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The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.


an island (approximately 14 × 5 km, or 9 × 3 mi.) in the State of Kuwait, located at the mouth of Kuwait Bay, at the northern end of the Arab-Iranian Gulf (29°26′ N, 48°20′ E). Excavations by Danish teams (1958–1962) revealed what continue to be the earliest (c. 2000 BCE) traces of habitation on Failaka Island. That Bronze Age settlement, at the island's southwest corner, consists of clusters of small domestic structures executed in a casual stone-mortar construction. The principal feature of the tallest tell (designated F-3, 6 m above sea level) is an open-air platform temple. Associated with the three architectural levels of the temple and surrounding buildings are hundreds of fragments of decorated soft-stone vessels. A number of the fragments with representational designs have parallels with complete dated bowls excavated at sites in Mesopotamia; other comparable, but not securely stratified, material is found at Tarut (eastern Arabia), Susa, and Tepe Yahya (Iran). [See Susa; Tepe Yahya.] The Failaka fragments, some dated as early as 2500 BCE, must have been retrieved from temple destructions in southern Mesopotamia and brought as votives by sailors coming from Sumer—their first sheltered port would have been the harbor at Failaka. One of the most historically interesting of the vessel fragments carries the inscription “Temple of Inzak.” According to Mesopotamian texts, Inzak is the titular deity associated with the land of Dilmun,” one of several reasons for the suggestion that Kuwait together with Bahrain, and the eastern coast of Arabia were regarded as Dilmun by the Mesopotamians in the late third and early second millennia BCE. [See Dilmun.]

Equally significant among the Bronze Age finds are hundreds of circular stamp seals, also of soft stone. The iconography and style of Gulf seals (including those from Bahrain) constitute a unique group featuring elements of Gulf culture (e.g. date palm, gazelle, reed stool, water bird, bullman). Yet, the evidence for foreign contacts is far ranging, extending north to Babylonia, Assyria, Syria, and Turkey; south to Oman and Egypt; and east to Margiana, Bampur, Dasht-i-Lut, and the Indus Valley.

A substantial amount of the excavated material relates to the bronzeworking industry: metal slag, copper ingots, metal objects, and tools. This indicates that ingots were imported from Iran even in the early settlements, and a reasonable number of objects were manufactured for export or exchange. Many of the bronze tools identified would have been used in seal cutting, shellworking, and woodworking.

Some 200 m north of the harbor settlement mound, on a lower, sprawling tell, the Danes located the Ruler's Villa, a modest building containing reception and administrative rooms in the front, a central court marked with four square corner pillars (presumably to support a loggia), and residential quarters to the rear. Other finds throughout the site included imported pottery, square stamp seals, cylinder seals, and metal materials, attesting to foreign contacts with Mesopotamia, Abu Dhabi, and Oman and, in the second millennium BCE, the Indus Valley. [See Oman.]

Major architecture from the Hellenistic period consisted of a square enclosure with quadrangular corner bastions. Two entrance doors permitted access to this “fortified” area, which contained the site's earliest Greek settlement (300–250 BCE); the central portion consisted of a religious precinct that may have included two sanctuaries. One was a small Greek cella constructed in well-dressed stone masonry with two columns in antis. The capitals betray an Ionic influence, and the bases are inspired by Achaemenian prototypes. In the latest Hellenistic phase the entire enclosure was surrounded by a dry moat.

A large inscribed stela that had fallen from its original position was found in front of the temple. This public letter to the people of Ikaros (the Greek name for Failaka Island) gives instructions for moving the Artemis Temple and establishing a gymnasium. The inscription is dated to a Greek satrap at Susa in the late third century BCE. Another stone inscription from Tell Khazneh, a kilometer to the north, also mentions Artemis, together with Zeus Savior and Poseidon Savior. It has been suggested that the Greek goddess Artemis may have been assimilated with Ninsikilla, the original goddess of Bronze Age Dilmun, noted in Sumerian mythology as the place where all animals live in peace.

Another rectangular building with many rooms located on the seashore and referred to as the Terracotta Workshop contained a number of figurines, as well as ancient molds for terra cottas of types familiar in the Hellenistic world. Other figurines found throughout the sites illuminate the variety of cults and diverse artistic influences: Mesopotamian, orientalizing Greek, and Hellenistic Tanagra styles.

American excavations by Theresa Howard-Carter for the Johns Hopkins University under auspices of the Kuwait Ministry of Information (1973, 1974) exposed an industrial and crafts area adjacent to the Ruler's Villa, identified by at least six large circular kilns. Raw materials were stored in vats constructed of stone slabs. The contents of the vats were used in the manufacture of a gypsum organic building material, hunks of which appeared in the fill. The kilns were commonly used for firing pottery and baking bread. A trench along the outer wall of the Villa revealed a sophisticated stone-built sewage system with a covered drain running under the wall to a large, covered cesspool outside.

