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Strontium isotope evidence for a trade network between southeastern Arabia and India during Antiquity

  • Ryan, Saskia E.1, 2
  • Dabrowski, Vladimir1
  • Dapoigny, Arnaud2
  • Gauthier, Caroline2
  • Douville, Eric2
  • Tengberg, Margareta1
  • Kerfant, Céline3
  • Mouton, Michel4
  • Desormeau, Xavier1
  • Noûs, Camille5
  • Zazzo, Antoine1
  • Bouchaud, Charlène1
  • 1 Archéozoologie, Archéobotanique: Sociétés, Pratiques et Environnements (AASPE, UMR 7209), Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, CNRS, CP56, 55 rue Buffon, Paris, 75005, France , Paris (France)
  • 2 Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, LSCE/IPSL, UMR CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, Université Paris-Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, 91191, France , Gif-sur-Yvette (France)
  • 3 Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES-CERCA), Zona Educacional 4, Campus Sescelades URV (Edifici W3), Tarragona, 43007, Spain , Tarragona (Spain)
  • 4 Institut Français du Proche-Orient, Beyrut, Lebanon , Beyrut (Lebanon)
  • 5 Cogitamus Laboratory, Paris, France , Paris (France)
Published Article
Scientific Reports
Springer Nature
Publication Date
Jan 11, 2021
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-79675-3
Springer Nature


Cotton (Gossypium sp.), a plant of tropical and sub-tropical origin, appeared at several sites on the Arabian Peninsula at the end of the 1st mill. BCE-beginning of the 1st mill. CE. Its spread into this non-native, arid environment is emblematic of the trade dynamics that took place at this pivotal point in human history. Due to its geographical location, the Arabian Peninsula is connected to both the Indian and African trading spheres, making it complex to reconstruct the trans-continental trajectories of plant diffusion into and across Arabia in Antiquity. Key questions remain pertaining to: (1) provenance, i.e. are plant remains of local or imported origin and (2) the precise timing of cotton arrival and spread. The ancient site of Mleiha, located in modern-day United Arab Emirates, is a rare and significant case where rich archaeobotanical remains dating to the Late Pre-Islamic period (2nd–3rd c. CE), including cotton seeds and fabrics, have been preserved in a burned-down fortified building. To better understand the initial trade and/or production of cotton in this region, strontium isotopes of leached, charred cotton remains are used as a powerful tracer and the results indicate that the earliest cotton finds did not originate from the Oman Peninsula, but were more likely sourced from further afield, with the north-western coast of India being an isotopically compatible provenance. Identifying the presence of such imported cotton textiles and seeds in southeastern Arabia is significant as it is representative of the early diffusion of the crop in the region, later to be grown extensively in local oases.

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