable pottery containers and were probably reused over a long period before eventually breaking. Moreover, they were originally designed with a particular profile and thick walls, probably so that they could be tightly stacked in the hull of seagoing vessels instead of being transported overland on the backs of donkeys, cattle, or even people" (pp. 177-78).

More detailed analyses of different pottery types and styles are also provided, and the authors conclude that "The presence in the pottery assemblage of Salūt ST1 of a wide range of Indus pottery types, including utilitarian pottery and, among them, specific forms used for food preparation and presentation, demonstrates that strong intercultural interactions occurred, along with an increase of Indus trade." Once again, the careful use of rigorous material and manufacturing analysis contributes to understanding the intricate and extensive connections between ancient cultures, often missed when they are studied in isolation.

Image: Salūt ST1 Early Bronze Age tower and surrounding structures, aerial view.