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Home arrow Sites of interest arrow  Al-Khidr arrow Finds
Finds from Al-Khidr

Lucia Benediková and Peter Barta  

The Dilmun settlement at Al-Khidr has yielded a wide range of finds:

Dilmun pottery

The Dilmun pottery from Al-Khidr represents a colourful assemblage of hand-made and wheel-turned forms. Typical items are large red-ridged jars found in situ along the walls inside or outside domestic structures. Among the smaller forms are jars, some with sieve-necks, pots, bowls, plates, goblets, spouted pots, round footed plates with finger impressions and strainers. Earthenware spindle-whorls and lids from sherds occur as well. Pottery is made from mineral and/or organic-tempered paste and is usually yellow to red in colour. Outer pottery surfaces, ridged or plain, are often coated with slips in red, pale and grey tones; painted pieces occur as well. The Al-Khidr ceramics are comparable to those from F3 and F6 (Failaka) and sites in Bahrain, and date to the Early Dilmun and Middle Dilmun (Kassite) periods.

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Seals represent the most spectacular group of finds from Al-Khidr. During four excavation seasons KSAM has discovered 71 Early Dilmun seals as well as one cylinder seal which is a noticeably high number when compared with the 95 seals and fragments retrieved from the Saar settlement in Bahrain where a much larger area was excavated over a much longer period. The majority of the seals from Al-Khidr are made of steatite. There are also a few circular seals made of other materials, which also fits into the typical inventory of a Dilmun settlement. Early Dilmun seals from Al-Khidr, similar to Early Dilmun seals from the other regions in the Gulf, are circular with one flat side bearing narrative or abstract decoration motifs (obverse) and the domed side (reverse) generally decorated with fine incised lines and dot-and-circle motifs. As for the function of the seals, they are thought to be related to trade and tradesmen (labelling of merchandise). However, other functions for these seals cannot be excluded.

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Metal objects

Metal objects at Al-Khidr associated with the Early Dilmun deposits are heavily corroded and mostly severely fragmented. The assemblage consists of finished objects and semi-products. According to analysis of the chemical composition of 17 finds (M. Schreiner) selected from the northern, central and southern parts of the exposed area, the majority of metal finds could be from copper. Bronzes, if not migrated from recent layers, are scarce.

The Al-Khidr collection of copper objects is dominated by implements from thick wire and thin rods but objects from sheet and cast metal are also encountered. Most abundant are fish-hooks and awls. The fish-hooks typically have long shanks made from round or hammered rods and are found all across the site. Together with the fish bones and otoliths they clearly indicate the importance of fishing to the people of Al-Khidr.

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Steatite is a mineral talc occurring in consolidated form, especially as soapstone. Easily workable by carving or on a lathe, it was used in Dilmun for the production of vessels and various objects since the second half of the third millennium BC (Tarut Island, Saudi Arabia). Soapstone working is also traceable in the second millennium, at the time of the Al-Khidr settlement (Early Dilmun period).

Albeit steatite vessels occur at Al-Khidr in large amounts, only very few survived as complete objects. Beside numerous fragments of globular bowls, few spouts, a cylindrical vessel, a small prismatic bowl, a strainer fragment, and a knobbed lid occurred. Typically, the smooth outer surface of sherds is decorated with incised lines combined with dot-and-circle motif common in the Early Dilmun period. According to microscopic analyses of samples from Al-Khidr, the steatite vessels were carved and not shaped from paste of ground steatite and fired as pottery.

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Use of stones

At the Dilmun settlement of Al-Khidr, stone was used for various purposes. Unlike the eye-catching rocks and minerals from which handsome domestic utensils (steatite vessels) and personal ornaments (carnelian and white quartz beads) were carved, the majority of stones are of less showy appearance. Limestone, flint, quartz and quartz-rich rocks were commonly and frequently used materials.

Flint, the crypto- or microcrystalline quartz variety from chalk sediments, may have been brought from the mainland (e.g. Selabikhat). In comparison to large amount of flint-working waste (debitage), finished tools as notches, denticulates, cutting tools, wedges and endscrapers are rare. We have recorded all major stages of flint tool production from intact and crudely shaped nodules, various cores from which blanks (blades and flakes) are knapped to finished tools. Flotation of deposits, a technique designed for palaeoenvironmental research, proved to be very efficient for the retrieval of small-size debitage testifying to the on site production of flint implements.

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Use of shells

Shelled organisms frequently encountered on archaeological sites in the Gulf include molluscs, barnacles, and echinoderms. In the past shells were exploited in numerous ways. They were used as food, containers, bait and even as building material. Pearls were of course collected from pearl oysters and oysters and other shells were cut up to manufacture inlay, beads or trinkets. Sometimes, they served as amulets to be buried with the dead. Crushed shells were used in medicine, to temper clay for pottery, as poultry feed, and as fertilizer. Remains of marine molluscs occur at Al-Khidr in large quantities. Scattered across the site, they form more or less restricted deposits that may represent remains of subsistence activities, shell working waste or remains of construction details (insulation/levelling).

At Al-Khidr, local bivalve species, collected from the shallow subtidal waters around Failaka, attest to the use of the flesh for human consumption and the search for pearls. A number of these edible shellfish (e.g. Pinna, Pinctada, Ostrea, Chlamys, Spondylus, and Barbatia) were even consumed in the recent past. A striking abundance of pearl oyster shells (Pinctada margaritifera/Pinctada radiata) and finds of pearls and pearl blisters indicate that pearl fishing at Al-Khidr was possible. Pearl diving has a long tradition in the Gulf and may well have been performed from boats, as evidenced by the bitumen finds and Mesopotamian texts. Copper awls and some other tools may have been employed in pearl and mother-of-pearl hunting as well. Similar to Saar and other Dilmun sites, gastropods such as Conus and Strombus were used in craftwork. They were used for beads or pendants by slicing and polishing the shell's apex. In addition, one finished stamp seal and one semi-product cut from thick nacre layers belonging to an unspecified bivalve were also discovered.

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See also


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Click on a map to see all known archaeological sites on Failaka island from the Bronze Age up to the present day.