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Home arrow Sites of interest arrow  Al-Khidr arrow Archaeozoology arrow Analysis of otoliths
Analysis of otoliths from Al-Khidr

Zora Miklíková

Fish otoliths are rare archaeofaunal finds and their study can reveal significant biological as well as historical data. These so-called “ear stones” are small calcareous structures within the inner ear of the fish. They have a crystalline structure of calcium carbonate and grow very slightly each day in the life of the fish. Every fish has one pair of these tiny structures and during the fish’s lifetime it acts as a stability organ.

On the basis of otolith finds we can gain unique information on:

  • species determination of the fish (morphology of otolith),
  • age of the fish (counting of annual rings of otolith),
  • season of death of the fish (marginal increment analysis),
  • environment of the fish (oxygen isotope analysis).

Thanks to the systematic sampling and flotation technique used by environmental researchers hundreds of these special bone remains were recovered from the site of Al-Khidr. Therefore, in 2004 collaboration between the KSAM and the Kuwaiti Institute for Scientific Research (Aquaculture, Fisheries and Marine Environmental Department of Food Resources and Marine Sciences Division) was initiated. In January 2006, a pilot study of otoliths was carried out under the kind supervision of Dr. Mohsen al-Husaini in the Fish ageing laboratory of KISR in Kuwait City. It is expected that the study of recovered otoliths will shed more light on palaeoeconomic activities at Al-Khidr and will significantly contribute to the recently started collaborative project between the KISR and Kuwaiti-British Archaeological expedition. The main aim of this project is investigating modern and archaeological otoliths in order to study taxonomy, growth, reproduction and environment of particular fish species from the Gulf.

For the pilot study, 280 sea catfish (in Kuwait known as “chim”) otoliths from Al-Khidr settlement layers were selected. All work was done under the kind supervision of Dr. Mohsen al-Husaini, the marine biologist and the specialist in fish otoliths, who allowed our stay in the department laboratory and thus enabled to get first significant results regarding to archaeozoological investigation of the Al-Khidr Bronze Age settlement at Failaka. We are grateful for his help. We also thank his “fish ageing” team in the department whose assistance allowed us to realize sectioning of otoliths and made our stay in the lab pleasant.

Every sample was measured and weighed and further prepared for the sectioning. Otoliths were embedded in resin blocks and then cut by low speed diamond cutting saw in order to obtain thin sections. These thin sections were subsequently analyzed in reflected light, with the help of a stereomicroscope with camera and special software. Reading of prepared thin sections has just started but an initial examination suggests that the sea catfish from Al-Khidr site were mostly caught in the spring, from April to May. We plan on enlarging the preliminary database during the course of the next research season.

See also



[1] Williams, T. P. 1986: Ageing Manual for Kuwaiti Fish. MFD/KISR Kuwait, pp. 57.

[2] Al-Husaini, M. 2001: Fish ageing techniques using otoliths. Handout for regional training workshop held in 29 October-12 November 2001 in MFD/KISR. KISR Kuwait, pp.27.

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Click on a map to see all known archaeological sites on Failaka island from the Bronze Age up to the present day.