Foodstuffs and organic products in ancient south-east Arabia

Preliminary results of ceramic lipid residue analysis of vessels from Hili 8 and Hili North Tomb A, al Ain, United Arab Emirates


  • Akshyeta Suryanarayan Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS, UMR 7264, Cultures et Environnements Préhistoire, Antiquité, Moyen Âge (CEPAM)
  • Sophie Méry CNRS, UMR 6566, Centre de Recherche en Archéologie, Archéosciences, Histoire (CReAAH)
  • Arnaud Mazuy Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS, UMR 7264, Cultures et Environnements Préhistoire, Antiquité, Moyen Âge (CEPAM)
  • Martine Regert Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS, UMR 7264, Cultures et Environnements Préhistoire, Antiquité, Moyen Âge (CEPAM)


Ceramics, Lipid residues, Vessel use, Subsistence, Hili 8, Hili North Tomb A


Exchange networks in the Bronze Age between south-east Arabia, Mesopotamia, south-east Iran, south-west Pakistan, and the Indus Valley moved a variety of raw and finished products, especially pottery. However, we have little understanding of what organic products were a part of these exchange networks, as well as what foodstuffs were prepared in ceramic vessels as part of everyday activities. This paper presents the preliminary results of lipid residue analysis of local and imported vessels from Hili 8 and Hili North Tomb A in al-Ain, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Absorbed lipids were extracted and analysed via gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) from a range of vessels including local, regional, Indus, Mesopotamian, and Makran wares. A majority of the lipid profiles were indicative of degraded animal fats, although some vessels, including Fine Red Omani Ware and imported Black-Slipped Jars from the Indus Valley, had evidence of plant oils. Further analyses that will shed light on the possible origin of the animal fats and plant oils are ongoing. The preliminary results provide new insights into the use of pottery at Hili, with broader implications for our understanding of subsistence and exchange networks in the region.


Armitage S.J., Jasim S.A., Marks A.E., Parker A.G., Usik V.I. & Uerpmann H-P. 2011. The southern route ‘out of Africa’: Evidence for an early expansion of modern humans into Arabia. Science 331: 453–456.

Bedigian D. & Harlan J.R. 1986. Evidence for cultivation of sesame in the ancient world. Economic Botany 40/2: 137–54.

Blackman M.J., Méry S. & Wright R.P. 1989. Production and exchange of ceramics on the Oman peninsula from the perspective of Hili. Journal of Field Archaeology 16/1: 61–77.

Boivin N. & Fuller D.Q. 2009. Shell middens, ships and seeds: Exploring coastal subsistence, maritime trade and the dispersal of domesticates in and around the ancient Arabian Peninsula. Journal of World Prehistory 22: 113–180.

Bretzke K., Armitage S.J., Parker A.G., Walkington H. & Uerpmann H-P. 2013. The environmental context of Paleolithic settlement at Jebel Faya, Emirate Sharjah, UAE. Quaternary International 300: 83–93.

Carter R. 2010. The Social and environmental context of Neolithic seafaring in the Persian Gulf. Pages 191–202 in A. Anderson, J.H. Barrett & K.V. Boyle (eds), Global origins (and development) of seafaring. Cambridge: McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research.

Chakraborty K.S., Slater G., Miller H.M-L., Shirvalkar P. & Rawat Y. 2020. Compound specific isotope analysis of lipid residues provides the earliest direct evidence of dairy product processing in South Asia. Nature: Scientific Reports 10: 16095.

Charbonnier J. 2008. L’agriculture en Arabie du Sud avant l’Islam. Chroniques yéménites 15: 1–28.

Charles M.P. 1989. Agriculture in lowland Mesopotamia in the Late Uruk/Early Dynastic period. PhD thesis, Institute of Archaeology, University College London. [Unpublished.]

Cleuziou S. 1989a. Excavations at Hili 8: A preliminary report on the 4th to 7th campaigns. Archaeology in the United Arab Emirates 5: 61–87.

Cleuziou S. 1989b. The chronology of protohistoric Oman as seen from Hili. Pages 47–78 in P.M. Costa & M. Tosi (eds), Oman Studies: Papers in the archaeology and history of Oman. (Serie Orientale Roma, 63). Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.

