Early Islamic Bahrain. (News & Notes)

By Insoll, Timothy | Antiquity, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Early Islamic Bahrain. (News & Notes)


Insoll, Timothy, Antiquity


Six months of archaeological excavations and survey have recently been completed in Bahrain, in co-operation with the National Museum of Bahrain. The focus of this research has been the investigation of the early Islamic period (mid 7th to 12th centuries), which was previously little explored. Attention was predominantly focussed within the early Islamic capital, Bilad al-Qadim, where two site complexes were investigated. The first of these is a mixed market and residential area situated close to the extant Al-Khamis mosque (FIGURE 1), a structure which in its earliest phase could possibly be associated with the Umayyad Caliph Umar bin Abd-al-Aziz (717-720) (Kervran 1990). The second site, also within the same area, 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 type of fort or fortified house (FIGURE 2). The absolute dating of both complexes has yet to be finalized, but occupation primarily spans the 9th-13th centuries AD. Intriguingly, a couple of residual sherds would appear to attest to a Sasanian presence in the area in the period immediately before the acceptance of Islam. The Sasanian presence has thus far been attested historically, but only indicated ephemerally through archaeology elsewhere on the island (see for example Hojlund & Hellmuth Andersen 1994).

[FIGURES 1-2 OMITTED]

Besides the more straightforward reconstruction of artefactural sequences and settlement chronology in early Islamic Bahrain, the research project, jointly funded by the Court of the Crown Prince of Bahrain and the AHRB, has also been considering the notion of religious identity as represented archaeologically (Insoll 2001), as well as reconstructing the social, political, and economic networks which tied Bahrain to the wider Muslim (and non-Muslim) World. The former was considered, for example, through the analysis of dietary remains, including, unexpectedly, in what were assumed to be be solely Muslim contexts, butchered pig and dog (Smith 2001). Coinage has also been useful in reconstructing both religious identity, and trade and other networks, being indicated, for instance, by a Fatimid gold dinar found, and struck near Kairouan (Tunisia), which besides acting as a currency item, possibly also attests to other forms of contacts between the Fatimids, and the Carmathian dynasty of Bahrain, both Shi'ah, towards the end of the tenth century (FIGURE 3). …

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