Bridging the enclosure and the tower tomb: new insights from the Wādī Sharmā sites, north-west Arabia


  • Sumio Fujii


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.


Abu-Azizeh W. 2013. Prospections et fouilles archéologiques dans la région d’al-Thulaythuwat: Modalités d’occupations et analyse structuelle des campements de pasteurs nomades du Chalcolithique/Bronze Ancien dans une zone de périphérie désertique du sud Jordanien. Syria 90: 13–48.

Abu-Azizeh W., Tarawneh M., Abudanah F. & Al-Salameen A. 2014. Variability within consistency: Cairns and funerary practices of the Late Neolithic/Early Chalcolithic in the Al-Thulaythuwat area, southern Jordan. Levant 46/2: 161–185.

Algaze G. 2005. The Uruk world system: The dynamics of expansion of early Mesopotamian civilization. (2nd edition). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Avner U. 2002. Studies in the material and spiritual culture of the Negev and Sinai populations, during the 6th–3rd millennia BC. PhD thesis, Hebrew University, Jerusalem. [Unpublished].

Bar-Yosef O., Hershkovitz I., Arbel G. & Goren A. 1983. The orientation of Nawamis entrances in southern Sinai: Expressions of religious belief and seasonality? Tel Aviv 10/1: 52–60.

Bar-Yosef O., Belfer-Cohen A., Goren A., Hershkovitz I., Ilan O., Mieni H.K. & Sass B. 1986. Nawamis and habitation sites near Gebel Gunna, southern Sinai. Israel Exploration Journal 36: 121–167.

Braemer F., Steimer-Herbet T., Buchet L., Saliège J-F. & Guy H. 2001. Le bronze ancien du Ramlat as Sabatayn (Yémen). Deux nécropoles de la première moitié du IIIe millénaire à la bordure du désert: Jebel Jidran et Jebel Ruwaiq. Paléorient 27/1: 21–44.

Deadman W.M. 2014. Investigating the orientation of Hafit tomb entrances in Wādī ΚAndām, Oman. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 44: 139–152.

Doe B. 1983. Monuments of South Arabia. Cambridge: Oleander Press/Falcon Press.

Edens C. & Wilkinson T.J. 1998. Southwest Arabia during the Holocene: Recent archaeological developments. Journal of World Prehistory 12/1: 55–119.

Fujii S. 2016. Wadi Ghubai and Wadi Mohorak sites: Protohistoric burial fields in the Tabuk Province, northwestern Arabia. Pages 115–134 in M. Luciani (ed.), The archaeology of North Arabia. Oases and Landscapes. Proceedings of the International Congress held at the University of Vienna, December, 5th–8th 2013 (OREA Archaeological Series, 4). Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press.

Fujii S. (in preparation). A preliminary report on the Saudi-Japan joint survey in the Thumama and Majma areas, 2016. Atlal 27.

Fujii S. & Adachi T. (forthcoming). Jawf/Tabuk Archaeological Project, 2012–13: A preliminary report of the Saudi-Japan joint surveys in the Tabuk Province. Atlal 24.

Fujii S., al-Mansoor A.A., Adachi T. & Nagaya K. (in press, a). Surveys and excavations at post-Neolithic sites in the Wadi Sharma area, northwestern Arabia. Atlal 26.

Fujii S., al-Mansoor A., Adachi T., al-Khalifa K., Nagaya K. & al-Anazi A.S. (in press, b). A preliminary excavation report of Wadi al-Sharma 1, a Neolithic settlement in the Tabuk Province. Atlal 25.

Fujii S., Adachi T., Yamafuji M. & Nagaya K. (forthcoming, a). Tor Ghuwayr 1–3: Surveys and excavations of tailed tower tombs in the northeastern edge of the Jafr Basin, southern Jordan. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 59.

Fujii S., al-Mansoor A., Adachi T., al-Khalifa K. & Nagaya N. (forthcoming, b). Excavations at Wadi Sharma 1: New insights into the Hejaz Neolithic, northwestern Arabia. In M. Luciani (ed.), Mobility in the Arabian Peninsula. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press.

Hershkovitz I., Arbel G., Bar-Yosef O. & Goren A. 1985. The relationship between Nawamis entrance orientations and sunset direction. Tel Aviv 12/2: 204–211.

Ingraham M.L., Johnson T.D., Rihani B. & Shatla I. 1981. Comprehensive archaeological survey program: Preliminary report on a reconnaissance survey of the northwestern province (with a note on a brief survey of the northern province). Atlal 5: 59–84.

McCorriston J., Steimer-Herbet T., Harrower M., Williams K., Saliège J-F. & Bin ‘ΚAqil ΚA. 2011. Gazetteer of small-scale monuments in prehistoric Hadramawt, Yemen: A radiocarbon chronology from the RASA–AHSD Project research 1996–2008. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 22: 1–22.

Potts D.T. 1990. The Arabian Gulf in antiquity. i. From prehistory to the fall of the Achaemenid Empire. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Potts D.T. 1992. The chronology of the archaeological assemblages from the head of the Arabian Gulf to the Arabian Sea, 8000–1750 B.C. Pages 63–76 in R.W. Ehrich (ed.), Chronologies in Old World archaeology. i. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Potts D.T. 1993. The late prehistoric, protohistoric, and early historic periods in eastern Arabia (ca.5000–1200 B.C.). Journal of World Prehistory 7/2: 163–212.

Rollefson G., Rowan Y. & Wasse A. 2011. The deep-time necropolis at al-Wisad Pools, eastern Badia, Jordan. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 55: 267–285.

Steimer-Herbet T. 2004. Classification des sépultures à superstructure lithique dans le Levant et l’Arabie occidentale. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Steimer-Herbet T., Davtian G. & Braemer F. 2006. Pastoralists’ tombs and settlement patterns in Wādī WashΜah during the Bronze Age. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 36: 257–265.

Thornton C.P., Cable C.M. & Possehl G.L. 2016. The Bronze Age Towers at Bat, Sultanate of Oman: Research by Bat Archaeological Project 2007–2012. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Vogt B. 1985. Zur Chronologie und Entwicklung der Gräber des Späten 4. Bis 2. Jtsd. v. Chr. auf der Halbinsel Oman: Zusammenfassung, Würdigung und Analyse publizierter wie auch unveröffentlicheter Grabungsergebnisse. PhD thesis, Georg-August University, Göttingen. [Unpublished].

Zarins J. 1992. Archaeological and chronological problems within the greater southwest Asian arid zone, 8500–1850 BC. Pages 42–62 in R.W. Ehrich (ed.), Chronologies in Old World archaeology. i. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.



How to Cite

Fujii, S. (2018). Bridging the enclosure and the tower tomb: new insights from the Wādī Sharmā sites, north-west Arabia. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 48, 83–99. Retrieved from