Cleuziou S. 2002. Présence et mise en scène des morts à l’usage des vivants dans les communautés protohistoriques: L’exemple de la Péninsule d’Oman à l’âge du Bronze ancien. Pages 17–31 in M. Molinos & A. Ziffereo (eds), Primi popoli d’Europa. Proposte e riflessioni sulle origini della civilta nell’Europa mediterranea. Florence: All’Insegna del Giglio.

Cleuziou S. & Costantini L. 1980. Premiers éléments sur l’agriculture protohistorique de l’Arabie orientale. Paleorient 6: 255–261.

Cleuziou S. & Méry S. 2002. In-between the great powers: The Bronze Age Oman peninsula. Pages 273–316 in S. Cleuziou, M. Tosi & J. Zarins (eds), Essays on the late prehistory of the Arabian Peninsula. Rome: Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente.

Cleuziou S. & Tosi M. 2007. In the shadow of the ancestors: The prehistoric foundations of the early Arabian civilization in Oman. Oman: Ministry of Heritage and Culture.

Cleuziou S. & Tosi M. 2020. In the shadow of the ancestors: The prehistoric foundations of the early Arabian civilization in Oman. (Second expanded edition). Oman: Ministry of Heritage and Culture.

Cleuziou S. & Vogt B. 1985. Tomb A at Hili North (United Arab Emirates) and its material connections to southeast Iran and the Greater Indus Valley. Pages 249–277 in J. Schotsmans & M. Taddei (eds), South Asian Archaeology 1983. (Istituto Universitario Orientale Series Minor, 23). Naples: Istituto Universitario Orientale.

Cleuziou S., Méry S. & Vogt B. 2011. Protohistoire de l’oasis d’Al-Aïn. Travaux de la Mission archéologique française à Abou Dhabi (Émirats Arabes Unis). Les sépultures de l’âge du Bronze. (British Archaeological Reports, International Series, 2227). Oxford: Archaeopress.

Connan J. 1999. Use and trade of bitumen in antiquity and prehistory: Molecular archaeology reveals secrets of past civilizations. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences 354: 33–50.

Copley M.S., Bland H.A., Rose P., Horton M. & Evershed R.P. 2005. Gas chromatographic, mass spectrometric and stable carbon isotopic investigations of organic residues of plant oils and animal fats employed as illuminants in archaeological lamps from Egypt. Analyst 130: 860–871.

Copley M.S., Rose P.J., Clapham A., Edwards D.N., Horton M.C. & Evershed R.P. 2001. Detection of palm fruit lipids in archaeological pottery from Qasr Ibrim, Egyptian Nubia. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences 268/146: 593–597.

Craig O.E., Saul H., Lucquin A., Nishida Y., Taché K., Clarke L. … Jordan P. 2013. Earliest evidence for the use of pottery. Nature 496/7445: 351–354.

Dales G.F. & Kenoyer J.M. 1986. Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan: The pottery, with an account of the pottery from the 1950 excavations of Sir Mortimer Wheeler. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Davis B.D., Dulbecco R., Eisen H.N. & Ginsberg H.S. 1990. Microbiology. (Fourth edition). Philadelphia: Lippincott.

Debono Spiteri C., Gillis R.E., Roffet-Salque M., Castells Navarro L., Guilaine J. … Evershed R.P. 2016. Regional asynchronicity in dairy production and processing in early farming communities of the northern Mediterranean. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113: 13594–13599.

Dossa K., Wei X., Zhang Y., Fonceka D., Yang W., Diouf D. …Zhang X. 2016. Analysis of genetic diversity and population structure of sesame accessions from Africa and Asia as major centres of its cultivation. Genes 7: 14.

Drieu L., Peche-Quilichini K., Lachenal T. & Regert M. 2018. Domestic activities and pottery use in the Iron Age Corsican settlement of Cuciurpula revealed by organic residue analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 19: 213–223.

Drieu L., Horgnies M., Binder D., Petrequin P., Petrequin A-M., Peche-Quilichini K. … Regert M. 2019. Influence of porosity on lipid preservation in the wall of archaeological pottery. Archaeometry 61/5: 1081–1096.

