RUWAYDAH (Qatar) - Medieval site reveals signs of wealth


Medieval site in Qatar reveals signs of wealth

Bonnie James

Source  -


The residents of Ruwaydah, a historic site in northern Qatar believed to be inhabited from the medieval to the early modern period, were quite wealthy and led a good quality of life.


A view of the Ruwaydah excavation site. PICTURE: Jayaram

“The pottery excavated so far is generally good quality, an indication that people there were having a good life,” archaeological excavations team leader Dr Andrew Petersen told Gulf Times.


A Persian fritware bowl base


Petersen, the director of research Islamic archaeology from the School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, is heading a team of 14 members.
One of the world’s largest pearl banks used to be less than 10km off the coastal site of Ruwaydah making it possible that pearl harvesting was the basis of the economy, and the flint tools recovered could be connected with the processing of pearl oysters.
A very interesting thing the archaeological experts found out this year is that at some point, the residents of Ruwaydah had thickened the walls of the fort, the most visible feature of the site.  “They probably were quite wealthy and we know that people were going around robbing each other in this area and the residents decided to have more protection,” explained Dr Petersen.

Given that there is no evidence so far of any fighting or warfare at Ruwaydah, protecting some precious things seems to be the main motive behind the thickening of the walls.
During the first season of excavations (January to March 2009), the team discovered lots of mother of pearl pieces, and a weight used to weigh very small objects, most probably pearls.
“The other interesting thing is that we found an almost complete mortarium made from granite and used for grinding, it could again be medieval, probably from Iran,” he said.


The red granite mortarium uncovered at Ruwaydah

“A few coins have also been found, but they have not been looked at yet. We are waiting to get a lot.
“I think we have Indian pottery as well at Ruwaydah, which is very interesting, but this is not again identified, and if confirmed it could probably be from Gujarat,” Dr Petersen stated while clarifying that a lot of research has to be done.
The excavations team has located a mosque near the fort. They found this year that the mosque is built on an earlier mosque which has a slightly different orientation.
“One of the walls from the early mosque still survives. The different orientation makes me think the mosque was a long time earlier and then they corrected the orientation,” he said.
A ‘palace’ being excavated within the fort, also has high floor levels than the surrounding ground, again hinting that it was built on top of an earlier building.
“We have not been able to excavate that yet, but we know we have got structures from an earlier period, and we think these might be probably medieval, which will be the first structures to have been identified from this period in Qatar,” Dr Petersen revealed.
Another interesting aspect about Ruwaydah is that the only historical reference to the occupation of the site in the 18th century comes more than a century later from Lorimer J G (1908, Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, ‘Oman and Central Arabia,’ Government Printing Press, Calcutta, India) who states that the inhabitants moved south to Al Zubarah. Given the size of the site and the evidence for its occupation in the 17th and 18th centuries, the silence of the historical sources is surprising, according to a paper published about the first season of excavations and presented at the seminar for Arabian Studies in London in July 2009.
“It is of course possible that the site was known by another name in the 18th century, or that for some reason it did not attract the attention of Europeans or others who documented the coast at the time,” the paper concludes.