The article presents important results from the Middle Draa Project (MDP) in southern Morocco related to two mid-1st millennium CE hilltop settlements (hillforts) that were associated with significant rock art assemblages. The combination of detailed survey and radiocarbon dating of these remarkable sites provides a unique window on the Saharan world in which the pecked engravings, predominantly of horses, were produced. As the horse imagery featured on the walls of buildings within the settlement, the radiocarbon dating around the mid-1st millennium CE can also be applied in this instance to the rock art. The rarity of rock art of this period within habitation sites is also discussed and it is argued that its occurrence at both these locations indicates that they had some special social or sacred significance for their occupants. While it is commonplace for rock art of this era, featuring horses and camels, to be attributed by modern scholars to mobile pastoralists, a further argument of the paper is that the desert societies were in a period of transformation at this time, with the development of oases. The association of the rock art imagery with sedentary settlements, where grain was certainly being processed and stored, is thus an additional new element of contextual information for the widespread Saharan images of horses and horse and riders.
This article describes the research questions and presents the initial ams dates of the Middle Draa Project (southern Morocco), a collaborative field survey project between the University of Leicester and the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (insap) of Morocco. Starting from a very low baseline of past archaeological research in this pre-desert valley, the overall objective of the project is to establish the extent, character and chronology of the rich archaeology of the Wadi Draa. The results presented here detail a hitherto unknown phase of major occupation in the Draa in the 4th-6th centuries ad evidenced by complex hilltop settlements and extensive cairn cemeteries (an initial typology is presented). A second medieval phase comprised major urban centres that are contemporary with the Almoravid and Almohad periods of Moroccan history. Alongside these urban centres, there are the remains of substantial mudbrick oasis settlements and irrigation and field-systems of a contemporary date. A key contribution of this paper concerns the construction of an outline chronology based upon initial analysis of the ceramics collected, but crucially supplemented and supported by a major program of ams dating. The remote sensing and field survey data collected by the project enable us to develop some hypotheses concerning the long-term history of this important oasis valley.