Ruggles-Gates Award – Lesley Gregoricka

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Award Holder: Lesley Gregoricka
University: The Ohio State University
Title of Research: An Isotopic Investigation of Mobility, Exchange, and Tomb Membership in Bronze Age Arabia

My research examines the development of Bronze Age interregional
exchange networks and the resultant impact of these dynamic economic relationships on human mobility, tomb membership, and diet in the United Arab Emirates.  Major transitions in subsistence, settlement organization, and funerary architecture accompanied the rise and fall of extensive trade complexes between southeastern Arabia and major centers like Mesopotamia, Dilmun, and the Indus Valley throughout the third and second millennia BC.  I address the nature of these transformations, particularly the movements of people accompanying traded goods across this landscape, by analyzing dental enamel using stable strontium, oxygen, and carbon isotopes. 

Fieldwork was conducted across the United Arab Emirates over a period
of five months in 2009-2010 and later in Denmark in August/September 2010.  While working with local archaeologists in the UAE was an incredibly rewarding opportunity and a fantastic way to learn firsthand about the prehistory of the region, I encountered numerous difficulties, particularly with (a) the poor and fragmentary condition of the human remains, and (b) a lack of curation at most museums in the Emirates.  This considerably lengthened the time I had initially anticipated for my estimated fieldwork and also instigated an additional trip to Denmark to supplement both local and comparative samples.  Additionally, once back in the United States, sample analysis was unexpectedly impeded by a breakdown in mass spectrometry instrumentation. 

Nevertheless, I am very grateful to have been involved in such an exciting project that has highlighted a region largely ignored by bioarchaeologists.  The findings of this study illustrate continuity between the Umm an-Nar and Wadi Suq periods and call into question how substantial the so-called collapse of the early second millennium BC actually was.  The continued presence of immigrants interred in local tombs suggests that interregional economic relations did not completely break down during this “Dark Age” of purported cultural isolation.  Furthermore, the presence of non-locals in both Umm an-Nar and Wadi Suq tombs, with no outward expression of foreign identity, reinforces the idea that these immigrants may have readily adopted the practices of their local host community, even in death.  Such a relationship may indicate a form of fictive kinship as a means of more formally cementing economic ties.  It appears that, rather than being subjugated by a hegemonic system controlled by more complex centers like the Indus Valley or Mesopotamia, the inhabitants of southeastern Arabia lived in relative autonomy.  Finally, carbon isotope values indicate a considerable change in subsistence practices involving a greater reliance on C3-based foodstuffs and a more restricted dietary intake, with an emphasis not on marine resources as suggested by the archaeological record, but on oasis agriculture.  This data corroborates the strontium and oxygen isotope results and portrays a society that was still relatively sedentary and continued to practice cultivation.