The Bat Archaeological Project (BAP) of the Penn Museum
Bat in the Sultanate of Oman
Fellow Chris Thornton is the Co-Director of the Penn Museum excavations at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bat in the Sultanate of Oman—one of the most important and enigmatic sites in the region.
Chris Thornton on site
The archaeological remains of Bat encompass the most complete and best-known settlement and necropolis of the 3rd millennium B.C.E. in the Omani peninsula. The site includes seven monumental structures, termed "towers" by the excavators, surrounded by habitation areas and a large and well-preserved Bronze Age cemetery with hundreds of dry-stone cairn tombs. The Bat "towers" are representative of Bronze Age structures in the Oman peninsula. In a similar vein, the necropolis of Bat is indicative of the evolution of funeral practices during the Bronze Age in the region.
The site of Bat is located in northern Oman on the southern side of the Hajar Mountains near the city of Ibri. Bat was a major Bronze Age center from 3000 to 2000 B.C.E. and was part of the ancient political designation "Magan." Magan is identified in the cuneiform records of Mesopotamia as a source of copper and other raw materials such as diorite; it is thought by many scholars to lie in the modern Omani peninsula. Unlike the ancient Mesopotamians, the ancient inhabitants of Oman did not use writing or glyptic arts to record their history or organize their societies, so their identity remains speculative and little is known about their way of life.
Bat cairn tombs
The Bat Archaeological Project (BAP) of the Penn Museum was initiated in 2007 under the direction of late Senior Fellow, Professor Gregory L. Possehl. The project focused on the 3rd millennium B.C.E. remains, exploring also the rise and decline of the Bronze Age in this region, encompassing the period from ca. 3200 to 1800 B.C.E. The work combined GIS-assisted surveying for Bronze Age sites with stratigraphic excavations of the Bronze Age settlement areas at Bat. The excavation and survey conducted by the BAP worked toward a greater understanding of the settlement dynamics of the interior of Oman.
Excavation of Bat "tower"
From 2007 to 2012 the focus was on monumental architecture, the mysterious Bronze Age circular "towers" in the Omani landscape. The Bat Archaeological Project carried out the first comprehensive survey of these structures across Oman. In addition, extensive excavations were conducted on three of the seven "towers" at Bat.
In 2013, Fellow Chris Thornton began another five years of excavation at the site, moving the work in new directions. The project shifted its focus from monumental architecture to the domestic archaeology of central Oman. The site of Bat is unusual in eastern Arabia for its relatively deep stratigraphic sequence (measuring one to three meters), with earlier houses covered by later houses. Bat, therefore, has the potential to provide the first radiocarbon-dated stratigraphic sequence of the 3rd millennium B.C.E. on the Omani peninsula, and the first glimpse of settlement evolution in the Bronze Age of this area. In 2013, excavations of Bronze Age houses were conducted at Bat, focusing on a critical transitional period in the late 3rd millennium B.C.E. Evidence of domestic life was uncovered, including a bronze sickle, a ceramic pot reused as a scraping tool, and the remnants of what looks like a garden outside one of the houses.
Domestic structures at Bat
Bat settlement slope overhead
At the same time, a new initiative—the Bat Oasis Heritage Project—was launched with the University of Leicester to study the late 2nd millennium C.E. mudbrick village in Bat. This project works with the local community to understand how the abandoned village spaces were once used. The team hopes to combine the results of the ethno-historic project with the archaeological data to look at similarities in the use of space and the construction of villages in the Bat oasis.
Ancient and modern domestic structures at Bat
In addition, the Penn Museum team has begun an extensive survey of the region around Bat in order to map archaeological sites and areas where cultural heritage is encroached upon by modern life. As the archaeological investigation at Bat expands, encompassing new directions, the site remains a crucial indicator of the way of life during the 3rd millennium B.C.E. in the Omani peninsula.
Bat outreach program
(All images courtesy of Chris Thornton.)
Read more about Christopher Thornton.