This stamp seal made of jasper is just one of the many archaeological discoveries on the island of Failaka, Kuwait. (Photo: Moesgaard Museum)

Archaeologists have discovered a jewellery workshop on an island that was once home to Dilmun, one of the oldest trading civilizations in the Middle East.

We love it when fellow archaeologists discover something that brings a whole world back to our attention, and Danish archaeologists working in the Persian Gulf have done exactly that.

While Sumer, Assyria and Ancient Egypt may be some of the biggest and most famous civilizations of the Bronze Age, these archaeologists have spent the last nine years on the tiny island of Failaka diligently investigating the ruins of an empire that many won’t have heard of: Dilmun.

Dilmun was one of the oldest trading civilizations in the Middle East. Arising in the late 4th millennium BC, this long since disappeared empire once controlled the Persian Gulf, linking traditional agricultural lands with maritime trade routes into places as diverse as the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia.

From around 2100 BC, the small island of Falaika became one of its strongholds for trade between some of the largest towns in Mesopotamia. But when this trading network collapsed around 1700 BC, its temples and cities were abandoned, the King’s grave was plundered, and its people entered a sort of “dark ages”, a period about which very little is known.

Now, the jewellery workshop discovered by these Danish archaeologists could help show what happened next.

An aerial view of Failaka island. Copyright Flemming Højlund.

Among the ruins of a settlement dating to 1700-1600 BC, they found a workshop littered with fragments of gemstones like carnelian and jasper. According to excavation leader, Flemming Højland of Moesgaard Museum, these stones (which were widely used for making beads and intricately decorated seals) aren’t local, but were probably imported from India and Pakistan.

Evidence of 3,500 year-old global trade

The semiprecious stones are the first evidence of trade during this period and offer a rare glimpse into the infancy of globalisation, says Kristoffer Damgaard at the University of Copenhagen

“It’s a fantastic example of how far back [it] reaches; 3,500 years ago there were already well-documented connections, which were driven by trade. That’s not new knowledge, but it’s rare that we find such concrete archaeological evidence of it,” says Damgaard.

Archaeology should challenge ‘truths’

Although historical sources imply that trade came to a standstill, both Damgaard and Højlund say the new discovery in Failaka is a good example of how archaeology can challenge written evidence, and change our understanding of what actually happened.

“During this dark age, Kuwait must have re-established the trade routes, which collapsed around the year 1700 BCE. It bears witness to a renaissance in Bahrain and Failaka around 1600 BC, when it resumed relations eastward with Pakistan and India,” says Højlund.

“Archaeologists are justified in challenging the story with the help of other forms of evidence. This is a great example of that,” says Damgaard.

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Maiya Pina-Dacier

Community Manager at DigVentures, Maiya digs with a trowel in one hand, and a Twitter feed in the other. She looks after our Site Hut, reporting on all our discoveries live from the field. Got a story? Just drop her a line...

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