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Bahrain - World's oldest civilization

Archaeologists unearth one of the world’s oldest civilizations in Bahrain

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When people think of ancient civilizations they usually conjure up images of Egypt, China, the Mayans, the Indus Valley or Mesopotamia. Very few will think of Bahrain, which is actually home to one of the oldest trading civilizations in the world.

Bahrain has an abundance of ancient sites, and one in particular, located at Saar, holds particular significance.  It was once home to the enigmatic Dilmun civilization , which is said to date to the third millennium BC. 

Excavations at the archaeological site found at Saar (named after the closest modern village) are now revealing new information about this advanced and ancient civilization. For one, the site has revealed that it was once a hub on a major trading route between Mesopotamia - the world's oldest civilisation - and the Indus Valley in South Asia. It is also believed that Dilmun had commercial ties with ancient sites at Elam in Oman, Alba in Syria and Haittan in Turkey.

Archaeologists are now hurrying to preserve and protect the site so that it will be around for years to come.   "For 4,000 years this site was underground so it was sheltered," said Salman al-Mahari, lead archaeologist.  "Now after excavation, it is exposed to the elements. We have no immediate plans to carry out further excavations. We want to protect the site and to interpret what we have unearthed for visitors."

Studying the ancient sites of Bahrain has revealed one particularly unique feature, which was the abundance of sweet water flowing from springs which was one of the cornerstones of Dilmun. The island was an oasis of fertility in ancient times in a mainly desolate region. This could have given rise to a legend that Bahrain may even have been the biblical Garden of Eden.

Another interesting aspect of the Dilmun civilization is that their religious practices and beliefs can be compared with those in other advanced societies of the time.   "The belief system here has a lot in common with those of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt," says Abdullah Hassan Yehia, the keeper of the Qal'at al Bahrain. "Belief in the after-life is shown by burying the dead with possessions such as tools, food, drinking vessels and gold. We've even found weapons."

Archaeologists in Bahrain are now working hard to present their ancient culture and history for individuals to see and appreciate for many years into the future. Khalifa Ahmed al-Khalif, Assistant Director of Programmes at the Arab regional Centre for World Heritage says: “with the help of new technology we'll be able to place Bahrain on the [ancient] global map."

>By April Holloway

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