Centre Français d’Archéologie et de Sciences Sociales

Nos tutelles

CNRS


Rechercher



Accueil > Accueil : Français > Recherche > Axes de recherche > Archéologie de la péninsule Arabique

Mission archéologique néerlando-franco-saoudienne à Thaj (Arabie saoudite)

publié le , mis à jour le

Responsables

- Ahmad AL-JALLAD (linguiste/épigraphiste), Université de Leyde)
- M. AL-HAJIRI 5archéologue, Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage)
- Jérôme ROHMER (archéologue, chercheur au CNRS, UMR 8167, chercheur associé au CEFAS)

Partenariats

- Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH)
- Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères
- Satorp (Arabie saoudite)
- Institut des déserts et des steppes (France)
- Éveha International – Etudes et valorisation archéologiques

Membres de l’équipe

Rozan AL KHATIB ALKONTAR (géophysicienne, Université de Strasbourg, EOST/IPGS), Maksim BANO (géophysicien, Université de Strasbourg, EOST/IPGS (MCF)), Paul CALOU (doctorant en géophysique, Université de Strasbourg, EOST/IPGS), Aude COUDRIN (anthropologue indépendante), Rémy CRASSARD (archéologue préhistorien, CNRS, CEFAS), Jean-Rémi DUJARDIN (géophysicien, Université de Strasbourg, EOST/IPGS), Caroline DURAND (céramologue, CNRS HiSoMa), Lara FLEURY (étudiante en Master 2 d’archéologie, Université Paris 1, UFR 03), Damien GAZAGNE (archéologue, Éveha International, CNRS UMR 7041), Hassan HAMDOON (archéologue, SCTH Dammam), Ariadni ILIOGLOU (dessinatrice indépendante), Jérôme JANKY (archéologue indépendant), Marie LAGUARDIA (doctorante en archéologie, Université Paris 1/UMR 7041), Fabien LESGUER (doctorant en archéologie, Université Paris 1 et CEFAS), Céline MARQUAIRE (doctorante en archéologie, Université Paris 1), Olivia MUNOZ (archéologue/ anthropologue, CNRS UMR 7041), Ibrahim AL-MUSHABBI (archéologue, SCTH Damman), Kosmas PAVLOPOULOS (géologue, Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi), Marie PEILLET (restauratrice indépendante), Azhar AL-TOOBI (archéologue, SCTH Damman)

Projet

Le site de Thâj est situé dans l’actuelle province orientale de l’Arabie saoudite, à 90 km de la côte du golfe Persique et du port d’al-Jubayl. Plus grand site préislamique connu sur la rive arabe du Golfe, il fut probablement la capitale d’une puissance régionale et l’une des plaques tournantes du grand commerce entre l’Arabie du Sud, la Mésopotamie et l’Inde entre le IIIe s. av. J.-C. et le Ier s. ap. J.-C. Il s’agit donc d’un site clé pour comprendre le peuplement, la culture, l’économie et l’histoire politique de l’Arabe orientale dans l’Antiquité.
Le site est divisé en trois zones de fouilles principales : tout d’abord la ville fortifiée (40 ha), entouré par un rempart à tours d’angles et à bastions, puis un faubourg au sud-est, et enfin une nécropole d’environ 500 tumuli, qui se sont déjà révélés très riches pour certains.
Au cours de la première campagne de fouilles (2016), les actions non invasives ont été privilégiées. Une couverture photographique aérienne et un modèle numérique ont été réalisés, qui ont fourni une image exacte du réseau viaire et des quartiers de la ville dans son dernier état. Une étude paléo-environnementale a ensuite révélé des ressources hydrauliques. L’analyse du contexte régional menée par Ahmad al-Jallad a révélé l’existence d’une soixantaine de sites archéologiques potentiels autour de Thaj, comme la forteresse de Jabal Quwaydiyat au Nord. Plusieurs inscriptions ont été découvertes ou redécouvertes, en langues hasaïtique, araméenne ou thamoudéenne.
Deux zones ont été plus précisément fouillées. Tout d’abord dans les faubourgs sud-est de la ville fortifiée, là où des vestiges architecturaux sont restés visibles en surface. Un sondage stratigraphique a été réalisé, et un autre sondage a révélé la fonction industrielle du lieu (poterie). La seconde zone fouillée correspond à la porte du mur sud, dont le plan, ainsi que celui d’une tour défensive, a pu être réalisé.

