Professor of African and Islamic Archaeology

6) Early Islamic Bahrain (2001).

Click images to read the captions.

In 2001 six months of excavations and surveys were completed in Bahrain predominantly in the Early Islamic capital, Bilad al-Qadim (see Publications). The focus of the research was on sites linked with the period between the mid-seventh to twelfth centuries AD. The initial surveys indicated that only ‘snapshots’ of archaeology remained in what is now a heavily built up urban landscape. However, the access points to the archaeology that still existed attest to the longevity of settlement in Bilad al-Qadim through the Early and Middle Islamic periods, and also to its complex nature. This complexity was best indicated by the divergent identities that were manifest by the archaeological materials recovered, religious identities, but also caste and ethnicity.

Two major site complexes were investigated. The first was a multi-function market and residential area located close to the extant Al-Khamis mosque. The second site had a complex sequence of use, having variously served as a mosque, and later a Shi’ah shrine, but also in its earliest phases as what seems to have been a fortified house or fort, and a ‘palace’ or rich merchant’s house (see Bahrain 3). The deposits associated with the latter architectural usage provided a wide range of ceramics, including many of the so-called ‘Samarra Horizon’ (ninth-tenth centuries AD) . These ceramics also attested to the former wealth of the inhabitants of Bilad al-Qadim, as did three gold coins recovered (see Bahrain 1). The excavations were completed in co-operation with the Bahrain National Museum, and their representative Mr Mustafa Ibrahim, and funded by the AHRC and the Crown Prince Court of Bahrain.

Archaeological preservation was good and besides ceramics, the extensive assemblages of glass (see Bahrain 5), metalwork, beads etc. allowed an insight into the trade routes which existed in this period (see Bahrain 1). The faunal remains that were recovered were also of significance (see Bahrain 4), and their analysis provided information on the social role of food, and the pragmatic response to diet evident in, for instance, the butchery of species such as dogs and pigs in an Islamic context (see Publications). Similarly, the micro-mollusc shells recovered also indicated that this was a far from benign environment, but host to the carriers of various diseases, for example, bilharzia.

A concurrent strand to the archaeological excavation and survey was provided by an inventory of extant Islamic shrines, usually linked with the Shi’ah communities, that was completed. These shrines (see Bahrain 2) are often ephemeral structures, but many were linked with archaeological sites, i.e. in being built upon mounds, or through enshrining ruined or near ruined buildings. This recurrent reworking of, and relationships with the past was also evident in a mosque and its associated pool, Abu Zaydan, which was cleared, and that indicated the incorporation and inversion of pre-Islamic, possibly Dilmun structural elements including a large sacrificial altar in Bilad al-Qadim (see Bahrain 3). Abu Zaydan thus offered a glimpse into past concepts of ritual and materiality in relation to water. Besides the academic monograph and papers resulting from this project, an archaeological guidebook, The Archaeological Guide to Bahrain (Archaeopress, 2011) has also been written (see Publications).