Hadramaut Excavations Reveal New Evidence of Indo-Roman Trade Links from Arikamedu, India.
Alessandra Avanzini(Ed) A Port in Arabia between Rome and the Indian Ocean (3rd C.BC-5C. AD): Khor Rori Report 2. Arabia Antica 5, <L’Erma> di Bretschneider: Roma, 2008. P.742+6. ISBN 978-88-8265-469-6
This report contains detailed reports of the excavations in Khor Rori (Dhofar in the Sultanate of Oman) from 2000 to the first campaign in 2004, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since, 1996. Sumhuram is a systematically excavated archaeological port in the region, and contemporaneous to that of Berenike, in Egypt, and Arikamedu, in India. Excavations and examinations in this report push the date of foundation of the secondary trade city, Sumhuram, back to 300 B. C.E., before the arrival of Romans, as opposed to the earlier notions of being established during the 1st century C.E. This changes historical understandings of the maritime trade between Indian Ocean, and Ancient South Arabia (ASA) prior to 100 C.E. As the editor has clarified it succinctly this contradicts the commonly held view that Romans opened new sea routes in the Indian Ocean region, but establishes that they exploited the areas of traffic that previously existed in the years before the Common Era. This report also establishes that Sumhuram is not a subsidiary port functioning in conjunction with Qana, to export Frankincence to the Mediterranean, but an independent port with trade links connecting to Indian Ocean trading posts. The primary relations of Sumhuram are with Arabia and India, as opposed to Qana or the Mediterranean. Several identifiable objects of Rome in fact were thought to have been brought to Sumhuram from India rather than Rome through Qana or Mediterranean trade. This supports the long held view of scholars of Indian history that direct trade link existed between Berenike (Mediterranean port) and Arikamedu (port on the East coast of India on Indian Ocean), and another direct sea link existed between India, and Ancient South Arabian ports (on the Persian Gulf), and that South Arabia did not directly trade with Rome on the sea, but India.
This book contains 20 articles not numbered in serial order, and is also divided in four sections all of which are also not numbered in serial order. Vittoria Buffa and Alexander V. Sedov’s article, “The Residential Quarter: Area A,” examines Area A thoroughly and summarizes the architectural layout and structures and also notes the changes to these, during the five noted constructional phases. Notable are water wells, not fresh water as the authors note, but may have been used as for drainage. This article also examines the cultural material such as bones, coins etc. found in Area A. A notable find is the use of six large whale vertebrae to form the ceiling of a dwelling. Bronze tools, coins, sea shell lamps also help one understand the material life of people living in Sumhuram. Every object is meticulously collected and systematically catalogued with placement maps and charts. Figures of reconstructed models of residential area help understand the exact appearance of the houses and residential areas under discussion. The authors also note that loam used in construction changes with each constructional phase, although the basic model and plan of houses does not change, significantly. This article is followed by Alexander Sedov’s article on, “Pottery,” found in Area A. All the descriptions are followed by pictures of residential area as well as the pottery (page 15-123). The descriptions and pictures present the excavated area A, as clearly as though one is visiting the site.
Next article by Alexander V. Sedov, “Excavations at the Trench A 13 (pages 125- 181),” provides detailed description of excavated layers and accumulated cultural material. Although each phase shows a defense wall, the third constructional phase shows the destruction of defense tower from earlier and a small defense tower is built. In the 5th phase the northern wall begins to collapse and a new passage is added from the north-west. The author does not offer any explanations as to what the changes in the constructions may indicate, however, it can only be guessed that smaller walls, smaller defense tower and collapsing structures may indicate, the lessening fortunes of the city Sumhuram. This article is also accompanied by excellent photographs of excavated structures and cultural material.
The next article, “The Cultural Quarter: Area F,” also written by Alexander Sedov discusses the excavated structures in Area F, with its 4 phases and accompanied cultural material. Important structural discoveries in this part of the town are workshops (bronze, pottery, shell) and a temple. The discussion of temple structures and material is complete, accompanied by excellent photographs and descriptions of minute details. The figure 10 on page 201, illustrated each object location with catalogue numbers and very helpful to understand the historical context. This article is also accompanied by analysis and illustration of pottery from Area F. The article, “Religious Architecture in Sumhuram: The Extra Muros Temple,” by Alexia Pavan, Alexander V. Sedov includes complete description of the temple, located on the east bank of Wadi Darbat, accompanied by clear photographs of the temple. The temple does not conform to the standard typology of the temples in this area, it differs in several aspects from typical Hadrami temples and the author categorizes it in the typology of “Hypostyle Temples,” the buildings with the roof supported by columns. The majority of Hadrami temples are categorized under this type although particular differences can be noted, as mentioned by the authors. Reasons for its abandonment are not clear, although the authors hold the view that frequent floods were the cause. Unless the cultural life of the residents has changed it is difficult understand the abandonment of the temple. Floods may have prompted relocation rather than abandonment. Existence of two temples in the same city, one extra muros, and one within the city walls is also puzzling and needs to be further examined.