Activités prévues, programmation 2016-2020

Un programme quadriennal prévoyant quatre saisons de fouille et de prospection (2016-2019) et une campagne d’étude (2020) a été signé à Riyad en avril 2016 avec la SCTH.

Terrain

Les campagnes de fouilles sont annuelles ou biannuelles.
Une première campagne de fouille s’est déroulée fin 2016, une seconde fin 2017.

Rencontres et valorisation

Les résultats de la première campagne ont été présentés lors de plusieurs séminaires et colloques, en France et à l’étranger, notamment lors du Seminar for Arabian Studies au British Museum (Londres, 3-5 août 2017) et du premier KSA Antiquities Forum (Riyad, 7-9 Novembre 2017).

Conférences grand public et manifestations scientifiques

- Société française d’archéologie classique (SFAC), à Paris, le 10 février 2018 ;
- 11e International Congress for the Archaeology of the Near-East (ICAANE), à Munich, avril 2018 ;
- CEFAS Koweït ; Sorbonne Université Abu Dhabi ; etc.
- Web-reportage diffusé sur YouTube ; reportage dans le magazine saoudien Saudi Voyager (n°26, 2017, p. 29-32).

Publications prévues

Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies (n° 48, 2018).
Articles, ouvrage de synthèse.

ARCHIVES
Thaj Archaeological Project : Preliminary Report on the 1st season

Directors : M. al-Hajiri (SCTH), J. Rohmer (CNRS), A. al-Jallad (Leiden University)

The first season of the Thaj Archaeological Project took place from October 25 to November 30 2016, under the supervision of M. al-Hajiri (SCTH), J. Rohmer (CNRS) and A. al-Jallad (Leiden University). The team included 10 members from European research institutions and 8 Saudi members from SCTH. This campaign was carried out thanks to the financial and technical support of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Oosters and Juynboll Foundations (Netherlands) and Éveha International – Etudes et valorisation archéologiques.

1. Aerial photography and 3D scanning

On October 28-29, a global aerial photographic coverage and 3D scanning of the site was carried out by the company FalconViz. An area of 4km2 including the main site and the southern necropolis was captured with a flying wing, with an average resolution of 2cm per pixel. In addition to this, the most densely built up areas (i.e. the main fenced area south of the modern village and part of the south-eastern fenced area) were photographed with an hexacopter flying at a lower altitude, allowing a resolution of 1cm per pixel. This coverage produced :

  • a Digital Surface Model (DSM) giving a precise representation of the topography of the site.
  • a global orthophotography of the site, which make it possible to see, to locate precisely and to draw all the ancient walls appearing on the surface. Based on this picture, the plan of whole neighbourhoods of the ancient city can be drawn.

FalconViz team preparing the drones

2. Geoarchaeological study

In order to understand the palaeo-environement of the site, a geoarchaeological study of the Thaj area was carried out by Prof. K. Pavlopoulos (Sorbonne Abu-Dhabi) and T. Beuzen-Waller (PhD student, Paris-Sorbonne University) from Nov 12 to Nov 18 2016. It consisted in preliminary surveys, satellite imagery analysis, fieldwork mapping and three soundings in the main sabkha. The geomorphological and archaeological sites were located by GPS and integrated into a GIS. The bibliography concerning the geological and hydrogeological characteristics of the area was summarized. The results shed new light on the geomorphology of the Thaj area and on its hydrogeological/hydrological conditions (see map below). 30 soil samples have been taken in the soundings and will be exported to France for analysis. They will enrich our knowledge about the water table fluctuations and variations of the sabkha banks during late Holocene period.

Geo-archaeologist Tara Beuzen conducting a sounding in the sabkhah of Thaj

3. Geophysical survey

From October 30 to November 14, a geophysical survey of the site was carried out by Dr. Rozan al-Khatib Alkontar and Eng. Paul Calou from the Institut de Physique du Globe of Strasbourg (France). They used a machine measuring magnetic anomalies. In 12 days of work, two areas were covered :

  • the main fenced area, south of the modern village, corresponding to the southern third of the ancient city ;
  • the palmgrove north of the modern village, corresponding to the northern third of the ancient walled city.
  • The data still need post-treatment in France but the preliminary results are excellent, especially in the southern part of the city where the network of the streets appears clearly. Unfortunately, the modern metallic fence creates a magnetic perturbation which masks the city wall. In the northern part of the city, the map is less clear but the survey allows to locate the northern corner of the city wall.

