Largest Ever Treasure Trove of Iron Age Weapons Retrieved in Oman
Reports of archaeological finds from Oman, a middle-eastern country on the Arabian Peninsula, are rarely in the news. But this week, archaeologists in Oman have reported the unearthing of the largest haul of Iron Age weapons in the country’s history. The many precious artifacts have been discovered at Al Madhmar area of Adam province.
Largest Treasure Trove in Region’s History
More than 3,000 arrowheads – as well as bronze snake models and other artifacts – in what is considered by experts as the largest treasure trove in Arabian Peninsula’s history, have been unearthed from Mudhmar site in Adam, Oman. The current excavation is part of the exploration that launched back in 2007 by French archaeological mission in coordination with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture (MHC). Speaking to Muscat Daily, a unnamed senior ministry official stated, “This is the largest collection of weapons from any historical site in Oman. The bronze snakes hint at the ritual or social practices at the time.”
The magnificent haul of bronze weapons from Iron Age II (900-600 BC) excavated from the site, sheds new light on weaponry during the Iron Age in the eastern Arabian Peninsula and about social practices at the time.
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Bronze snake models hint at the social practices of the time. (Image: Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture)
Weapons Used in the Iron Age
Arising in central Asia during the second millennium BC, the Iron Age saw culture after culture make the leap from bronze to iron-based technologies. Between 1200 and 550 BC, the Iron Age overtook Near Eastern cultures. From there, it moved to Europe, coming to an end sometime around 43 AD, the year Rome invaded Britain. A number of important advancements came about as a result of the Iron Age, but among the most significant was weaponry.
The use of chariots was widespread at the height of the Near East Iron Age. The Hittites and Canaanites employed them, as did the Greeks and Egyptians. The chariot's primary purpose was transport on the battlefield. It was only during the later classical era that chariots were modified for racing. In battle, a heavily armored warrior could not be expected to move very quickly or mount and ride on horseback. The development of the two-horse chariot solved this problem. Now a driver could rapidly convey him to the battlefield and then retrieve him afterwards.
Hittite Archer and Chariot - Late Hittite sculpture on orthostat. The Hittites were renowned charioteers. They developed a new chariot design, which had lighter wheels, with less spokes. The Battle of Kadesh in 1299 BC is likely to have been the largest chariot battle ever fought, involving some five thousand chariots. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
If Iron Age warriors had difficulty moving about the battlefield, it is easy to see why. In the Near East, they wore armor made from bronze, iron, or a combination of both. Fashioned like a tunic, the armor might hang as low as the knees and extend all the way to the wrists. Their shields were cumbersome, too. In fact, they had to be carried into battle by a special corps of shield bearers.
Swords of the late Bronze Age tended to be sickle-shaped. But as iron was introduced, the curve of the blade became less pronounced. These swords were more like large daggers and were usually hung in sheaths across the chest or back. They did not hang from the belt the way later swords would.
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Mudhmar East’s Excavation
Mudhmar East consists of two buildings and many other additional facilities. It is positioned at the foot of Jebel Mudhmar, near one of the widest valleys in Oman. With a length of 15m (49 ft), the larger of the two buildings is located on the slope of Jebel Mudhmar and is constructed of cut sandstone blocks and earthen bricks. Inside this building, archaeologists noticed a small ritual complex, where the precious haul of bronze weapons was hosted for centuries. “Dating from Iron Age II (900-600 BC), these objects appear to have fallen off furniture or shelves. Alternatively, they may have hung on the walls of the room,” the French archaeological mission mentioned in a statement according to Muscat Daily.
3D model of the main building at Mudhmar East, Oman (the room where many weapons were found is in the middle of the building on the left). (Image Credit: © Raphael Hautefort / Mission archéologique française en Oman central )
During the 2016 excavation, the French mission discovered two exceptional collections of objects. The first one consisted of two small quivers entirely made of bronze, including the six arrows contained in each of them. “Given their size (35cm), these were small-scale models imitating the original objects made of perishable materials (leather), which are not usually found in archaeological excavations. The fact that they are made of metal implies that they were non-functional. Quivers of these kind have never been found in the Arabian Peninsula, and are extremely rare elsewhere,” the leading archaeologist noted in a paper.
Left: Two quivers made of copper/bronze found at Mudhmar East. Right: Non-utilitarian bow, entirely made of copper/bronze. (Image Credit: © Guillaume Gernez / Mission archéologique française en Oman central ).
The second group consisted of metal weapons, which were mostly non-utilitarian, given their somewhat reduced size, material and unfinished state. In total, archaeologists unearthed five battle axes, five daggers with crescent-shaped pommels (characteristic of Iron Age II), nearly fifty arrowheads and five complete bows. The size of the bows and the material used indicates that they were copies of bows created of perishable materials as wood and tendons.
“Objects of these type have never been found before: Bows made of metal were totally unknown in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East until now,” the French archaeological mission mentioned in the study according to Muscat Daily, pinpointing the immense archaeological and cultural value of the find for the region’s history.
In the excavations that have followed, thousands more arrowheads and countless other objects have been unearthed. The search for more treasures from this unique site continues.
Top image: Around 3000 arrowheads were found amongst the hoard. (Image: Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture)