3,500-Year-Old Gemstones from Kuwait Shed Light on One of the Oldest Civilizations in the Middle East

3,500-Year-Old Gemstones from Kuwait Shed Light on One of the Oldest Civilizations in the Middle East

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A group of Danish archaeologists from Moesgaard Museum discovered some fascinating 3,500-year-old gemstones and the remains of a jewelry workshop in Kuwait. They hope that this discovery will provide new information about a historical period which has been mostly lost in the sands of time.

New Discovery Offers Better Knowledge of the Dilmun Civilization

A team of Danish archaeologists have been exploring the small island of Failaka off Kuwait’s coast for almost a decade now. The recent discovery offers information about the period between 2100 and 1700 BC, when the island was inhabited by the people of Dilmun, one of the oldest civilizations in the Middle East. The historic but lesser-known civilization was centered on the island which is today the country of Bahrain. It was a Bronze Age trading hub for the major cities of Mesopotamia.

Ruins on Failaka Island.

Ruins on Failaka Island. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Flemming Højland, the senior scientist and curator at Moesgaard Museum, told The Copenhagen Post about the discovery, “We have found the remains of a jewellery workshop in buildings from the period between 1700 and 1600 BC. We found bits and pieces of semi-precious stones that do not exist naturally on the island of Failaka, but were imported – probably from India and Pakistan.”

Some of the carnelian stones found at the 3500-year-old workshop.

Some of the carnelian stones found at the 3500-year-old workshop. ( Moesgaard Museum )

Additionally, Kristoffer Damgaard, an assistant professor in the department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen, appears to be very confident about the discovery’s archaeological significance. As The Copenhagen Post reports, “I have no doubt that this is an important and historically crucial discovery. These are the raw materials for luxury items for the wealthy that reveals the local elite had the option of long-distance trading in commodities such as precious stones.”

He also added that the finds are a perfect example of how the concept of globalization is ancient.

Dilmun’s Glorious and Rich Past

Despite its undeniable historical and cultural significance, very few seem to be aware of the great Dilmun civilization . Due to its strategic position in the Gulf, the Dilmun civilization was able to develop as a trade center, and was in contact with two other significant civilizations: Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.

Qal’at al-Bahrain, the ‘ancient harbor and capital’ of the Dilmun civilization.

Qal’at al-Bahrain, the ‘ancient harbor and capital’ of the Dilmun civilization. (Joel Sison/ CC BY 2.0 )

It was rich in mythology and folklore, but Dilmun was not just a mythological place . Its existence can be traced in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform records. One of the earliest known inscriptions mentioning Dilmun speaks of the tribute that they brought to Ur-Nanshe, the first king of the first dynasty of Lagash: “The ships of Dilmun from foreign lands, brought him (Ur-Nanshe) wood as a tribute (?).” Another inscription from the reign of Sargon the Great boasts of Dilmun’s ships being anchored at Agade, “… the ships from Dilmun, he made tie up alongside the quay of Agade.”

Example of correspondence between Ilī-ippašra, the governor of Dilmun, and Enlil-kidinni, the governor of Nippur, ca. 1350 BC.

Example of correspondence between Ilī-ippašra, the governor of Dilmun, and Enlil-kidinni, the governor of Nippur, ca. 1350 BC. ( Public Domain )

It was the ships of Dilmun, perhaps, that made long-distance trade between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley possible. It has also been noted that a number of Indus Valley seals have been discovered in several Mesopotamian sites, whilst ‘Persian Gulf’ circular seals (known from Dilmun) have been found in both the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia. This has been taken as evidence that trade occurred between the three civilizations. One commodity involved in this trade was copper from the mines of Oman. This precious metal was shipped to Mesopotamian cities, and it is thought that the merchants of Dilmun had a monopoly in this trade. 

A collection of Dilmun seals, Bahrain National Museum.

A collection of Dilmun seals, Bahrain National Museum. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Decline and the “Dark Ages” of the Dilmun Civilization

Despite the decline and the so called “Dark Ages” that followed in the region, Damgaard is positive that the newly found stones indicate that Kuwait resumed trade during the dark period. He told The Copenhagen Post, “Kuwait must have re-established the trade routes that collapsed around the year 1700 BC. It bears witness to a renaissance in Bahrain and Failaka in around 1600 BC, when it resumed relations eastward to Pakistan and India.”

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