Dudd S.N. & Evershed R.P. 1998. Direct demonstration of milk as an element of archaeological economies. Science 282: 1478–1481.

Dudd S.N., Evershed R.P. & Gibson A.M. 1999. Evidence for varying patterns of exploitation of animal products in different prehistoric pottery traditions based on lipids preserved in surface and absorbed residues. Journal of Archaeological Science 26: 1473–1482.

Eglinton G. & Logan G.A. 1991. Molecular preservation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences 333/1268: 315–328.

Evershed R.P. 2008. Organic residue analysis in archaeology: The archaeological biomarker revolution. Archaeometry 50/6: 895–924.

Evershed R.P., Charters S. & Quye A. 1995. Interpreting lipid residues in archaeological ceramics: preliminary results from laboratory simulations of vessel use and burial. Material Research Symposium Proceedings 352/85: 85–95.

Frenez D., Degli Esposti M., Méry S. & Kenoyer J.M. 2016. Bronze Age Salut (ST1) and the Indus Civilization: Recent discoveries and new insights on regional interaction. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 46: 107–124.

Frifelt K. 1975a. On prehistoric settlement and chronology of the Oman peninsula. East and West 25: 359–424.

Frifelt K. 1975b. A possible link between the Jemdet Nasr and the Umm an-Nar graves of Oman. Journal of Oman Studies 1: 57–80.

Fuller D.Q. 2003. Further evidence on the prehistory of sesame. Asian Agri-History 7/2: 127–137.

Fuller D.Q. 2008. The spread of textile production and textile crops in India beyond the Harappan zone: An aspect of the emergence of craft specialization and systematic trade. Pages 1–26 in T. Osada & A. Uesugi (eds), Linguistics, archaeology and the human past. (Occasional Paper, 3). Kyoto: Indus Project, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature.

Fuller D.Q. & Boivin N. 2009. Crops, cattle and commensals across the Indian ocean: Current and potential archaeobiological evidence. Pages 13–46 in G. Lefèvre (ed.), Plantes et sociétés, études océan Indien. Paris: Institut National des Langues et Civilisation Orientales.

Fuller D.Q. & Madella M. 2001. Issues in Harappan archaeobotany: Retrospect and prospect. Pages 317–390 in S. Settar & R. Korisettar (eds), Indian archaeology in retrospect. ii. Protohistory. New Delhi: Manohar.

García-Granero J.J., Lancelotti C., Madella M. & Ajithprasad P. 2016. Millets and herders: The origins of plant cultivation in semiarid North Gujarat (India). Current Anthropology 57/2: 149–172.

Garnier N., Rolando C., Hotje J.M. & Tokarski C. 2009. Analysis of archaeological triacylglycerols by high resolution nanoESI, FT-ICR MS and IRMPD MS/MS: Application to 5th century BC–4th century AD oil lamps from Olbia (Ukraine). International Journal of Mass Spectrometry 284: 47–56.

Gouin P. 1990. Rapes, jarres et faiselles: La production et l’exportation des produits laitiers dans l’Indus du 3e millénaire. Paléorient 16/2: 37.

Gregoricka L.A. 2013. Residential mobility and social identity in the periphery: Strontium isotope analysis of archaeological tooth enamel from southeastern Arabia. Journal of Archaeological Science 40/1: 452–464.

Heron C., Evershed R.P. & Goad L.J. 1991. Effects of migration of soil lipids on organic residues associated with buried potsherds. Journal of Archaeological Science 18/6: 641–659.

Kolattukudy P. 1970. Plant waxes. Lipids 5/2: 9–275.

Laursen S. & Steinkeller P. 2017. Babylonia, the Gulf Region and the Indus. Archaeological and textual evidence for contact in the third and early second millennia BC. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

McCorriston J. 1997. The fiber revolution: Textile extensification, alienation, and social stratification in ancient Mesopotamia. Current Anthropology 38: 517–549.

Magee P. 2014. The Archaeology of prehistoric Arabia: Adaptation and social formation from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Méry S. 1991. Origine et production des récipients de terre cuite dans la péninsule d’Oman à l’Âge du Bronze. Paléorient 17: 51–78.

