Bridging the enclosure and the tower tomb: new insights from the Wādī Sharmā sites, north-west Arabia
Keywords:Wādī Sharmā, Wādī MuΉarraq, enclosure, tower tomb, standing stone
Both the Chalcolithic enclosure and the Early Bronze Age tower tomb are ubiquitous stone-built features in the late prehistory of the Arabian Peninsula, but little effort has been made to trace the transition between the two. This is because the typological gap between the two distinct types of ritual/burial features is too great to fill. Our recent excavations at the Wādī Sharmā sites in north-west Arabia have provided a breakthrough to the long-standing issue. A key to tracing the sequence is a square to rectangular niche containing a (or a few) standing stone(s), which turned out to be almost always incorporated into the eastern part of enclosures and tower tombs in our research field. Although the precise date of individual features is yet to be specified, available evidence suggests that post-Neolithic ritual/burial features in the area: 1) started with large, oval, east-facing enclosures that incorporate the unique niche into their eastern wall; 2) changed into small, square, eastfacing, niched enclosures newly associated with an oval feature or an initial tower tomb in their central floor; 3) shifted further to oval, independent tower tombs with an (or a few) external niche(s) along their eastern wall; and 4) eventually developed into plain tower tombs that often incorporate an east-facing standing stone into their own internal space. Of significance is the finding of the two transitional forms, which has enabled us to bridge the gap between the two distinct types of ritual/burial features and, by so doing, trace the formation process of fully fledged nomadic society in north-west Arabia in a sequential way. This paper discusses the typological sequence between the enclosure and the tower tomb in the northern half of the Hijaz based on the results of our recent investigations at the Wādī Sharmā sites.
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