Kuwaiti-Polish Archaeological Mission:
The Al-Subiyah tumuli excavation and survey project. Tumuli graves and other stone structures on the north coast of Kuwait Bay
Type of site:
Cemetery – tumuli graves
Other types of sites also present in the area: settlements, camps, well sites, shell middens and places of cult(?)
North coast of Kuwait Bay
Al-Subiyah region, microregions: Bahra, Nahdain, Radha, Muhaita, Mughaira, Dubaij, Ras al-Subiyah
– most of the tumuli date to the Early and Middle Bronze Age (3rd–2nd millennium BC)
– main period of use of the cemetery: 2500–1500 BC
– incidental finds from earlier (Ubaid) and later periods (Late Bronze Age)
Most interesting finds:
– exceptional type of tomb – so-called tumulus with outer ring wall (tumuli SB 100, SB 102)
– elongated stone platforms of presumed ritual or symbolic purpose (e.g. SB 68, SM 22)
– beads of semi-precious stones – carnelian, agate (e.g. SB 65), chrysoprase (SB 49), lapis lazuli (SMQ 30), 2nd half of 3rd–1st half of 2nd millennium BC, shell ornaments, including a circular plaque with a “dot-in-circle” motif characteristic of the Dilmun culture (SMQ 30), 2nd half of 3rd–1st half of 2nd millennium BC
– perforated pearls (SMQ 30)
– a unique collection of tools and ornaments made of bone (SMQ 49)
– bones of an equid (probably an onager) accompanying human burials (SMQ 49)
– flint barbed and tanged arrowhead (SB 49) with bifacial retouch characteristic of the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures, 7th–5th millennium BC
– bronze tanged arrowhead, reinforced with a flat midrib (SB 60), 1500–900 BC
– ceramic vessel (SB 102) – the second find of this type from the several dozen graves excavated in the cemetery, 3rd/2nd millennium BC
History of research:
Dates of PCMA mission’s work:
Type of research:
Piotr Bieliński (2007–2009)
Łukasz Rutkowski, Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw (2010–2012)
– Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw
– National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters of the State of Kuwait
The Kuwaiti-Polish Archaeological Mission (KPAM) conducted salvage excavations of burial mounds endangered by the building of a new town in the Al-Subiyah region. In the first phase of the project (2007–2010), a cluster of tumuli was excavated in the Mughaira microregion . With time, the research objectives of the KPAM were broadened to include a desert well site in the Muhaita microregion (SM 12, 2008) and a large Ubaid-period settlement (Bahra 1, 2009). A prospection conducted simultaneously with the excavations since 2009 revealed that the tumuli field extended for a long way along the coast of Kuwait Bay. As a result, a separate project dedicated solely to the exploration of this cemetery was started in 2010. The area was surveyed in order to create a comprehensive inventory of the graves and other freestanding stone structures, and selected features were excavated.
Since 2007, the KPAM was directed by Prof. Piotr Bieliński who was head of the team exploring the tumuli until 2009. After the research project on the cemetery was formulated and approved by the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters of the State of Kuwait, Dr Łukasz Rutkowski became its director. Work continued on the new basis during the spring seasons of 2010–2012.
Description of the research:
More than 200 structures/sites were recorded before 2012, scattered throughout the desert plateau stretching along the coast and descending southwards toward the shoreline (the survey ultimately covered a 20-kilometer stretch of the coast).
Most of the identified features (approximately 130) were tumuli – structures in the form of a mound with a flattened top or dome-shaped, built of unworked stone blocks and slabs without mortar bonding, with a burial chamber inside. Almost 100 other stone features were recorded; some of them, although apparently of non-sepulchral character, are nevertheless probably connected with the cemetery. Forty structures were explored, including 27 tumuli graves, 7 stone platforms of unknown purpose and 6 other features.
Several types of graves were identified, varying in details of construction. They contained human skeletal remains; in a few cases, double or multiple burials were recorded. The most intriguing of the burial practices of the community using the cemetery was the scattering of ornaments over the mound, probably done by mourners during the burial ceremony.
