Interactive Catalog of the Results on the Human Remains from the Neolithic Graveyard al-Buhais 18 (BHS18, UAE)

Archaeological, Osteological and Isotopic Data

Adelina Kutterer, Johannes Kutterer and Hans-Peter Uerpmann

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The Neolithic graveyard site of BHS18, located in the Emirate of Sharjah (UAE) yielded nearly 500 human skeletons. The results of the osteological analyses, such as age and sex determinations and pathologies, as well as information on the burial types and the orientation of the graves as well as the available photographs are presented in this catalog. This data was collected in the years between 1996 and 2005. Later on, isotope values for Strontium, Oxygen and Carbon, obtained from tooth enamel of selected individuals from BHS18 and some comparative sites were added and are also listed in the catalog.

Der neolithische Friedhof BHS18, im Emirat Sharjah (VAE) gelegen, erbrachte menschliche Skelette von beinahe 500 Individuen. Im vorliegenden Katalog werden die Ergebnisse der osteologischen Analysen, wie Pathologien und Alters- und Geschlechtsbestimmungen, sowie auch die archäologischen Informationen zu den individuellen Bestattungen präsentiert. Diese Daten stammen aus den Jahren 1996-2005. Falls verfügbar, sind auch Fotographien zu den Skeletten gespeichert. In den darauf folgenden Jahren wurden zusätzlich Isotopenmessungen (Strontium, Sauerstoff und Carbonat) an Enamelproben von einigen Individuen aus BHS18 und Vergleichsfundstellen durchgeführt. Die Ergebnisse sind ebenfalls im Katalog aufgeführt.


The graveyard of al-Buhais 18 – a site in the interior of the Emirate of Sharjah – yielded skeletal remains of 491 human individuals from the Neolithic period. A number of publications (see bibliography) present information on different archaeological aspects of the site.

About 300 Neolithic human individuals, excavated between 1996 and 2000, were analyzed in a doctoral thesis by Henrike Kiesewetter (2006). The others were studied by Adelina Kutterer (2010a, 2010b). Recently, the results of the isotope analyses on tooth enamel obtained from a sample of 21 individuals from BHS18 and a comparative Neolithic site (UAQ2) were published (Kutterer & Uerpmann 2017). The aim of this catalog is to make all results of the the osteological analyses, such as age and sex determinations and pathologies, as well as information on the burial types and the orientation of the graves available. In addition, isotope values for Strontium, Oxygen and Carbon, obtained from tooth enamel of selected human individuals, are presented in the catalog in order to make them accessible for other researchers. Some comparative stable isotope data of other sites are listed as well.

Al-Buhais 18 (BHS18) is located between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the Central Region of the Emirate of Sharjah (UAE). Situated at about 25° N and 56° E in the interior of the Oman Peninsula, the distance to the coasts is about 60 km in both directions. Radiocarbon dates place the site into the period between the end of the sixth and the beginning of the forth millennium BC. Since 1996 excavations and research at this locality of an international team of scientists and students were conducted under the direction of Margarethe and Hans-Peter Uerpmann and Sabah Jasim. Excavations ceased in 2005, while the research continued. The setting and other features of the graveyard as well as burial rites and treatment of the deceased were analysed and have been published to a large extent (Uerpmann, Uerpmann & Jasim 2006, 2008). Palaeo-botanical studies (Tengberg 2008) and palaeoclimatic considerations (Parker & Preston 2008) explain the environmental setting of BHS18. Nearly 18000 fragments of animal bones yielded evidence with regard to subsistence economy (Uerpmann & Uerpmann 2008). Skeletal remains of both humans and animals were found together with jewelery (de Beauclair 2010, 2008, 2006) and other grave goods. Further publications are listed in the bibliography attached to this catalog.

The graves as well as many fireplaces and traces of dwelling structures shed light on life and death of the people who inhabited the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula six to seven thousand years ago. The bodies were buried individually or in small groups, each burial in its individual pit. Remains of animal bones attest that the people were herders. A spring, which is now dry, presumably provided water in the old days. It is located at the slope adjacent to the graveyard. This water source seems to have been the factor, which made the place attractive for people and their flocks. One may assume that the graveyard marked an ownership of the spring by the respective group.

Towards the plain a flat stone midden borders the graveyard. It consists of fist-sized limestone cobbles, often cracked by fire, in an ashy matrix. A large number of flints and animal bones derive from this midden and indicate that this place served as a cooking area. Probably funeral meals took place here during or after the burial ceremonies.

The Graveyard

Skeletons of males and females of different ages, from neonates to over sixty-year olds, were recovered at the site. Individuals were either interred as primary or as secondary burials. The primary burials consist of whole skeletons lying on their right or left sides in a flexed position. Individuals interred in primary burials obviously passed away at the site or in its close proximity. The people that died at other places, but were supposed to be buried in BHS18, were brought to the site as more or less complete skeletons after they were preliminarily buried somewhere else. In some cases non-local sediments were found with those burials.

