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Bahrain Fort

Ancient Persian Cuneiform Contract and Artifacts Discovered in Bahrain Fort

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A private contract written in Akkadian script on a clay tablet has been discovered among other artifacts in a fort in Bahrain.

The discovery, reported in Trade Arabia , was found among a number of artifacts in Bahrain Fort (Qal’at al-Bahrain) on the Arabian Peninsula.  

Bahrain Fort was declared a World Heritage Site in 2008. Archaeological excavations have been carried out on the fort since 1954 resulting in numerous discoveries, particularly with regard to the central mound which is 12 meters (39 feet) high. The mound consists of seven consecutive layers laid down by the fort’s occupants from 2300 BC up until the 18 th century. The Kassites, the Persians and the Portuguese have all occupied the site at various points in its history and it was once the capital of the Dilmun civilization which dominated eastern Arabia from the late 4 th millennium until around 800 BC. The Dilmun society is mentioned in The Epic of Gilgamesh which records the hero as passing through Mount Mashu to reach it. It is regarded as one of the oldest civilizations in the Middle East and was believed to be a paradisiacal garden by the Sumerians. It has even been controversially suggested that it inspired the story of the Garden of Eden. By 800 BC it had been assimilated into the Assyrian Empire and passed into the Neo-Babylonian Empire around 600 BC.   

Remains of Saar temple, a temple dating to the Dilmun era of Bahrain's history. Photo by: Rapid Travel Chai, 2012.

Remains of Saar temple, a temple dating to the Dilmun era of Bahrain's history. Photo by: Rapid Travel Chai, 2012. ( en.wikipedia.org)

The contract document was written on a clay tablet in cuneiform script. It dates to between 503 BC and 504 BC and would normally have had its origin, in the sense of the city within which the contract was agreed, inscribed on the rear of the tablet. However, in this case the rear of the tablet has been badly scratched making it impossible to decipher where the contract was made and that it had been fulfilled.

Example of a cuneiform tablet c 1875 BC to 1840 BC

Example of a cuneiform tablet c 1875 BC to 1840 BC ( Wikimedia Commons )

The tablet was uncovered during a seven-week investigation in the south-west corner of the fort and was found alongside a golden plate upon which the figure of a woman is visible. The plate is believed to date from between 1 BC and 1 AD according to a report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN) . Contract documents were also used in other Middle Eastern societies such as ancient Syria.

n artifact found at the site at Bahrain Fort, believed to be a woman on a gold plate. It dates to the Tylos period. It may have been a form of identification presented by the dead to a  particular god.

An artifact found at the site at Bahrain Fort, believed to be a woman on a gold plate. It dates to the Tylos period. It may have been a form of identification presented by the dead to a  particular god. ( gulf-daily-news.com)

The team of archaeologists, working for the French Archaeological Mission in Bahrain, concluded that the tablet was used to document contracts in the Akkadian language. This was the main language used by traders in the ancient Middle East. An inscription on the tablet reveals it was written during the 19 th year of King Darius I.

Darius became king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire in 522 BC and was the Persian king who was famously defeated by the Greeks at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Darius was forced to retreat but planned another invasion. However, this was thwarted by a revolt in Egypt and also by Darius death.

 Panoramic view of the Naqsh-e Rustam. In Persia, (Iran). This site contains the tombs of four Achaemenid kings, including that of Darius I. Photo by: Amir Hussain Zolfaghary, 2010.

 Panoramic view of the Naqsh-e Rustam. In Persia, (Iran). This site contains the tombs of four Achaemenid kings, including that of Darius I. Photo by: Amir Hussain Zolfaghary, 2010. ( en.wikipedia.org)

Dr Pierre Lombard of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA) said at a recent press conference, held at Bahrain National Museum, that t he tablet is the first of its kind, written in cuneiform script and dating from the 1 st millennium, to be discovered in Bahrain.

“The contract read '19th year of Darius' who was the king of Babylon and other lands at that time and that has led us to calculate the period and reach a result that the tablet dates back to a period between 503BC and 504BC” Dr Lombard added. “This means that this is the first cuneiform tablet from the first millennium before Christ that has been discovered in Bahrain, which had a Babylonian control at that time. “The tablet is quite a small object which belongs to the late Dilmun period. It is a private judicial contract that was written in Akkadian, a language used in the Middle East at that time.”

Dr Lombard also explained that the reason the back of the tablet was scratched was because people at that time used to scratch the tablets once their contracts were over.

The figure of the woman engraved on the golden plate remains mysterious but the archaeologists believe the artifact dates to the Tylos period. It may have been a form of identification presented by the dead to a god.

The tablet will be displayed in the Bahrain National Museum but the plate will be presented to the public as part of a new section of Bahrain Fort Museum called the Tylos Hall.  
Featured Image: The beautiful and impressive Bahrain Fort (Qal'at al-Bahrain). Photo by: Jayson de Leon, 2008. ( en.wikipedia.com)

By Robin Whitlock

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