Tiny, 3,300-Year-Old Metal Weapons, Possible War God Offerings, Discovered in Arabia
A cache of small, ornamental daggers, battle axes, bows and arrows, possibly offerings to a war god, has been excavated in a 3,000-year-old building in what researchers think was a religious complex on the Arabian Peninsula in the present-day sultanate of Oman.
The weapons, which are made of metal and are too small for use as weapons, date from 900 to 600 BC, says a press release from the French Centre National de Recherche Scientifique.
A comprehensive and interesting blog called Wathanism in an article titled Arabian Paganism has a few references to war gods of the region. That said, the researchers say the society they are studying was a pre-literate one, so we may never know which god, if any, was being propitiated.
3D model of the main building at Mudhmar East, Oman (the room where the weapons were found is in the middle of the building on the left). Credit: © Guillaume Gernez / Mission archéologique française en Oman central.
“The non-utilitarian nature of most of the weapons may indicate that they were designed to be offered to a deity of war, and/or as a key element in social practices not yet understood by the archaeologists,” the CNRS press release states. It adds that the archaeologists found small bronze snakes and fragments of incense burners among the weapons. These types of objects were associated with religious and ritual practices in that part of the world at the time.
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The people of what is now Oman made the weapons at a period of rising metal production in eastern Arabia. The development of metals went along with an increasingly complex society, the researchers said. Evidence for the increasing complexity was seen in a proliferation of forts and monuments.
The researchers said shedding light on the political system and social structure of the pre-literate society will be difficult. They said continued archaeological exploration of the site and its surroundings and central Oman in general “will be key to reconstructing the dawn of history in the Arabian Peninsula.”
The Adam region is between Oman’s oasis and desert areas. It had not been excavated or explored archaeologically until the French archaeological mission in central Oman first began exploring in 2007. The mission has been headed by Guillaume Gernez since 2011.
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The non-functional weapons were discovered in a site called Mudhmar East that consists of two main buildings and several smaller facilities. It is at the foot of Jabal Mudhmar, near a large Oman valley and at a crossroads of several trade routes.
The weapons were in a cut sandstone and earthen brick building of 15 meters (50 feet) on the slope of the mountain.
Bows, arrows, daggers and axes scattered on the ground at Mudhmar East, Oman. Credit: © Guillaume Gernez / Mission archéologique française en Oman central.
In a small, doorless room in this building the team discovered the bronze weapons. They date from the Iron Age II. They said the ornaments appear to have fallen off shelves or furniture, or they may have been hung on the room’s walls, which later came down.
Two groups of weapons stand out in the ancient complex, near the city of Adam. The press release states:
The first one consists of two small quivers entirely made of bronze, including the six arrows contained in each of them. Given their size (35 cm) [13.8 inches], 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 this kind have never been found in the Arabian Peninsula, and are extremely rare elsewhere.
The second group comprises metal weapons, which were mostly non-utilitarian (given their slightly reduced size, material and/or unfinished state). They consist of five battle-axes, five daggers with crescent-shaped pommels (characteristic of the Iron Age II), around fifty arrowheads, and five complete bows. The bows are made up of a flat, curved bowstave bent at both ends, which are connected by a string made of bronze… Objects of this type have never been found before: Bows made of metal were totally unknown in the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East until now.
The archaeological team is continuing with excavations at the site and surrounds, in the hopes of piecing together the dawn of history in the Arabian Peninsula.
Featured image: Left: Two quivers made of copper/bronze found at Mudhmar East. Right: Non-utilitarian bow, entirely made of copper/bronze. Credit: © Guillaume Gernez / Mission archéologique française en Oman central.
By Mark Miller