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Zooarchaeological research at Rubayqa and Ruwaydah, northern Qatar

March 2013 saw me return to Al-Shamal, northern Qatar for a second season, continuing work on faunal remains recovered during excavation of two Islamic Period sites; Rubayqa and Ruwaydah. Directed by Dr. Andrew Petersen, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, excavations at Rubayqa and Ruwaydah have yielded substantial animal remains including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, marine molluscs, and crustaceans.

Rubayqa is a Late Islamic period settlement site located on the west side of the Ras Ushayriq peninsula in northern Qatar. Rescue excavations were carried out at this site prior to its expected destruction through the construction of the Bahrain-Qatar Friendship Causeway. The faunal assemblage contained a diverse range of mammalian fauna, including camel, horse, donkey, cattle, gazelle, sheep, goat, dog, cat, lagomorphs and rat. The bird assemblage was much less diverse, with the majority of remains representing cormorant (both great and Socotra appear to be present). The fish remains included taxa from fifteen families, including both cartilaginous and bony fish. The final report on the faunal remains from Rubayqa is currently being prepared for publication in a site monograph.

Ruwaydah is a much larger scale settlement, located on the north east coast of Qatar. Ruwaydah was occupied for a much longer period of time then Rubayqa, with evidence for occupation extending back into earlier the part of the Islamic period. (Petersen & Grey 2012). Excavations at Ruwaydah began in 2009 and are on-going. The excavation of midden deposits and a well in the 2013 season have yielded substantial faunal remains, dominated by fish remains. Although analysis of the faunal remains from Ruwaydah is not yet complete, it is already clear that it is quite different from that recovered from the excavations at Rubayqa, with comparatively fewer examples of wild animal use, and so far, an absence of horse, donkey and camel. The fish bone assemblage appears to be even more diverse than the one from Rubayqa. Remains of fishes from the families Teraponidae (Terapon sp. – various terapon species occurring in the region), Rachycentridae (Rachycentron canadum – cobia), Echeneidae (Echeneis naucrates – sharksucker), Gerreidae (Gerres sp. – silver-biddy), Pomacanthidae (Pomacantus maculosus – yellowbar angelfish) and Scombridae (including, Euthynnus affinis – little tuna/kawakawa, Thunnus sp. (most likely Thunnus tonggol – Longtail tuna, but possibly Thunnus albacores – Yellowfin tuna), and Scomberomorus sp. – narrowbarred Spanish/Indo-Pacific king mackerel) are all new additions.

A highlight of the 2013 season for me was the opportunity to go to Abu Dhabi and stay with Dr. Mark Beech to use his extensive library and impressive fish bone reference collection. Amongst other specimens, we managed to identify a caudal vertebra from a sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates), a mystery bone appearing in the Ruwaydah assemblage. Sharksuckers are certainly not targeted as a dietary resource, and potentially came to the site attached to a shark. Interestingly in some cultures shark suckers are collected and used to fish for sharks and other large fish (up to 10kg) by being tied to a line and allowed out to sea until they attach themselves to a larger fish then they are pulled back so that the larger fish can be retrieved (Hornell 1950).

Collaborators on this project: Andrew Petersen (University of Wales), Faisal Abdulla Al Naimi and Saif Alnuaimi (Qatar Museum Authority), Mark Beech (Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority), Jake Callaghan, Ifan Edwards, Paul Fingleton, Tom Jamison, Ciaran Lavelle, Jessica Tibber, Dee Williams, Lisa Yeomans, and Sheila Hamilton Dyer.

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