The provenance of early Iron Age ferrous remains from southeastern Arabia

Ivan S. Stepanov*, Lloyd Weeks, Kristina A. Franke, Bruno Overlaet, Olivier Alard, Charlotte M. Cable, Yaaqoub Yousif Al Aali, Mansour Boraik, Hassan Zein, Peter Grave

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Recent excavations at Saruq al-Hadid, Dubai, have recovered more than 200 kg of ferrous remains from early Iron Age contexts dated to c. 1250-800 BCE, transforming our understanding of the scale of early iron use in southeastern Arabia. Many of these ferrous artefacts show typological parallels with contemporary objects from Luristan in western Iran, and the possibility of their long-distance import from this well-known iron producing and using region has long been recognized. The present study uses material from Saruq al-Hadid and the contemporary site of Muweilah to explore the provenance of the earliest iron from southeastern Arabia, by (i) summarizing the evidence for the iron resources and technology in the region and adjacent areas; and (ii) compositionally analysing iron ores, iron slags and slag inclusions in artefacts from Saruq al-Hadid and Muweilah, alongside Iron Age ferrous artefacts from Iran, using OM, SEM-EDS, XRF, ICP-MS and LA-ICP-MS. Multivariate statistical analyses are used to explore these geochemical data, alongside a large dataset of ores and artefacts derived from existing geochemical and archaeological publications. The study identifies slag samples from Muweilah as originating from iron smithing activities, providing the first evidence for iron working of any kind in southeastern Arabia. Differences in the geochemical compositions of the material from Saruq al-Hadid and Muweilah and iron ores from the U.A.E. and Oman – particularly the distribution of rare earth elements – suggest that Iron Age ferrous artefacts from southeastern Arabia were not smelted from locally-available iron ores. Rather, the study demonstrates geochemical similarities between southeastern Arabian iron objects, contemporary objects from Luristan, and ores of the Sanandaj-Sirjan metallogenic belt of Iran, suggesting that iron may have been imported, at least partially as complete objects, from this region. Multiple source deposits are indicated, however, and the possible contribution of iron from other regions of ancient Western Asia and neighbouring regions remains to be further explored. The research provides critical new information regarding the long-distance exchange contacts of southeastern Arabia society during the floruit of the early Iron Age, in the late second and early first millennia BCE.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number105192
    Pages (from-to)1-21
    Number of pages21
    JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
    Volume120
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

    Keywords

    • Corroded iron
    • Iron provenance
    • Slag inclusions
    • Southeastern Arabia
    • Luristan
    • Iron Age
    • LA-ICP-MS

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