Archaeological Sites in Kuwait

This weekend I read Majed Almutairi’s thesis “The Archaeology of Kuwait,” which gave me a much deeper appreciation for the prehistoric, ancient, and medieval sites in Kuwait. Here are some of the archaeological sites Almutairi writes on:

  • Burgan Oil Field: surveyed by HRP Dickson in 1939, he collected flints dated to the Mesolithic Period (13000 to 8000 BCE)
  • Burial Mounds: as Almutairi tells us, “burial mounds in Kuwait are from a variety of different periods” and “were probably created by people who had a nomadic lifestyle, because no significant settlements for these burial mounds have been found so far.” He also notes that, “the majority of these graves have been robbed at a later date as most of them were empty and some of them are found with the bones scattered.” Here are some of the burials he mentions:
    • Kadhima Graves: located 14 kilometers north of Al-Jahra, three graves were excavated in 2002 which revealed the first full prehistoric skeleton in Kuwait.
    • Al Radha Graves: one hill grave “consists of a circular wall with the burial chamber located in the middle of the wall. It has an oval shape. Here, circularity in form may represent a common belief system… a circular based cosmology.”
    • SMQ30: in one site, named “SMQ30,” Lapis Lazuli was found. As this rock comes from Afghanistan, “this may indicate evidence for long-distance trade.”
  • Mudairah Stone: located about 30 kilometers from Al Jahra city, this is a large sandy stone cut in half. There are engravings on the stone, one of which “has been interpreted as a skull and eye by Sultan al-Duweesh, head of the Kuwaiti archaeological team.” There is another engraving, which might depict an ostrich. There has been debate on the age of the engravings, some suggesting they are Neolithic and others suggesting they date to 2000 BCE.
  • H3 Site: best known for being the site of the remnants of the world’s oldest boat, Ubaid pottery has also been found at H3 site. In her lecture series Ancient Mesopotamia, Amanda Podany tells us that, “the Ubaid Period lasted from 6500 to 3800 BCE. They had connections to the south. Some archaeologists think perhaps people moved there from Mesopotamia. Others think that the local people admired and imitated Mesopotamian culture. Excavators have found Ubaid pottery at about sixty archaeological sites in the Arabian Peninsula, the pottery seems to have been a luxury.”
  • Bahra 1: located in Subiya, there are remains of structures very similar architecturally to Ubaid ruins in Mesopotamia. Evidence at Bahra, “might indicate that this area of Kuwait had a shell-bead industry which was exporting to other areas.”
  • Dilmun Sites: Almutairi tells us that, “Dilmun was an important civilization that flourished in the Arabian Gulf between 2400 and 300 BCE. It is associated with numerous ancient Mesopotamian myths… it is often described as the land where the sun rises and a garden of paradise… in this land there is no disease, atrocity, or animosity.” Amanda Podany tells us that, “Around 2500 BCE, Ur-Nanshe founded a dynasty that ruled the city-state of Lagash in southern Mesopotamia. Lagash was rich because it was located on a trade route that led to the powerful land of Susa, in the east. In one relief, he is shown with a basket of bricks on his head. He used this image to remind people that he was a builder. The relief mentions that boats from distant Dilmun carried the wood for him to build a temple. This is the earliest mention of the land of Dilmun, which was located in what is now Bahrain.” That relief, which you can see below, is located in the Louvre today. It has been established for some time that Kuwait was apart of the Dilmun civilization, demonstrated by the following sites:
    • F6 Site: known as the “Governor’s Palace” and located on Failaka Island, this settlement includes a temple with a bucranium altar
    • F3 Site: dating to 2000 BCE, this site includes the ruins of a temple likely dedicated to the god Inzak
    • Al-Khidr Site: better known for a modern maqam dedicated to Al-Khidr, 71 Dilmun seals have been found in this area in the northwest of Failaka Island.
    • Al-Shadadiya: in 2008 a man named Bader al-Mansur found a Dilmun seal with pottery in mainland Kuwait. The area is still unexplored (according to the thesis written in 2011)
  • Greek Sites: according to Peter Mansfield in his work Kuwait: Vanguard of the Kuwait, “the identification of Failaka with Ikaros is of great interest. Alexander the Great himself never passed by Kuwait. When he reached the eastern limits of his eastern conquests in India in 326 BCE, he set out to return to Persia by land. But he had in mind a great sea-traffic between Babylon and India. So he ordered his admiral Nearchus to return to the Euphrates via the Gulf at the head of a huge fleet. Nearchus kept a detailed journal of his journey which has not survived, but in 170 CE the Roman historian Arrian provided a full abstract of the work in his book on India. From this we know that Nearchus informed Alexander of the existence of two small islands at the head of the Gulf. One of these had wild goats and antelope which were sacred to the Goddess Artemis, and Alexander ordered that it should be named Ikaros after the island in the Aegean Sea which it resembled.” Almutariri tells us about Greek archaeological sites located on Failaka in his thesis:
    • F4 Site: excavations have revealed a building containing 12 rooms, 2 of which were built from Babylonian tile, indicating that they may have been imported.
    • F5 Site: known locally as Tell Sa’id, many Greek statues have been found inside of the ruins of this fort. In her work The Voice of the Oud, Jehan Rajab tells us that, “The first archaeological survey gave each site a distinctive name F1, F2, and so on. The two largest, highest tells known as Sa’ad and Sa’id became F3 and F5. According to local mythology two brothers named Sa’ad and Sa’id had a sister named Sa’adeh. Rumor circulated amongst the local community accusing her of immoral behavior and her angry brothers banished her to an isolated spot in the north of the island. There she had died of thirst and starvation. To the utter horror of the brothers, they discovered that she had been wrongly accused and was innocent. Guilt and remorse drove them to the south of the island to the ghostly ruins of ancient settlements. Each chose a Tell where they sought repentance in their solitude and in their turn, they starved to death and were buried on top. From that time forth the three ancient Tells became known as Sa’ad, Sa’id, and Sa’adeh.”
  • Medieval Christian and Islamic Sites
    • Akkaz Island: “traditionally one of the Kuwaiti Islands, more recently it has become part of the port of Shuwaikh.” Inhabited by fishermen until 1972, excavators have found ruins of a church built from local beach rocks and mudbrick. There are also the ruins of a monastery dating to between the 6th and 7th centuries on Failaka Island.
    • Wadi Al Batin: surveyed in the 1980s, these medieval Islamic sites are no longer accessible as they are located in restricted areas. Pottery, fragments of glass and basic buildings were previously discovered, dating to the time of the Abbasid Caliphate.
    • Behaitah: located in Kuwait City, there were architectural ruins, pottery, bread ovens and ornaments dating to the late Islamic period, but further excavation is not possible as a library was built atop the site.

Almutairi ends his paper by saying, “from an archaeological perspective, Kuwait has not yet been fully explored. Although we have found many important locations, there are still more exciting sites to be discovered.”

One comment

  1. […] In “Acquiring Modernity,” Farah al-Nakib writes that, “the first Kuwait National Museum was established in 1957 by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah in what used to be the Diwan of Sheikh Khaz’al, the former ruler of Muhammerah. In 1960, Kuwait launched an architectural competition for the design of its second National Museum. In 1961, French architect Michel Ecochard won, but his design was never completed until 1983. The design, though is internationally recognized as his masterpiece, is however, locally stigmatized and perceived as faulty.” Sadly, during the 1990 Invasion, the museum was severely damaged and looted. The Hall of Archaeology is quite small, but really neat if you’re interested in the pre-Islamic history of Kuwait. […]

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