Aynuna (Saudi Arabia), 2017


Dates of work: 12 November–15 December 2016 / 10 January–18 February 2017

Co-Directors: Prof. Michał Gawlikowski (PCMA University of Warsaw), Dr. Abdullah al-Zahrani and Waleed al Badaywi (Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage)
Deputy Director: Dr. Karol Juchniewicz (PCMA University of Warsaw)
SCTH representative: Abdel Basset al-Sadeq (Tabuk office)
Archaeologists: Marek Truszkowski (PCMA University of Warsaw), Karol Ochnio (independent), Saud al-Amari (Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage)
Geologist: Hubert Kiersnowski (independent)
Glass specialist: Krystyna Gawlikowska, art historian (independent)
Documentalist: Marcin Wagner (Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw)

(Joint description of 2016/2017 and 2017 / 2018 seasons)

The Project, which is carried out in collaboration with the Saudi Commission of Tourism and National Heritage, completed five seasons of explorations between 2016 and 2018, determining the presence of two contemporary sites: the upper city on an inaccessible plateau 50 m above the bed of the Wadi Aynuna, and a complex of units at the wadi edge, interpreted as storage for goods brought by sea to be repacked for transporting north via camel caravan. Study of the written sources have led to the assumption that the site is ancient Leuke Kome, described as an important harbor and Roman customs house from the 1st century AD in the northern part of the eastern Red Sea. The site lies about 3 km from the bay of Aynuna, which is a safe haven protected from the open sea by a coral reef. In the 1st century AD it was in the hands of the Nabatean kingdom and was the last convenient harbor on the sea route from Yemen and India. A caravan route led from here to Petra and then to Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. The Roman Empire imported exotic goods, such as frankincense, pepper and other spices, Indian muslin and silk from China, but the trade also had a cultural significance, constituting a basis for Rome’s contacts with India and the Far East.

The project has cleared 27 units from five buildings (one cleared in its entirety) constituting inns located on the caravan route out of Aynuna. Earlier buildings of the same nature were recorded in lower-lying levels.

Radiocarbon dating of samples verified site chronology based on a study of ceramics and coins. There were two principal phases of occupation: in the Nabatean period (1st century BC/1st century AD) and in Roman and early Islamic times (4th century and later). The first phase comprised characteristic Nabatean painted pottery, a Nabatean inscription, unfortunately undated, and 14 coins of which the latest is from AD 16. The intervening period in the 2nd and 3rd century was a time of stagnation, until the 330s marked by a clustering of coins of Constantine and his direct successors. The latest presence at the site is a coin from AD 667 (so-called Arab-Sasanid series), supported by a series of radiocarbon dates.

The archaeological evidence for the functioning of the port and trading center of Aynuna over 700 years from the 1st century BC/1st century AD through the 7th century is the first such evidence available from the northern Hidjaz coast. It brings light to bear on the sea contacts of the Nabateans known from very few ancient written sources and on the completely unknown history of this region in the 4th–7th centuries AD.

Funding body – National Science Center, grant Harmonia 6: UMO-2014/14/M/HS3/00795 “Infrastructure of the international trade in the Red Sea area in the Roman period”.

Text: Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 27/1


M. Gawlikowski: m.gawlikowski(at)uw.edu.pl