Excavations on Bahrain’s ancient Al Sayah island have shown that it is an ancient artificial man-made island. The excavations are being conducted by the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities in collaboration with a team of British archaeologists led by Professor Robert Carter.
The team conducting the archaeological survey on the historical Al Sayah island in the old city of Muharraq, off the coast of Busaiteen in Bahrain, found that it is a man-made island built around a freshwater spring at least 1,200 years ago, reports Arkeonews. Director of the Bahrain Museums and Antiquities Department, Dr Salman Al-Mahari, stated that island is an artificial creation, not the result of some natural phenomenon as was previously believed.
A dig site on the man-made island of Al Sayah, Bahrain, which a British-Bahrain archaeological team dated to at least 1,200 years ago, shedding new light on ancient engineering practices in the region. ( Arkeonews)
Bahrain’s Man-made Island: A Remarkable Engineering Feat
According to GDN, ancient Al Sayah could have been a freshwater-supplying depot built on reclaimed land more than 1,200 years ago (9th century AD) through an extraordinary feat of engineering. The new “unexpected” find throws fresh light on the engineering prowess of the ancient people of Bahrain.
According to Dr Al-Mahari, the island is one of the oldest examples of sea-filling practices. The excavations also confirm that Al Sayah, which was well known for its freshwater springs , played a crucial role in Bahrain’s pearling history. The freshwater springs were known locally as kawkab or chochab.
Professor Carter is quoted by the News of Bahrain as saying, “Preliminary results of the excavations show that the island was a water supply station dating back to the early Islamic Era . Or perhaps before that! It also had a big role in the pearling profession in Bahrain for more than 1,200 years.”
In the News of Bahrain article, Professor Carter explained the process used to build the island. A cistern or reservoir was first created around the spring to contain the fresh water emerging from the sea floor. “They created a thick circular wall around that to form a small island of fewer than 20 meters [66 feet] wide. Then later, it was fortified by creating another curved wall to form an island of about 40 meters [132 feet] wide.”
“Finally, they created straight walls on the south and east sides of the island, which intersected with each other to form rectangular cabins. They also used large coral blocks to create a platform of the island that was more than 60 meters [198 feet] in length from one end to the other.”
A Freshwater-supply Depot and Pearling Station
A small building next to the spring with a mechanism for raising water was also discovered during excavations. This was used to draw freshwater continuously and supply it to boats anchored along the quay .
The island was littered with old heaps of pearl oysters mixed with pottery from the seventh to eighth centuries AD that covered most parts of the island . “For this reason, it is believed that the island was a facility for pearl fishing in the past,” added Professor Carter.
The team of archaeologists explored the Bu Maher and Khor Fasht freshwater springs of Al Sayah Island using diving gear and underwater surveying tools . Dr Al-Mahari told News of Bahrain , “This is the first exploration of marine and underwater archaeology in Bahrain, and we hope the project will lead to important discoveries in the future.” Given that the first survey has yielded such remarkable results, future ones hold a lot of promise.
Ancient pearl oyster shells mixed with pottery were found at the site indicating that the pearl industry of Bahrain was a major source of income already 1,200 years ago. This image is from the early 20th century and shows two Bahraini pearl divers up from a dive off Al Sayah Island, Bahrain. ( The Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities – Kingdom of Bahrain )
The History of Pearl Diving in Bahrain
Bahrain’s Muharraq pearls were first mentioned in Assyrian texts dating to 2000 BC, referring to “fish eyes” from Dilmun (an ancient polity encompassing Bahrain and other modern gulf states) and the city was known as the Arabian Gulf’s pearling capital . By 1930, 30,000 pearl divers were active in Bahrain, the largest number of whom lived on the island.
A unique feature of Muharraq is that it was built almost entirely of coral stone . This made it stand out from other pearling cities of the Arabian Gulf which mostly consisted of temporary structures made of palm material. Its permanent structures therefore provide insights into significant elements of the pearling history not only in Bahrain but across the entire Arabian Gulf as well.
More finds from this ancient man-made island of Bahrain will likely be found in the next year and shed more light on this region in the 9th century.
Top image: Professor Robert Carter (right side of left image), leader of the British team that determined that Bahrain’s Al Sayah Island (right image) is an ancient artificial man-made island. Source: Arkeonews
By Sahir Pandey