Another article by Alexander V. Sedov, “The Coins from Sumhuram: The 2001A-2004A Seasons,” discusses the details of 244 coins found in the excavations, accompanied by excellent photographs and tables of exact stratigraphic locations of each coin. This is a thorough and excellent report on the coins. Early coins (4-2 C.B.C.E), 36 of them, show Hadramawt imitation of Athenian tetradrachms (head/owl series). The coinage of Yashhuril Yuharish, son of Abiyas, Mukarrib of Haramawt is most commonly found. The coins were not struck, but cast in a mould and show head with legend on the obverse, and the reverse with eagle. Some of the coins types excavated here in Sumhuram (Khor Rori) are also found in Shabwa, and eastern Arabia. The author proposes that these coins may have been minted in a local mint most probably located at Qana. Eastern Arabian coins were also excavated here which led the author to conclude the trade contacts may have existed between eastern and southern Arabia in pre-Islamic Arabia. Alessandra Lombardi, Vittoria Buffa, Alexia Pavan, in the articles, “Small finds,” describe, catalogue and discuss each object that cannot be categorized with other cultural objects of the excavation. The finds include, incense burners of various sizes and shapes, weights, beads, pendants, rings and other ornaments, vessels, bowls, tools, cosmetic objects, glass pieces, accompanied by excellent photographs and catalogue descriptions.
The next article, “Terrestrial Fauna and Marine Produce in Sumhuram,” by Cabriele Carenti, Barabara Wilkens identifies several types of animal species in Sumhuram. Notable are bovine bones (Bos Taurus). Of all the faunal remains 35% are collected from temple and 38% from dwellings. Pig is normally kept in the area of Dhofar, but bones are found in Sumhuram, which can be explained only through link between these regions. On the whole marine animal remains predominate and indicate a sea food diet of this city. Marta Mariotti Lippi, Roberto Becattini, Tiziana Gonnelli, analyze the floral remains in the article, “Archaeopalynology at Sumhuram,” This study shows that Sumhuram has significantly more greenery and steady water supply with earth cover, which may have deteriorated due to the dry spell after 3rd Century C.E. This study is thorough with pollen analysis and diagrammatical representation of data. Mauro Cremaschi, Alesandro Pegego, “Patterns of Land Use and Settlements in the Surroundings of Sumhuram: An intensive geo-archaeological survey at Khor Rori: report of field season February, 2006,” brings together the archaeological, faunal and floral data together to understand the settlement patterns of Khor Rori (Sumhuram) between 2 c B.C.E-3 c C.E. Megalithic dolmens, historical phase cairns and medieval era stone circles were commonly noticed in this area. Although palaeolithic and Neolithic occupations are absent, this area is continuously occupied from protohistoric times onwards. This article is accompanied by detailed topographic chart of all structures of Sumhuram.
Alessandra Avanzini’s article, “Notes for a History of Sumhuram and a New Inscription of Yashuril,” is the last of the articles summarizing the archaeology of occupational levels before the Islamic occupation. One wishes this was the first article of the book for the excellent work it achieves in drawing together research from various archaeological data to propose ground breaking conclusions of the proto historic and early historic Sumhuram up to 5th century C.E. As the author has summarized in this article, study of Sumhuram offers new insights into understanding the trade relations between Ancient South Arabia (ASA) with India on the Indian Ocean. This study is remarkable since it establishes with considerable evidence that the city of Sumhuram is a port of trade connected to Indian Ocean, although attesting to be part of Hadramawt kingdom, it functioned quite independently. It was not a subsidiary port to Qana for exporting Frankinsence. It directly traded with the port of Arikamedu, any Roman objects found here were actually exported from India, and its shipping is also modeled after Indian ships as is evidenced by the graffiti of a double - masted ship, a characteristic Indian Ocean ship, noted on the coinage of Satavahanas, rulers of South India, when the port of Arikamedu flourished (p. 615-616). Therefore the links of Arikamedu and Indian Ocean predominate in ASA, and proves the predominant trade between these regions before 5th century C.E. Other articles following this examine Medieval Islamic occupation and role of Khor Rori, and scientific investigations of the area, and its neighborhood, Dhofar.
Although the text uses the Common Era for dating, it is surprising that the title still keeps the older notation of dating as BC and AD. This book is essential for researchers and students of Indian Ocean region as well as Rome and the Mediterranean, and significant for the Persian Gulf scholars as well. The greatest contribution of this book is the wealth of information presented in detail, recorded with minute details and pictures, which brings into light new sea faring routes of Indian Ocean and Mediterranean through the Persian Gulf.
Shawnee State University