Méry S. 1997. A funerary assemblage from the Umm an-Nar period: The ceramics from tomb A at Hili North, UAE. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 27: 171–191.

Méry S. 2000. Les céramiques d’Oman et l’Asie moyenne: Une archéologie des échanges à l’Age du Bronze. Paris: CNRS.

Méry S. 2013. The first oases in Eastern Arabia: Society and craft technology, in the 3rd millennium BC at Hili, United Arab Emirates. Revue d’ethnoécologie 4: 2–17.

Méry S. & Blackman M.J. 1999. Harappa et Mohenjo-Daro: Deux zones de production de jarres à engobe noir au Pakistan à la période Indus. Paléorient 25/2: 167–177.

Méry S. & Blackman M.J. 2004. Socio-economical patterns of a ceramic container: The Harappan Black-Slipped Jar. Pages 226–235 in C. Jarrige & V. Lefèvre (eds), South Asian Archaeology 2001. i. Prehistory. Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations.

Méry S. & Schneider G. 1996. Mesopotamian pottery wares in eastern Arabia from the 5th to the 2nd millennium BC: A contribution of archaeometry to the economic history. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 26: 79–95.

Méry S. & Tengberg M. 2009. Food for eternity? The analysis of a date offering from a 3rd millennium BC grave at Hili N, Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates). Journal of Archaeological Science 36: 2012–2017.

Méry S., Besenval R., Blackman M.J. & Didier A. 2012. The origin of the third-millennium BC fine grey wares found in eastern Arabia. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 42: 195–204.

Méry S., Degli Esposti M., Frenez D. & Kenoyer J.M. 2017. Indus potters in central Oman in the second half of the third millennium BC. First results of a technological and archaeometric study. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 47: 163–184.

Mirabaud S., Rolando C. & Regert M. 2007. Molecular criteria for discriminating adipose fat and milk from different species by nanoESI MS and MS/MS of their triacylglycerols: Application to archaeological remains. Analytical Chemistry 79/16: 6182–6192.

Munoz O. 2014. Pratiques funéraires et paramètres biologiques dans la péninsule d’Oman du Néolithique à la fin de l’âge du Bronze ancien (5–3 e millénaires avant notre ère). PhD thesis, Université de Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne/Università di Roma La Sapienza. [Unpublished.]

Pollard A.M., Batt C.M., Stern B. & Young S.M.M. 2007. Analytical chemistry in archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Postgate J.N. 1992. Early Mesopotamia: Society and economy at the dawn of history. London: Routledge.

Potts D.T. 1990. The Arabian Gulf in antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Potts D.T. 1993. Rethinking some aspects of trade in the Arabian Gulf. World Archaeology 24/3: 423–439.

Potts D.T. 2005. In the beginning: Marhashi and the origins of Magan’s ceramic industry in the third millennium BC. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 16: 67–78.

Potts D.T. 2012. In the Land of the Emirates: Archaeology and history of the UAE. London: Trident Press/Abu Dhabi: Sultan bin Zayed’s Culture and Media Centre.

Ratnagar S. 1981. Encounters: The westerly trade of the Harappan civilization. Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Raven A.M., van Bergen P.F., Stott A.W., Dudd S.N. & Evershed R.P. 1997. Formation of long-chain ketones in archaeological pottery vessels by pyrolysis of acyl lipids. Journal of Analytical and Applied Pyrolysis 40–41: 267–285.

Reade W.J. & Potts D.T. 1993. New evidence for late third millennium linen from Tell Abraq, Umm al-Qaiwain (United Arab Emirates). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 2: 99–106.

Regert M., Bland H.A., Dudd S.N., van Bergen P.F. & Evershed R.P. 1998. Free and bound fatty acid oxidation products in archaeological ceramic vessels. Proceedings: Biological Sciences 265/1409: 2027–2032.

Suryanarayan A., Cubas M., Craig O.E., Heron C.P., Shinde V.S., Singh R.N. … Petrie C. 2021. Lipid residues in pottery from the Indus Civilisation in northwest India. Journal of Archaeological Science 125: 105291.

