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

Author:Yule, Paul A.
Position:Book review
 
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In the Desert Margins: The Settlement Process in Ancient South and East Arabia. By MICHEL MOUTON and JEREMIE SCHIETTECATTE. Arabia Antica, vol. 9. Pp. 334, illus. Rome: BRETSCHNEIDER, 2014. [euro]250.

No book yet has attempted to summarize the late pre-Islamic archaeology of all of Arabia. The survey by Dan Potts, The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity (1992), deals with the Gulf states from prehistory to the coming of Islam. The reviewer's Die Graberfelder in Samad al Shan (2001) focusses on the Samad Late Iron Age (LIA, 150 BCE-300 CE), centered in the Sharqiyah province of the Sultanate. Both are in need of updating; therefore the reviewer's monograph, Cross-Roads: Early and Late Iron Age South-Eastern Arabia (2014), updates several points. In recent years both Schiettecatte and Mouton have made significant written contributions to the archaeology of Arabia. Their new book is written for archaeologists interested in a broader view of late pre-Islamic Arabia settlement archaeology than that from specialist works. This production is nicely printed, attractive with many excellent black-and-white illustrations, on very good paper, and with a stiff price, typical of the publisher.

Two halves, Eastern and Southern Arabia, make up the book. The first focusses geographically on the middle Gulf western littoral to central Oman, and in addition includes a chapter on the settlement archaeology of this region. The second part deals with the settlement of southern Arabia, its urbanization, urbanism and urban functions, social structure, and concludes with a discussion of the settlement process in this region. Considering the large format, the second half of the book at best downplays the importance of the Himyarite Period (notwithstanding pp. 138, 157, 227, 277-78), for whatever reason.

The text regarding southeastern Arabia is uneven, picking up certain topics while ignoring others. We must be grateful that Mouton discusses the Samad LIA at all, since from 2001 till now substantive discussion of this topic has been surprisingly rare (exception: Schreiber 2007) as a result of a lack of new contexts. Obviously Mouton's information is stronger where he himself has worked, i.e., in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In Oman his basis is insecure. For example, he terms the cemetery at al-Fuwaydah as belonging to "Samad Culture" (pp. 78-79 fig. 63), which the reviewer (and excavator) has never written or said and would never accept (Yule 1999: 119-86). While...

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