Softstone Vessels in the Iron Age, by Michal Ann Morrison

One of the unique and beautiful things we are looking for at our site here in Dubai are softstones.  Softstones are made of talc, steatite and chlorite, and are incredibly soft to the touch. They are easily shaped and incised, and while many of the stones are grey, they also exhibit beautiful hues of green and blue. The color can appear shimmery and saturated on the surface when you turn the stone in the sunlight, almost like the wing of an insect or feather of a raven that reveals more deep colors when you look at it more closely.

Flints used to decorate Iron Age softstone vessels.

Flints used to decorate Iron Age softstone vessels.

Most commonly, softstones have been found at funerary sites from the Iron Age around the UAE. They have been mined for thousands of years from the Haijar Mountains in the eastern United Arab Emirates and into northeastern Oman. They have been found in civilizations across the Arabia Peninsula, from the ancient peoples from Iran, the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia. This highlights their importance throughout history, and can also help identify the presence of trade routes between different cultures.

Softstones were fashioned into bowls, suspension vessels, cups, pouring vessels like spouted jars, and even jewelry boxes, most of which had geometric motifs incised onto the body. No workshops have been found that indicate where softstone vessels were made specifically, but it is clear that the production of softstone vessels was renewed during Iron Age II, with new shapes appearing like tronconical vases with lugs, lids with central buttons and spouted bowls.

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