Bahra 1

Bahra 1

Codes used during earlier surveys: SBH 35, SBH 38
  • Project name:

    Kuwaiti–Polish Archaeological Mission (KPAM)

    Project logo:

  • Type of site:

    Settlement

    Location:

    Kuwait
    Al-Subiyah region in northern Kuwait, Bahra subregion

    Dating:

    Ubaid 2 and 3a (2/3) periods, ca. 5500–4900 BC

Most interesting finds:

– The largest Ubaid-culture settlement on the Arabian Gulf coast
– Workshop manufacturing tubular beads from the shells of Conomurex persicus
– Rich assemblage of local pottery (so-called Coarse Red Ware) and imported pottery from Mesopotamia
– The oldest fragment of copper found on the Arabian Peninsula, presumably a pin(?)

History of research:

Investigated by the PCMA mission in:

2009–

Type of research:

Excavations, conducted with the participation of specialists: archaeozoologist, paleomalacologist, geologist and conservator

Directors:

Piotr Bieliński, Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw and Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw (2009– )
Sultan al-Duweish, National Council of Culture, Arts and Letters of the State of Kuwait (2009–2013)
Hamid al-Mutairi, National Council of Culture, Arts and Letters of the State of Kuwait (2014– )

Co-operating institutions:

– Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw
– National Council of Culture, Arts and Letters of the State of Kuwait

Description of the site and research:

Bahra 1 /1/ is a large settlement from the second half of the 6th millennium BC. During that time, the Ubaid culture was actively developing in southern Mesopotamia, not only expanding to the neighboring regions but reaching as far as Anatolia and the Levant on one side and Iran and the Arabian Gulf coast on the other. Characteristic pottery vessels, often with rich painted decoration, as well as small objects typical of this culture appear on sites along the Gulf coast up to the United Arab Emirates. In Kuwait, they have been first found on the H3 site, a small coastal village located a few kilometers from Bahra 1.

The Bahra 1 settlement differs from the other Gulf sites in several respects. Firstly, in size, because it measures at least 180 m x 50 m and includes at least 10 multi-roomed buildings located along the base of a small rocky hill. It was undoubtedly a permanent settlement which functioned for a relatively long time, as suggested by the presence of several building phases. Based on the objects found on the site, Bahra 1 seems to have been rooted in the local culture but at the same time to have had strong relations with southern Mesopotamia. Contacts with Ubaid centers in Mesopotamia are evidenced by a large number of imported pottery, both richly-decorated luxury vessels /6, 7, 8/ and undecorated storage vessels. Small objects of fired clay /11/ – possibly personal adornments /12/ – are also typical of the Ubaid culture. However, also found were objects characteristic of the so-called Arabian Neolithic: pottery (so-called Coarse Red Ware /9, 10/) as well as flint /13/ and quartz tools of local provenance.

The reason for the establishment of the settlement is its most interesting aspect. So far, the research suggests that from the very beginning of its existence, Bahra 1 was a large and well-organized workshop which manufactured tubular beads from the shells of Conomurex persicus, a species of marine mollusks. Rooms where the production took place have been found in most of the investigated buildings in the western sector of the settlement (SBH 38) /3/. Based on the finds of production wasters and tools which accompanied them /15/, it was possible to reconstruct the whole process of bead manufacturing /14/. Remarkably, no finished, undamaged beads have been found yet – they must all have been “exported outside the settlement. Where? – we still do not know, because beads of this type do not appear on other sites.

Architectural remains of the Bahra 1 settlement consist mostly of stone wall foundations /2, 4, 5/ (their upper parts must have been made of perishable materials). The rooms and buildings were predominantly rectangular except for the architectural complex located on the slope of a hill at the eastern end of the site (sector SBH 35). A large oval courtyard, rooms with an almost circular layout and a different set of finds indicate that this place served some other function than the rest of the buildings.

Who were the inhabitants of Bahra 1? Newcomers from Mesopotamia or rather autochthons who assimilated in part the material culture of their northern neighbors and business partners? Currently, there is no definite answer to this question. However, it was certainly a well-organized community which made a place for itself in the contemporary trade networks.

Project bibliography:

Smogorzewska, A. (2019). Ceramic form and function in the Neolithic Gulf. A view from Bahra 1. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 2019; 00: 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1111/aae.12135

Bieliński, P. (2018). Bahrah 1: eight years of excavations of an Ubaid culture-related settlement in the al-Sabiyyah desert (Kuwait). Proceedings of the Seminar of Arabian Studies, 48, 22–30.

Bieliński, P. (2017). The architecture of Bahra 1, an Ubaid culture-related settlement in Kuwait. Ash-sharq Bulletin of the Ancient Near East Archaeological, Historical and Societal Studies, 1(1), 104–112.

Bieliński, P., Białowarczuk, M., Reiche, A., Smogorzewska, A., Szymczak, A. (2016). Bahra 1. Excavations in 2014 and 2015. Preliminary report on the sixth and seventh seasons of Kuwaiti–Polish archaeological investigations. Kuwait–Warsaw: NCCAL–PCMA.

Smogorzewska, A. (2016). Local and imported pottery in the Neolithic Gulf: a new perspective from the site of Bahra 1 in Kuwait. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 25, 595–617.

Białowarczuk, M. (2015). Experimental reconstruction of Late Neolithic local quartz exploitation patterns in the Arabian Gulf. New discoveries from Bahra 1, Kuwait, an Ubaid-related site. Paleorient, 41(2), 71–84.

Bieliński, P., Białowarczuk, M., Kiersnowski, H., Piątkowska-Małecka, J., Reiche, A., Smogorzewska, A., Szymczak, A. (2015). Bahra 1. Excavations in 2013. Preliminary report on the fifth season of Kuwaiti–Polish archaeological explorations. Warsaw–Kuwait: NCCAL–PCMA.

Smogorzewska, A. (2015). Hajji Muhammad Ware in the Gulf. New data from the Ubaid-related site Bahra 1 (Kuwait). Études et Travaux (Centre d’Archéologie Méditerranéenne de l’Académie Polonaise des Sciences), 27, 141–158.

Reiche, A. (2014). Polsko-kuwejckie badania archeologiczne w północnym Kuwejcie w latach 2007–2012. Rocznik Muzeum Narodowego w Warszawie. Nowa Seria / Journal of the National Museum in Warsaw. New Series, 3(39), 102–110.

Białowarczuk, M. (2013). Ground and pecked stone industry of Bahra 1, an Ubaid-related settlement in Northern Kuwait. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 22, 569–585.

Smogorzewska, A. (2013). Pottery from Bahra 1 (Kuwait). New evidence for the presence of Ubaid culture in the Gulf. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 22, 555–568.

Szymczak, A., Bieliński, P. (eds) (2013). As-Sabbiya, Autumn 2012. Report on the eighth season of joint Kuwaiti–Polish archaeological investigations in Kuwait: Bahra 1, Ubaid culture related settlement (4th season). Warsaw.

Rutkowski, Ł. (ed.) (2011). As-Sabbiya 2007–2010. Kuwaiti–Polish archaeological investigations in Northern Kuwait. Kuwait: NCCAL–PCMA.

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