The secondary burials usually consisted of the skull, scapulae, pelvis and long bones. As a rule the long bones were buried as a bundle with the skull on top or in front of it. A small number of secondary burials consisted of rather complete skeletons, which must have been partly still articulated when brought to BHS18. Some bones were, however, not connected and were placed near the other bones in a way that was not anatomically correct. It is also possible that some burials were re-located within the graveyard of BHS18, when new bodies were interred.


The material presented in this catalog consists of skeletal remains of 491 individuals for BHS 18 in varying states of preservation. All these excavated skeletons are stored in an archive of the University of Tübingen. Tooth enamel (N = 40) of 21 individuals was used for isotope analysis. Collagen was generally not preserved. As comparative samples a total of 30 measurements on human tooth enamel from the sites Fay-NE15 (Kutterer & de Beauclair 2008), UAQ2 (Phillips 2002), BHS88 (Kutterer & Kutterer 2012), Dibba al-Hisn (Kutterer & Uerpmann 2010, Jasim & Yousif 2008) and Emeilah (Kutterer, Jasim & Yousif 2015) are added. Except for UAQ2 and Emeilah, the comparative data sets are until now unpublished.


Age and sex determination

Age and sex determinations of adult individuals were mostly obtained through analyses of the skulls. Post-cranial attributes could only be included in some cases. Morphological techniques as described by Buikstra & Ubelaker (1994) were used to asses skeletal age-at-death. Obliteration of the ectocranial and endocranial sutures were analysed (Meindl & Lovejoy 1985). Tooth attrition (Lovejoy 1985, Brothwell 1981) was also taken into account. Where possible the auricular surface of the ilium was used for age determination as well (Lovejoy et al. 1985; Buckberry & Chamberlain 2002). In addition, degenerative changes of the pubic symphysis (Todd 1920, Brookes & Suchey 1990) were scored where possible. For sub-adults the dental development (Ubelaker 1989) and the state of epiphyseal fusion were evaluated (Buikstra & Ubelaker 1994). The age at death of children and juveniles was estimated using standards on the lengths of long bones in different age classes (Stloukal & Hanáková 1978, Fazekas & Kósa 1978, Black & Scheuer 2000).

The determination of sex was carried out on the basis of cranial criteria (Acsádi & Nemeskéri 1970) and where possible also pelvic criteria (Buikstra & Ubelaker 1994).


Metrical data were collected using the standards described in Buikstra and Ubelaker (1994) and defined by Martin (1957). Adult statures were calculated using the formulas of Pearson (1899) and Trotter & Gleser (1952).

Biochemical Methods

Sample preparation and measurements of isotope analyses

Strontium Isotope Analyses

Only permanent molars were selected for isotope analyses. The respective teeth were sampled using a dental drill. The surface layer of the enamel was removed and discarded. Ca. 5 mg of the inner enamel were isolated. Based on established methodologies (adapted from Balasse et al. 2002), enamel powder was digested in 1.5 ml of 2.5 % NaOCl solution in order to eliminate organic matter. Afterwards the samples were treated with 0.1 M Lithium-acetate buffer (containing 0.1 M Lithium acetate dihydrate 99.999% trace metals basis and 0.1 M acetic acid).

Isotope ratio measurements were performed on a FinniganMAT 262 TIMS located at the Isotope-lab of the Geochemistry Group at the University of Tuebingen (Germany). Powdered enamel samples were weighted into Savillex© Teflon beakers. From the ashed wood samples Strontium was leached with 5M HAc by placing the closed beakers on a hot plate at 80°C overnight. Bone and wood samples were centrifuged and the liquid fraction, including the dissolved Strontium, was pipetted into a new beaker and dried down. Tooth and bone samples were then dissolved in HNO3(65%) in closed beakers on a hot plate at 80°C overnight and subsequently dried down. Wood and tooth samples were then re-dissolved in 2.5M HCl for the separation of Strontium by conventional ion-exchange-chromatography using quartz glass columns filled with BioRad AG 50W-X12 (200-400 mesh). Subsequent purification of Strontium was achieved in micro-columns filled with Eichrom© Sr-spec resin. Strontium-separates were loaded with a Ta-activator on Re single filaments and isotope ratio measurements were performed in dynamic mode. Analytical mass fractionation was corrected using a 88Sr/86Sr ratio of 8.375209 and exponential law. External reproducibility for NBS SRM 987 (n = 9) is 0.710258±11 for the 87Sr/86Sr ratio. The total procedural blank (chemistry and loading) was < 1130 pg for Strontium. The analytical error was 0.000012.

Oxygen and carbon isotope analyses

Oxygen and carbon isotope analyses were conducted simultaneously on tooth enamel. The samples were prepared in the laboratory of the Tuebingen Institute for Archaeological Sciences. All enamel samples were mechanically cleaned with the help of a dental drill. Enamel powder was prepared either with a dental drill or by grinding in an agate mill. Based on established methodologies, the bone powder was then treated with 2.5% Natriumhypochlorit (NaOCl) (mod. after Koch et al. 1997) for 24 h in order to eliminate organic matter (lipids and proteins).

