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In the Desert Margins the Settlement Process in an Ancient South and East Arabia.

In the Desert Margins the Settlement Process in an Ancient South and East Arabia.

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Ancient Arabia has promptly been pictured as a vast empty desert. Yet, for the last 40 years, by digging
out of the sand buried cities, archaeological researches deeply renewed this image. From the second half of
the 1st millennium BC to the eve of Islam in East Arabia, and as early as the 8th century BC in South Arabia,
the settlement process evolved into urban societies. This study aims at reviewing this process in South and
East Arabia, highlighting the environmental constraints, the geographical disparities and the responses of
the human communities to ensure their subsistence and to provide for their needs.
Evolution was endogenous, far from the main corridors of migrations and invasions. Influences from
the periphery did not cause any prominent change in the remarkably stable communities of inner Arabia in
antiquity. The settlement process and the way of life was primarily dictated by access to water sources and
to the elaboration of ever-spreading irrigation systems.
Beyond common traits, two models characterise the ancient settlement pattern on the arid margins of
eastern and southern Arabia. In South Arabia, the settlement model for the lowland valleys and highland
plateaus results from a long-term evolution of communities whose territorial roots go back to the Bronze
Age. It grew out of major communal works to harness water. Into a territory of irrigated farmland, the south-
Arabian town appeared as a central place. Settlements constituted networks spread across the valleys and
the plateaus. Each network was dominated by a main town, the centre of a sedentary tribe, the capital of a
In East Arabia, the settlement pattern followed a different model which emerged in the last centuries BC
along the routes crossing the empty spaces of the steppe, in a nomadic environment. Each community spread
over no more than one, two or three settlements. These settlements never grew very large and the region was
not urbanised to the same degree as in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula. Permanent settlements were
places for exchanges and meetings, for craft productions, for worship, where the political elites resided,
where the wealth from long-distance trading was gathered, and where surplus from the regional economy
was held. Each town was isolated, like an island in an empty space.

Dr Hdr Michel Mouton
Archaeologist at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNR S), Michel
Mouton has been director of the French archaeological expedition in Sharjah
from 1991 to 1997 (excavations at Mleiha and al-Madam); director of the French
archaeological expedition in the Jawf-Hadramawt from 1995 to 2006 (excavations
at Qan, Makaynn, and surveys of the Yemen territory) and head of the
project Early Petra from the National Agency for Research (2008-2012).
From 2000 to 2002, he has been general secretary of the French Institute in the
Near-East (IFPO, Damascus / Beirut / Amman), and deputy director in 2003. At
the present time, he is director of the French Research Centre for Archaeology
and Social Sciences in the Arabian Peninsula (CEFAS, Jeddah / Sanaa).

Dr Jérémie Schiettecatte
Archaeologist and researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research
(CNR S), in Paris, Jérémie Schiettecatte holds a PhD in Near-Eastern archaeology
from the Sorbonne University. He focuses on the study of the settlement process
in arid lands. His current interests lay in the analysis of the evolution of settlement
patterns in the Arabian Peninsula from the Bronze Age to the Islamic period.
Since 2000, he has been working in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and
Saudi Arabia. After having directed the archaeological mission in Hasi, Yemen
(2008-2011), he is heading since 2011, together with A. al-Ghazzi, the French
Saudi Archaeological Project in al-Kharj (Riyadh Province, Saudi Arabia).

Table of content
Part I- East Arabia
1. Northeast Arabia
The island of Failaka
The island of Ba?rayn
?Ayn Jwn
Salt Mine Site
Al-Huff oasis
2. Southeast Arabia
The Iron Age underground water channels
Mleiha: a process of sedentarisation in the Oman Peninsula
The Oman Peninsula in the early centuries AD
Jazrat al-Ghanam
Al-?Ayn oasis
Central Oman
The ?amad valley
Other sites in the mountains and western foothills
Sites on the eastern slope and coastal region

Transition and cultural relationships
From the Iron Age to the Late Pre-Islamic period
Ancient Oman in Arab tradition
The funerary architecture at Mleiha: an Arabian tradition
3. The settlement of East Arabia
A settlement model for Arabia deserta
Some thoughts on the settlement of central Oman
Part II- South Arabia: from the arid margins to the highlands
1. Settlement of South Arabia: the need to control water
Sketch of a hydraulic history of the lowlands
The origins of irrigation: small-scale systems in response to a changing environment
The extension of irrigation systems into the main valleys
Environmental and social implications of agricultural expansion
Appropriation of land and formation of the South Arabian kingdoms
Politics of expansion and commercial development
The decline of the lowland irrigated lands
A case study: the Markha valley, territory of the kingdom of Awsn
Sketch of a hydraulic history of the highlands
The earliest agricultural terraces
First millennium BC: development of terraces, emergence of the elites and appropriation of land
Dams of the ?imyarite period: the spread of a centralised authority
2. The urbanisation of South Arabia
The first urban form: spontaneous towns
The slow process of urbanisation, a fruit of the agricultural conquest
South Arabian towns: the logic of settlement and growth
The urbanisation of South Arabia: an endogenous process
Case study of a spontaneous town: Makaynn and the construction of a communal space in the ?a?ramawt
The second urbanisation: new towns
Do defensive systems made of adjoining houses reflect urban foundations?
Sabaean foundations
Commercial foundations
Urban foundations in the inscriptions
New towns: a synthesis
Case study: Qni?, a port foundation
An atypical urban development: Sanaa
3. Urbanism and urban functions in South Arabia
Morphology of South Arabian towns
The towns surroundings: cultivated land and necropolises
Approaching the town
Inside the town
The South Arabian town, an administrative and political centre
The seat of a ruling elite
The town, seat of the central authority
The place of political activity in the town and the creation of an urban framework
table of content

The South Arabian town as a defensive and military centre
Defensive centres at the local level
Between defence and ostentation
The South Arabian town as a religious centre
Religion in the town
An absence of properly urban religious practices but urban centres with religious functions
The South Arabian town as an economic and commercial centre
Craft corporations and craft centres
Proximity to natural resources and establishment of economic centres
Caravan towns and sea ports: international trading posts
The place of economic activity in the urban framework
4. The social structure and identity of South Arabian populations
South Arabia: a segmentary society
The Minaean tribe
The Qatabnian tribe
The Sabaean tribe
Evolution of South Arabian social structure and power
South Arabian populations: between tribal and urban-based identity
Between the 8th and the 2nd century BC, an identity founded on kinship
At the turn of the 1st century BC/AD: appearance of a territory-based identity and perception of the town as such
A hypothesis for the evolution of identity markers through time
The urban population of South Arabia, between tribalism and urban feeling 252

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