Friday, November 13, 2009

Dugong bone mounds found on Persian Gulf coast

A news story at covers an archaeological find on an inlet off the Umm Al Quwain coast in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Akab site is Neolithic and associated with shell mounds, and pottery fragments from the Ubaid culture, often described as "Proto-Sumerian," have been found at Akab.

The interesting part about the excavation from our view is the discovery of mounds made of dugong bones. The researchers suggest the arrangement of the bones may be symbolic and linked with ritual.

"Traditionally, the dugong has special status in the Indo-Pacific area. The preparation for hunting dugongs is as much the object of propitiatory rites as the transport of their carcasses to shore, their butchering and their consumption," said Dr Sophie Méry of the French Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and director of the French archaeological mission in the UAE.

Méry mentions similarity of the site with sacred totemic dugong mounds on the Australian coast of the Torres Strait across from Papua New Guinea. The researchers also make a connection with finds from around the same period in Oman but which involved the green turtle rather than the dugong:

Méry and Charpentier believe the dugong at Akab held the role attributed in the same period to the green turtle in Ra's Al Hamra in Oman, the subject of impressive deposits between 3700 and 3300 BC, where skulls were placed near the face of the dead, while the body was covered with elements of turtle carapace or pebbles in a formation imitating that of turtle eggs.

Interestingly, the same people along the Torres Strait who practice dugong hunting rituals also have a breeding ritual involving the green turtle.

Another area not mentioned in the article is Palawan in the Philippines. The Neolithic site at Duyong Cave is associated with the bones of at least 5,000 dugong, and the sea mammal is thought to have had ritual significance there. At the cave there is also a jar burial site associated with funerary offerings. Dugong bones have also been found at the 9th to 12th century site at Butuan. In the Philippines, the teeth and bones of the dugong are still thought to have magical qualities bringing good luck and fertility and driving away evil and sickness.

Nearby Duyong Cave at Tabon Cave, an ivory carved turtle has been found, and earthenware turtles were discovered at Taal in Luzon, and in Iloilo in the Bisayan region. At Sinalakan Cave, also on Palawan, a terracotta turtle vessel from the Metal Age was found that apparently was both an inkstand and a burial object.

The present-day Tagbanua of Palawan have a rice wine ritual known as Pagdiwata in which wooden turtles are floated in the mouth of rice wine jars. The ritual takes place before planting and the turtle is considered a divine vehicle.

Paul Kekai Manansala

Excavation uncovers ritual site

Archaeologists find dugong bones that prove local tribesmen held fishing rites Aeons ago

  • By Emmanuelle Landais, Staff Reporter
  • Published: 00:00 November 6, 2009

  • The bones of dugongs, a large marine mammal, were found symbolically arranged on a mound which experts say was used for ceremonial purposes.
  • Image Credit: Supplied

An archaeological excavation held on an islet off the coast of Umm Al Quwain, close to the earlier fishing village of Akab, recently revealed that ancient fishing rites were conducted by tribesmen.

The bones of dugongs, a large marine mammal resembling a sea cow, were found symbolically arranged on a mound which experts believe was used for ceremonial purposes.

Read rest of the article...



Fox, Robert B. The Tabon Caves; Archaeological Explorations and Excavations on Palawan Island, Philippines. Manila: [National Museum], 1970, 176.

Paz, Victor, and Wilhelm G. Solheim. Southeast Asian Archaeology: Wilhelm G. Solheim II Festschrift. Diliman, Quezon City: Univ. of the Philippines Press, 2004, 276-288.


geek said...

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