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An Update on Recent Archaeological Discoveries in the Arab World

posted on: Feb 23, 2022

An Update on Recent Archaeological Discoveries in the Arab World
The pyramids in Egypt. Photo: Wikipedia

By: Claire Boyle / Arab America Contributing Writer

Introduction:

The Arab World is a region that traces its origins to hundreds if not, thousands of years ago. The ancient history that is present in the Arab World makes it a fascinating area to study, and one where the field of archaeology is also used to unearth items from long-lost civilizations. In recent months, there have been some very exciting archaeological discoveries made in the Arab World, and this article will highlight three that were found in the countries of Oman, Iraq, and Egypt.

4,000-Year-Old Boardgame Discovered in Oman:

An Update on Recent Archaeological Discoveries in the Arab World
A 4,000-year-old board game was recently discovered in Oman. Photo: Ars Technica

In Oman, archaeologists recently discovered what they believe to be a 4,000-year-old board game. The board game “features grid-like markings and holes for cups.” Additionally, they found the remains of “several large stone towers dating back to the Bronze Age.” The archaeological project is one where researchers are studying “Iron and Bronze Age settlements in the Qumayrah Valley.” The archaeological expedition is being coordinated between the Ministry of Tourism and Heritage in Oman and the Polish Center of Mediterranean Archaeology. The interesting thing about this discovery is that the board game is “possibly considered to be a precursor of the ancient Middle Eastern game, the Royal Game of Ur (or the Game of Twenty Squares), which in turn, is also thought of as the precursor to backgammon.

So, what does this discovery mean for understanding ancient Omani culture and society? The discovery of this board game gives researchers an idea of how ancient Omani people might have spent their free time, what they valued culturally, was it, strategy, mathematics, counting, or other things? However, most of all, the board game will give archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians thoughts of how ancient Omani people also interacted in a social context.

Early Camel Hybrids Found on Temple Artwork in Iraq:

An Update on Recent Archaeological Discoveries in the Arab World
Camel hybrids were found on ancient Iraqi temple artwork. Photo: Antiquity/HeritageDaily

In Iraq, archaeologists have found “evidence of early hybrids of dromedary and Bactrian camels on an ancient temple’s artwork.” During a recent restoration of a temple that was damaged by ISIS attacks in Iraq, an archaeological team found what they believe to be “the fur and face of ‘Bactrian’ camels that are more similar to hybrid Bactrian and dromedary camels.” The temple under restoration is the Temple of Allat, in the city of Hatra, nearby Mosul. The researchers mentioned how this city was once the “capital of the impressive ancient Kingdom of Hatra.” The team mentioned how this archaeological artifact dates to pre-Islamic Arab deities.

What does this discovery mean for art history, archaeology, and especially in the field of ancient history? According to the researchers, this discovery tells us the “political and power circumstances of the royal family, by appealing to Arab groups through prized deities how an important separation from the Parthian Empire, an Iranian dynasty, occurred.” Finally, it shows what work roles were significant in this kingdom.

This camel frieze also tells us what animal was the most highly respected for accomplishing tasks in the kingdom especially since they memorialized it forever in stone on the temple. Finally, this discovery also shows how religion, society, culture, art, and the state were all tied together.

Ancient Ostraca Discovered in Egypt:

An Update on Recent Archaeological Discoveries in the Arab World
An example of what ostraca look like. Photo: Wikipedia

In December 2021, ancient Egyptian ‘Ostraca’ were discovered near the “western bank of the Nile River.” In fact, the archaeological team said there were “more than 13,000 fragments of ostraca or fragments of pottery which have text on them.” These fragments were written in numerous languages including “Demotic, hieratic, Coptic, Greek, and even Arabic!” It is thought that the ostraca date “to the Roman and Byzantine eras, and they describe financial transactions.”

The languages written on these fragments continually prove just how ancient these artifacts are. This is because Demotic came before the development of Coptic as a language, and hieratic was a script that showed up as early as 2925 BCE!

Why are these ostraca so important, and what do they help us understand? Well, first of all, they assist researchers who might be studying the ancient economy of Egypt, what items were bought and sold, what things citizens spent their money on which also gives us an idea of the culture and society of ancient Nile civilizations. The ostraca provide more practice in understanding these ancient languages. Finally, the ostraca with its diversity of languages may also initiate understanding in trading and economic practices, gives evidence to ancient-world-globalization due to the conglomerate of languages present on the fragments, and they sort of provide a log of items that were popular in central Egypt.

Conclusion:

An Update on Recent Archaeological Discoveries in the Arab World
Ancient papyrus prints depicting Egyptian pharaohs. Photo: Egypt Today

The recent archaeological discoveries of a board game in Oman, camel hybrid temple artwork in Iraq, and the ostraca in Egypt give us exhilarating glimpses into the past, but they also provide cultural and societal understanding such as what activities mattered to ancient peoples, what items did they purchase, how did they enjoy themselves, and also how did they memorialize their religious celebrations. All these understandings give us a better idea of what life was like in ancient times which since it was such a long time ago, we yearn to know about them more. Finally, it is just exciting to know when these things happen, and plus we continue to learn about the ancient and beautiful artifacts that come from the Arab World!

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