SOAS University of London


The Archaeology of Bahrain 2500 BC - 300 AD


12 July - 16 September 2000


Dilmun : The Holy Land

In ancient times the island of Bahrain was known as Dilmun. To the Sumerians of southern Iraq it was the archetypal Holy Land, a place of tranquillity and happiness, blessed by the gods. A rich mythology surrounded Dilmun, culminating in an episode in 'The Epic of Gilgamesh', the oldest surviving cycle of epic myth. It is from this episode that the Biblical story of the Universal Flood descends. Dilmun has been described as one of the locations for the idea of the terrestrial paradise.

Centre of World Trade

Dilmun-Bahrain was also the bustling centre of the world's trade, c. 2100 - 1700 BC. Then the island was the principal entrepôt for the ancient world's trade in its most important commodity, copper, mined in Oman and shipped through Dilmun-Bahrain to cities throughout the known world, especially in Mesopotamia and Iran.


The merchants who were engaged in this trade, which ranged from modern Turkey to the Indus Valley, left written records which reveal that as early as the third millennium BC, sophisticated banking methods were established and commerce was organised in terms which would be familiar today.

British Excavations at Saar

'Traces of Paradise' will also feature the work of the London-Bahrain Expedition which has been excavating at Saar, an important town site in the north of the principal island, which flourished c. 2000 BC. An entire settlement, including streets, houses and a temple whose construction is without parallel, have been uncovered and recorded by the Expedition. Their work continues a tradition of British involvement in the archaeology of Bahrain which extends back to the middle of the last century.


Dilmun-Bahrain was also famous for its immense fields of burial mounds. Around 200,000 of these substantially built tombs were constructed in the desert during the centuries of Dilmun's prosperity. The mounds have yielded many of the objects shown in the exhibition.

The exhibition features nearly 600 objects from the collections of the Bahrain National Museum. These include copper tools and vessels, the famous copper Bull's Head, pottery, stone vessels, and the celebrated round stamp seals, each of which is uniquely designed and many of them exquisite miniature works of art. Gold jewellery from Hellenistic times is also a feature of the objects on display, as is a collection of glass phials, dishes and vessels and a series of unique funerary statues.



There will be a day seminar on "The Archaeology of Bahrain: the British Contribution" held in the Brunei Building, School of Oriental and African Studies, on 24th July 2000 under the auspices of the Bahrain-British Foundation. Speakers will include:


Dr Robert Carter, Dr Robert Killick, Dr Jane Moon, Mr Michael Rice
Professor Michael Roaf and Dr Archie Walls


For further information about this seminar please contact:


Dr Harriet Crawford, Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY

Sponsored by:

Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and Information, Bahrain


and by


Quilter & Company Ltd
The Bahrain-British Foundation
The Bahrain Society
Aluminium Bahrain (ALBA)
Visiting Arts


Principal Academic Sponsor:


The Institute of Archaeology, University College London


Organised by:


The Dilmun Committee