The research on this previously unknown ancient cemetery has contributed to the filling in of the blank space on the archaeological map of the Middle East which the continental part of Kuwait had been until now. Especially since there are other types of sites in this area: settlements, camps, well sites, places where raw materials were obtained and processed (shell workshops and middens), and maybe even places of cult.
It is difficult to date the graves because most of them were plundered. The only objects found during the excavations were either overlooked or deemed worthless by robbers – they were mostly small ornaments which are not a satisfactory basis for dating. It is, however, possible to assign the majority of the tumuli to the Early and Middle Bronze Age (3rd–2nd millennium BC). The single ceramic vessel, the radiocarbon dating of shell beads and the presence of metal objects and ornaments made of semi-precious stones suggest that it was used mainly between 2500 and 1500 BC. Nevertheless, incidental finds from both earlier (Ubaid) and later periods (Late Bronze Age) indicate that the necropolis has functioned for a very long time.
Season by season – “PCMA Newsletter”
Leaflet (2016): The Al-Subiyah Tumulus Project (PDF)
Selected events and conference presentations:
2017 Seminar for Arabian Studies, London
Ł. Rutkowski – presentation: “A tumulus cemetery on the north coast of Kuwait Bay: Results of survey and excavation in the Al-Subiyah region”
2016-11 10th anniversary of Kuwaiti–Polish Archaeological Mission: exhibition in the National Museum in Kuwait
2016-09 Seminar „Badania archeologiczne Centrum Archeologii Śródziemnomorskiej UW w rejonie Zatoki Perskiej (w Kuwejcie i Omanie) Przegląd dotychczasowych projektów oraz nowe wyzwania badawcze”, Warsaw
Ł. Rutkowski – presentation: “Cmentarzysko tumulusowe w rejonie Al-Subiyah Podsumowanie badań z lat 2007–2012”
2014-03 Conference “Kuwait Through the Ages”, Kuwait
Ł. Rutkowski – presentation: “Mysterious elongated stone structures along the north coast of Kuwait Bay”
2013-11 Workshop: From the Red Sea to the Gulf
Ł. Rutkowski – presentation: “Investigations of an ancient tumulus-cemetery on the north coast of Kuwait Bay”
Rutkowski, Ł. (2018). A tumulus cemetery on the north coast of Kuwait Bay: results of survey and excavation in the al-Sabiyyah region. Proceedings of the Seminar of Arabian Studies, 48, 303–320.
Rutkowski, Ł., with Makowski, M., Reiche, A., Sołtysiak, A., Wygnańska, Z. (2015). Tumuli graves and other stone structures on the north coast of Kuwait Bay (Al-Subiyah 2007–2012). Warsaw: PCMA UW; Al-Kuwait: National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters.
Reiche, A. (2014). Kuwaiti-Polish archaeological research in Northern Kuwait in 2007–2012. Rocznuk Muzeum Narodowego w Warszawie, 3(39), 85–110.
Sołtysiak, A. (2012). As-Sabiyah and Kadhima (Kuwait), seasons 2009–2011. Bioarchaeology of the Near East, 5, 57–62.
Rutkowski, Ł. (2011). Tumuli graves and other stone structures. In Ł. Rutkowski (ed.), Kuwaiti–Polish archaeological investigations in Northern Kuwait. As-Sabbiya 2007–2010 (pp. 11–17). Warsaw: PCMA UW; Al-Jahra: National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters.
Rutkowski, Ł. (2011). Tumuli graves — Beads and other mortuary gifts. In Ł. Rutkowski (ed.), Kuwaiti–Polish archaeological investigations in Northern Kuwait. As-Sabbiya 2007–2010 (pp. 18–23). Warsaw: PCMA UW; Al-Jahra: National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters.
Sołtysiak, A. (2008). As-Sabiyah and Al-Khuwaysat (Kuwait), seasons 2007–2008. Bioarchaeology of the Near East, 2, 103–107.