Social aspects of production and processing in Bronze Age Oman

In western, central and southern Asia the 3rd millennium BCE should be understood as a period of accelerated social transformations, rooted in processes which started back in the 4th millennium, in what is known as the Uruk period. In the course of one millennium, economic productivity, social stratification and societal inequality grew on a hitherto unknown scale.

Several scholars have argued in favour of a quasi-capitalistic inter-regional economy. Its traces can be found in the emergence of craft specialization, visible at several urban centres. At the other end lie the immense surpluses, visible in the palaces of Mari (now Syria) and Gonur Depe (now Turkmenistan), the royal tombs of Ur (now Iraq) and hoards from Susa (now Iran) and Moenjo-daro (now Pakistan). Manifold indications hint at the long distances which ideas and objects travelled, most probably building symbolic bridges between the upper strata of the interacting societies. The archaeological evidence is also mirrored in textual evidence ranging from the private letters of merchants to accounts of military campaigns and legends such as Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta.
One question that arises is whether and in what way these networks of communication, exchange and commerce influenced the lives of individuals at the outskirts of the centres of power. Could they have fostered exploitative relationships in the Bronze Age societies of Oman?
The case study is provided by the 3rd-millennium sites of al-Maysar, situated some 100 km south of the Omani capital of Masqat, which were surveyed and excavated between 1979 and 1996 by Gerd Weisgerber and his team from the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum. The features dating back to the second half of the 3rd millennium BCE comprise workshops and open-space working areas as well as quarries, gabarbands (dams), traces of horticulture and agriculture, graves, and also domestic architecture. They show close similarities to contemporaneous structures from sites all over Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The connection to the inter-regional exchange networks is attested by objects such as plano-convex copper ingots, and chlorite vessels of the série récente, but decoration techniques on pottery excavated at the settlements also show close similarities to finds from sites located far beyond the Arabian Sea in Mohenjo-daro and Shortugai in modern Afghanistan.
Signs incised into local pottery, interpreted as “house-marks” by Weisgerber, as well as seals, indicate the existence of private property and thus make local inequality between individuals very probable. The areas identified as sites of local production need to be analysed, along with the objects, in terms of their spatial relations. The modes of production, reuse, recycling and waste disposal also need to be examined.
The documentation of the excavations and a considerable number of finds have been stored in the archives of the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum for the last few decades, but have remained unpublished so far, due to Weisgerber’s untimely death. This defines another goal of the thesis: the finalization of an excavation which was started 30 years ago.

Relevant project

Studies on copper production in the Sultanate of Oman

Responsible body

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum




Ruhr-Universität Bochum


2012 - 2015