Tengberg M. 1999. Crop husbandry at Miri Qalat, Makran, SW Pakistan (4000–2000 B.C.). Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 8: 3–12.

Tengberg M. 2002. The importation of wood to the Arabian Gulf in antiquity. The evidence from charcoal analysis. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 32: 75–81.

Tengberg M. 2003. Archaeobotany in the Oman peninsula and the role of eastern Arabia in the spread of African crops. Pages 229–237 in K. Neumann, A. Butler & S. Kahlheber (eds), Food, fuel and fields. Progress in African archaeobotany. (Africa Praehistorica. Monographien zur Archaologie und Umwelt Afrikas). Cologne: Heinrich-Barth-Institut.

Tengberg M. 2012. Beginnings and early history of date palm garden cultivation in the Middle East. Journal of Arid Environments 86: 139–147.

Thornton C.P. 2013. Mesopotamia, Meluhha, and those in between. Pages 598–617 in H.E.W. Crawford (ed.), The Sumerian world. London/New York: Routledge.

Thornton C.P. & Ghazal R.O. 2016. Typological and chronological consideration of the ceramics at Bat, Oman. Pages 179–216 in C.P Thornton, C.M. Cable & G.L. Possehl (eds), The Bronze Age towers at Bat, Sultanate of Oman: Research by the Bat Archaeological Project 2007–12. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Uerpmann H.-P. 1991. Equus africanus in Arabia. Pages 12–33 in R.H. Meadow & H-P. Uerpmann (eds), Equids in the ancient world II. (Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, Reihe A (Naturwissenschaften) 19/2). Wiesbaden: Reichert.

Uerpmann M. & Uerpmann H-P. 2008. Animal economy during the Early Bronze Age in south-east Arabia. Pages 465–485 in E. Vila, L. Gourichon, A.M. Choyke & H. Buitenhuis (eds), Archaeozoology of the Near East VIII. Actes des huitièmes rencontres internationales d’archéozoologie de l’Asie du Sud-Ouest et des régions adjacentes. (Travaux de la Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée, 49). Lyon: Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée Jean Pouilloux.

van Bergen P.F., Nott C.J., Bull I.D., Poulton P.R. & Evershed R.P. 1998. Organic geochemical studies of soils from the Rothamsted classical experiments – IV. Preliminary results from a study of the effect of soil pH on organic matter decay. Organic Geochemistry 29: 1779–1795.

Van de Velde T. 2015. Black magic bitumen: An archaeometrical approach to 5000 years of bitumen imports in the Persian Gulf. PhD thesis, Ghent University. [Unpublished.]

Van de Velde T., Magee P. & Lynen F. 2017. The bitumen imports at Tell Abraq – tracing the second-millennium BC bitumen industry in south-east Arabia. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 47: 227–237.

Venkateswaran K., Elangovan M. & Sivaraj N. 2018. Origin, domestication and diffusion of sorghum bicolor. Pages 15–31 in C. Aruna, K.B.R.S. Visarada, B.V. Bhat & V.A. Tonapi (eds), Breeding sorghum for diverse end uses. Sawston: Woodhead Publishing.

Vogt B. 1996. Bronze Age maritime trade in the Indian Ocean: Harappan traits on the Oman peninsula. Pages 107–132 in J. Reade (ed.), The Indian Ocean in antiquity. London: The British Museum/New York: Kegan Paul International.

Weeks L. 2003. Early metallurgy of the Persian Gulf: Technology, trade, and the Bronze Age world. Boston: Brill.

Zohary D. 1996. The mode of domestication of the founder crops of Southwest Asian agriculture. Pages 142–158 in D.R. Harris (ed.), The origins and spread of agriculture and pastoralism in Eurasia. London: UCL Press.



How to Cite

Suryanarayan, A., Méry, S., Mazuy, A., & Regert, M. (2022). Foodstuffs and organic products in ancient south-east Arabia: Preliminary results of ceramic lipid residue analysis of vessels from Hili 8 and Hili North Tomb A, al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 51, 379–401. Retrieved from

Most read articles by the same author(s)

Similar Articles

<< < 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.