Dr. Rozan al-Khatib Alkontar conducting geophysical survey

4. Regional survey

The survey team led by A. al-Jallad surveyed the sites immediately surrounding Thaj and as far away as Hazm Abu Shaddad, approximately 40km to the south and the rocky outcrops northwest of Ṣarrār. 41 sites in total were identified. The closest major sites are the three battīl’s, al-janūbī, al-awsaṭ, and al-šamālī. Battīl al-awsaṭ yielded a significant amount of pottery similar to that of Thaj and burials at its base. Cairns, other stone structures, and burial mounds are abundant in these areas. Hazm Abu Ṣarrār is the next major site to the south. It lacked any pottery but was abundant in ringed cairns and other types of burials. See Inscriptions and Rock Art for a report on the findings from this area.

Jabal Quwaydiyat

To the north of Thaj is Jebel Quwaydiyat. It contains the ruins of fortifications on a terrace approximately midway between the base and summit. Pottery is abundant and some samples were brought back for study. It is unclear if Quwaydiyat is connected to the settlement of Thaj. Further north near Ṣarrār is a group of rocky outcrops. Two of these had fortifications similar to Quwaydiyat and significant pottery scatters at their base. This pottery is distinct from the kind found at Thaj and seems to date to a later period, perhaps Abbasid. Rock art is not abundant in this area, but one Thamudic inscription was found.

5. Inscriptions and rock art

One new Hasaitic gravestone was discovered in the repository of the dig house and two fragments. The Hasaitic-Aramaic inscription published in Al-Wohaibi 1980 had been covered by mud and water. The team excavated it and carried out an extensive study of the rock, producing the most accurate drawings and photographs to date. 40km south of Thaj, two three Thamudic graffiti were discovered among a great amount of wusum and modern Arabic inscriptions. These panels also contained a few examples of rock art, most of which appears to be modern. A carving of a warrior with a curved sword and perhaps a spear or bow is likely pre-modern. These were all meticulously recorded. In a cave 40km north of the site, near the fortified mountains mentioned in the region survey, a single Thamudic inscription was discovered. In a cave 40km north of the site, near the fortified mountains mentioned in the region survey, a single Thamudic inscription was discovered.

Hasaitic gravestone

6. Excavations

Based on the preliminary analysis of the aerial photographs and of the geophysical map, two excavation areas were opened.

Area 1 was opened in the south-eastern fenced area, where massive architectural remains appeared on the surface. The excavations were supervised by Dr. Damien Gazagne (Eveha company), with the participation of Azhar al-Toubi (SCTH), Hassan Hamdoon (SCTH) and Chiara Della Puppa (Leiden University), from Oct 31 to Nov 24. The first two weeks were devoted to wide horizontal exposure. An area of 600 sq. m, corresponding to the half of an ancient city block, was uncovered. Then, two deep soundings were opened. The first sounding, in the north, revealed a stratigraphy of 1.80 meters, with a succession of occupations and two major architectural phases. The second sounding, carried out by Azhar al-Toubi and H. Hamdoon from Nov 15 to Nov 24, revealed a potter’s kiln. The area therefore seems to be an ancient industrial area.

View of the southern part of area 1

The potter’s kiln in area 1

Area 2 corresponds to a gate in the southern city wall, which was identified on the aerial photography. It is located ca. 170 m from the SE corner. It was excavated under the supervision of J. Rohmer, with the participation of Hassan Hamdoon and Chiara Della Puppa. Wide horizontal excavations allowed to expose the plan of the gate and of an impressive defensive tower protruding 15m outside of the city wall. A 7x2m sounding was opened along the tower to check the existence of an outer gate – which was not found.

General view of area 2

7. Pottery study

The pottery from the excavations was studied by Dr. Caroline Durand (CNRS). She identified several types of local pottery and different imports (Mesopotamian glazed ware, bitumen-coated amphorae, Indian red-slipped pottery). The pottery was drawn and photographed by Laetitia Munduteguy (independent draughtsperson).

M. al-Hajiri and C. Durand examining pottery in the dig house