With the aid of technological and archaeometric investigations, the late Bronze Age painted pottery from Qurayyah in north-west Arabia is being studied. The goal is to determine the level of technological specialisation and standardisation, and to obtain a better understanding of the productive and economic organisation of a desert oasis during the Bronze Age.

The Oasis of Qurayyah

The settlement of Qurayyah is one of the principal oases in the Arabian peninsula. It has been under investigation since 2015 in excavations directed by Marta Luciani (Institute for Prehistory and Historical Archaeology, University of Vienna). The Bronze Age settlement extended over 350 ha within stone city walls and comprised a residential area, tomb buildings and graves, and contains evidence of copper production in the 3rd millennium B.C. The most impressive discovery, however, is a completely preserved pottery workshop with kilns, spaces and structures for the processing of raw materials, with wasters, raw materials, finished and half-finished vessels. One of the oldest painted pottery wares from north-west Arabia was produced in this workshop, namely, the ›Qurayyah Painted Ware‹, known earlier as ›Midianite Pottery‹, and dating back to the 2nd millennium B.C. ›Qurayyah Painted Ware‹ is decorated with painted bichrome motifs, both geometric and figural. This pottery is found in a broad geographical area, extending from north-west Arabia to Jordan and the southern Levant.

The origin of the ›Qurayyah Painted Ware‹

Although the origin of the ›Qurayyah Painted Ware‹ is one of the most intensively discussed questions in the field of Levantine archaeology, until today relatively few archaeometric investigations have taken place. This project proposes the first comprehensive archaeometric and technological study of the painted ware from Qurayyah, thereby taking advantage of the exceptional context of the pottery workshop that enables an insight into the entire production process. The main goals of the project are:

  1. To determine the petrographic, mineralogical and chemical fingerprint of the vessels produced in Qurayyah. This basic data will allow the identification of which vessels within the Levantine assemblages were produced in Qurayyah and were exported into such distant regions as Amman in Jordan to the north, or Al-'Ula in Saudi Arabia to the south. The determination will help in deciding if the local production was organised by families and tribes at the household level, or at the level of individual workshop industry and beyond.
  2. To evaluate the level of the technological specialisation and standardisation along the entire chaîne opératoire and therefore to obtain a better understanding of the productive and economic organisation of a desert oasis in the Bronze Age.

The research methods that are applied integrate investigations at the macro-, meso- and microscopic levels: (1) non-destructive, macroscopic technological investigation on site; (2) thin section petrographic analysis with a polarising microscope to reconstruct the provision and preparation of raw materials; and (3) neutron activation analysis (NAA) to characterise the chemical composition with regard to trace elements and rare elements, which are very expressive indicators for provenience.


Principal Investigator


  • William Gilstrap
  • Joseph A. Greene


since September 2020


Holzhausen-Legat of the OeAW