Bahrain archeological discoveries

This video is called Excavations at Bu Maher Fort, Bahrain.

A news item about Bahrain, this time not about babies suffering from police teargas … a five-year-old child shot … an eleven-year old child jailed for playing on a street … pro-democracy activists and athletes tortured by a prince … a poetess tortured by a princess

Sometimes, there is better news from Bahrain than that. This time not about birds and flowers, or about a Venus transit

Today, from the BBC:

21 May 2013 Last updated at 01:43 GMT

Bahrain digs unveil one of oldest civilisations

By Sylvia Smith BBC News, Manama, Bahrain

Excavations at an archaeological site in Bahrain are shedding light on one of the oldest trading civilisations.

Despite its antiquity, comparatively little is known about the advanced culture represented at Saar.

The site in Bahrain, thought to be the location of the enigmatic Dilmun civilisation, was recently discussed at a conference in Manama, the Gulf nation’s capital, organised by the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural body (Unesco). …

According to Salman al-Mahari, the Bahraini archaeologist in charge, the Saar settlement divides into two: a residential zone and, at a small distance, the cemetery where the inhabitants buried their dead.

“This site has provided a lot of information about daily life,” he explains. “This has enabled us to compare finds made here with objects unearthed at other locations on the island. It is evident that this city and graveyard date back to the early Dilmun period.”

Dilmun, one of most important ancient civilisations of the region and said to date to the third millennium BC, was a hub on a major trading route between Mesopotamia – the world’s oldest civilisation – and the Indus Valley in South Asia.

It is also believed that Dilmun had commercial ties with ancient sites at Elam in Oman, Alba in Syria and Haittan in Turkey.

As Salman al-Mahari confirms, the team is now preserving what has been found to ensure that the historical findings are made accessible.

“For 4,000 years this site was underground so it was sheltered,” he says. “Now after excavation, it is exposed to the elements. We have no immediate plans to carry out further excavations. We want to protect the site and to interpret what we have unearthed for visitors.”

The Saar site is far from being the most significant relic of the Dilmun era. On the northern tip of the island, archaeological expeditions have uncovered seven successive levels of settlements at the Qal’at al Bahrain (the fort of Bahrain). Under the oldest and most extensive fort, three consecutive Dilmun cities as well as a Greek city dating back to 200 BC have been unearthed.

The site is impressive: the outer walls enclose an area of several hundred square metres. At its centre lie massive carved stones marking the entrance and walls of a chamber containing an altar once flanked by copper-faced pillars.

Next to it is another structure where the presence of blackened animal bones and charred earth suggest a chamber for sacrifices to the gods.

On the other side of the central altar, a flight of carved steps leads down to a pool, a deep, stone-walled well built over one of the numerous underground springs where one of three principal Sumerian deitiesEnki, the water-dwelling god of wisdom – supposedly lived.

The abundance of sweet water flowing from springs which still supply the island with much of its drinking water was one of the cornerstones of Dilmun. The island was an oasis of fertility in ancient times in a mainly desolate region. This could have given rise to a legend that Bahrain may even have been the biblical Garden of Eden.

But as Abdullah Hassan Yehia, the keeper of the Qal’at al Bahrain, explains, the fertile nature of the island encouraged more than just agriculture (Dilmun was famed for its vegetable production). There is strong evidence of religious practices and beliefs that can be compared with those in other advanced societies of the time.

“The belief system here has a lot in common with those of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt,” he says. “Belief in the after-life is shown by burying the dead with possessions such as tools, food, drinking vessels and gold. We’ve even found weapons.”

Abdullah Hassan Yehia also explains that the Dilmun merchants had a monopoly of trade in copper, a precious commodity which was shipped from the mines of Oman to the cities of Mesopotamia. But he debunks the theory that Bahrain may have been used by prehistoric inhabitants of the Arabian mainland as a cemetery.

The island has approximately 170,000 burial mounds covering an area of 30 square kilometres or 5% of the main island area.

The majority of the burial grounds date back to the second and third centuries BC but some are as recent as 2,000 years old. The oldest and largest burial mounds, referred to as the “Royal Tombs”, are found at Aali and measure up to 15m in height and 45m in diameter.

Archaeologist Salman Al-Mahari agrees: “There were a number of large population centres on the island. We have calculated that there would have been a significant number of deaths of both adults and children who would have been buried here,” he says.

In Bahrain, development chips away at world’s largest, oldest burial site: here.

2 thoughts on “Bahrain archeological discoveries

  1. Bahrain history slowly rises from sands

    August 06, 2013 12:02 AM

    By Reem Khalifa
    Associated Press

    SAAR, Bahrain: More than 4,000 years ago, Dilmun merchants traveled from Mesopotamia to the Indus River, titans of trade and culture before the rise of the empires of the Persians or the Ottomans.

    Over a millennia, the civilization that Dilmun created on the back of trading in pearls, copper and dates as far as South Asia faded into the encroaching sands. It wasn’t until an excavation by Danish archaeologists in the 1950s that its past was rediscovered.

    Now, with Bahrain in a deepening political crisis between its Sunni rulers and majority Shiite population, the connection to ancient Dilmun is one of the few unifying symbols on the island.

    It also is a rare and vivid look at pre-Islamic life in a region with few sites celebrating cultures before the time of the Prophet Mohammad.

    A distinguishing feature of Dilmun civilization was extensive burial mounds, which are still visible today – but under threat.

    In the ancient settlement of Saar, about 10 kilometers (six miles) southwest of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, archaeologist and researcher Abdel-Aziz Suwalih worries about modern developments that have chipped away at the honeycomb-patterned burial mounds. The mounds have been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage site to join Bahrain’s ancient Dilmun harbor on the list.

    “Bahrain was famous for holding the largest cemetery in the world by having more than 100,000 burial mounds. Now we have around 60,000 burial mounds. There are threats,” Suwalih told the Associated Press. “Protecting the archaeological sites in Bahrain is a big issue.”

    In May, Bahrain hosted a conference by UNESCO – the United Nations’ educational, scientific and cultural body – that included discussions about preserving the burial mounds and other remnants of Dilmun civilization, as well as prospects for future digs and explorations.

    The Saar settlement was excavated between 1990 and 1999 by the London-Bahrain Archaeological Expedition, though more work remains.

    “It is the only Dilmun settlement that has been extensively investigated by archaeologists,” Suwalih said.

    There are more than 70 buildings in the settlement, some of which were extraordinarily well-preserved and showcases domestic life and worship in a society that followed the rhythms of the moon.


  2. Pingback: Stonehenge, new discoveries | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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