After 24 h the tubes were put into a centrifuge for five minutes at 13,000 rpm. The liquid component was removed using a glass pipette with a rubber suction device. The removed liquid component was replaced by 1.5 ml of deionised water (Seradest®) and the tubes were shaken by hand before being centrifuged again. This procedure was repeated three times.

During the last repetition, the deionised water was being replaced by 1.5 ml of an acetic acid-calcium acetate buffer (containing 1 Mol acetic acid and 1 Mol sodium acetate). This buffer dissolves diagenetic secondary carbonate inclusions. The tubes were shortly shaken by hand and left on a shaker for 24 h.

After 24 h the tubes were centrifuged, the liquid component removed and the samples washed four times with deionised water. The tubes were then put into a hot-air cabinet (at 45 °C) for three days in order to remove the remaining water.

The isotopes were measured at the facilities for Isotope Geochemistry of Tuebingen University. Analyses (C, O) were performed using a Finnigan MAT 252 gas source mass spectrometer combined with a ThermoFinnigan GasBench II / CTC Combi-Pal autosampler. Both devices are connected using the continuous flow technique with a He stream as carrier gas. About 0,1 mg dried sample powder is loaded into a 10ml glass exetainer, sealed with a rubber septum. The exetainers are placed in an aluminium tray and set to 72° C. After purging with pure He gas, 4 – 6 drops of 100% phosphoric acid are added. After a reaction time of about 90 minutes released CO2 is transferred (using a GC gas column to separate other components) to the mass spectrometer using a He carrier gas. The sample CO2is measured relative to an internal laboratory tank gas standard which is calibrated against internal and international carbonate standards (e.g. Laaser marble, NBS-19). All values are given in ‰ relative to VPDB for Carbon and VSMOW/VPDB for Oxygen. The external precision calculated over 10 – 15 standards is typically in the range of 0,05 – 0,06‰ for d13C and 0,06 – 0,08‰ for d18O. For further details see Spötl & Vennemann (2003).

14C analysis

According to the results obtained by Zazzo, Munoz and Saliége (2014) when dating Late Neolithic human skeletons from Ra’s al-Hamra in Oman, bone apatite is more suitable for radiocarbon dating than tooth enamel. Based on this observation it was decided to sample post-cranial bones of four individuals from BHS18. The samples were treated with a calcium acetate buffer in order to remove potential diagenetic matter.

Four radiocarbon dates were measured on the carbonate of bone apatite after decontamination. The calibrated dates range from 5308±32 to 6134±34 BP with a mean of 5554±32 BP. The mean of these dates is 4424 cal. BC with 2σ/1σ-ranges of 4512/4503 to 4346/4334 cal. BC.

Data recording and processing

A custom web application was developed for the data collection (see screenshot). This web application was used to enter the anthropological data for each individual. In addition the isotopic data and samples of the individuals has been recorded in this application.

For the development the webframework ruby on rails ( ) was used. This is a web framework which allows for a rapid prototyping of web sites. As database backend a PostgreSQL ( ) database with the postgis ( ) extension was used.

For the online publication a rails script was utilized to extract the information from the database and create a static html catalog for BHS18. The main reason for generating an offline version of the database was to guarantee the availability and accessibility of the data in the future. The data can be copied on every modern computer and can be accessed with the help of a modern web browser. A basic filtering and searching has been implemented by javascript.

The following data from the database has been extracted:

How to use this publication

At the top of the page is the navigation menu. The "home" link leads to the starting page. "Samples" shows the list of all isotopic samples taken from the individuals from BHS18. The "Comparative Samples" page shows samples taken from other sites (e.g Fay-NE15, BHS88). The "Individuals" button shows a sub menu where one can filter the results which will be shown. The "Gallery" page shows all images provided with this publication (N=497). A "Bibliography of BHS 18" can be found on the last page.


This page shows a list of all samples. At the top of the table you can filter the results by entering search strings in the input fields in each column. By clicking on the column header the table will be sortet by this column. By clicking on the Primary ID you will be brought to the respective individual the sample has been taken from.

Comparative Samples

Filtering and sorting is according to the sample page.


The "Individuals" page shows a list of indidiuals filtered according to the link you have used. By clicking on the individual link you will see detailed information about this individual. On the detailed page of an individual you can navigate to the next individual (independent of the filtering all individuals will by shown with this navigation).


Thanks are due to H. H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi and the Government of the Emirate of Sharjah, represented by the Director of Antiquities Dr. Sabah A. Jasim, for generously supporting our work in the United Arab Emirates. Laboratory research was financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and carried out in the laboratories of the Institute for Scientific Archaeology and the Geochemical Institute of Tübingen University, where Prof. M. Satir initiated the determination of isotope ratios for this project. Later, Prof. R. Schönberg and Dr I. Kleinhanns continued to quantify the strontium isotopes. Dr H. Taubald determined oxygen and carbon isotope ratios. Thanks are due to Prof. C. Phillips for providing samples from UAQ2.

We would also like to thank the students participating at the excavations and the assistants helping with the sample preparations.


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