Finds in the crafts workshops next to the Villa included fragments of soft-stone bowls with figural decoration; stamp seals in steatite, ivory, mother-of-pearl, and jasper; imported cylinder seals and inscribed Indus seals; jewelry of bronze, silver, gold, agate, carnelian, and lapis; and bronze tools and implements, shields, greaves, and other armor.

The French excavations under the direction of Yves Calvet, Jean-François Salles, and Jacqueline Gachet of La Maison de l'Orient of the Université de Lyon (1983–1989) in the same area revealed a large, important, and badly denuded stone building whose internal features (water basins and drains) suggest a religious use. The thick walls and prominent staircase indicate some sort of temple tower, which would have been visible to passing ships. The building's meager contents—tripods, seals, decorated soft-stone vessel fragments, bronze tools, and ceramics comparable to those found at Bahrain—indicate that it was constructed at the turn of the second millennium BCE. [See Bahrain.]

It is not possible to identify distinct architectural remains on Failaka between the Late Kassite and Hellenistic periods. A number of Neo-Assyrian inscriptions from Mesopotamia mention Dilmun as located on the mainland, but it is not ascertainable whether the border was in the southern Iraqi marshes or Kuwait, or on the eastern Arabian shore. Some small finds, including a cylinder seal, attest to limited Assyrian contact.

The Neo-Babylonian period is more tangibly represented by a stone architectural member bearing an inscription of Nebuchadrezzar. Other Neo-Babylonian epigraphic materials refer to a temple now presumed to have been situated on Failaka; a scarcely definable building at the inland sanctuary site of Tell Khazneh is a possible candidate. Terracotta figurines from this period date to the Neo-Babylonian and Seleucid periods. The Achaemenid period is further represented in pottery types and characteristic bronze arrowheads.

The French added two new Hellenistic sanctuaries to the architectural corpus, one of them on the beach to the east of the fortress. Dedicated to Artemis, it dates to the first half of the second century BCE. The other sanctuary, at Tell Khazneh, is constructed over the earlier Neo- Babylonian/Achaemenid building.

Much additional work has been done to clarify the architecture and stratification of buildings within the Hellenistic fortress. Two hoards of coins found in the complex date to Antiochus III; others imitate the “Alexander style.” Numismatic evidence from the Artemis sanctuary on the beach point to the mint at Gerrha; the numerous Seleucid coins were minted either at Susa or Seleucia on the Tigris.

A location called al-Quṣur (“the castles”) in the center of the island has traditionally been identified as an archaeological site because it is marked by stone walls and ceramic debris. Initial exploration by the French team led to the discovery of three steps of a staircase and fragments of a stucco frieze bearing an unmistakable Christian cross. Excavation revealed a church (36 × 19 m) constructed basically of mud brick/terre pisé with some courses of small-stone facing; a thick white plaster overlaid all its walls and floors. The building's bipartite structure consisted of the “public” nave (narthex and aisles) and the “restricted” area (two aisles with chapels, the choir, and dependencies utilized for priestly functions. The stucco crosses presumably date to the fifth–sixth centuries CE; however, the pottery associated with the church's establishment is Sasanian/Early Islamic (first half of seventh century). The building was abandoned in the second half of the eighth century and reused for domestic quarters in the late eighth/early ninth centuries.

[See also Kuwait.]


  • Bernard, Vincent, et al. “L'église d'al-Qousour Failaka, État de Koweit.” Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 2 (1991): 145–181.
  • Calvet, Yves. “Failaka and the Northern Part of Dilmun.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 19 (1989): 5–11.
  • Connelly, Joan Breton. “Votive Offerings from Hellenistic Failaka: Evidence for a Herakles Cult.” In L'Arabie préislamique et son environnement historique et culturel: Actes du Colloque de Strasbourg, edited by Toufic Fahd, pp. 145–158. Leiden, 1989.
  • Højlund, Flemming. Failaka/Dilmun: The Second Millennium Settlements, vol. 2, The Bronze Age Pottery. Jutland Archaeological Society Publications, 17.2. Aarhus, 1987.
  • Howard-Carter, Theresa. “Modern Excavations on Failaka Island.” Arts of the Islamic World: Kuwait Supplement 3.1 (1985): 70–73, 96.
  • Howard-Carter, Theresa. “Voyages of Votive Vessels in the Gulf.” In DUMU-E2-DUB-BA-A: Studies in Honor of Åke W. Sjöberg, edited by Hermann Behrens et al., pp. 253–266. Occasional Publications of the Samuel Noah Kramer Fund, 11. Philadelphia, 1989.
  • Kjærum, Poul. Failaka/Dilmun: The Second Millennium Settlements, vol. 1.1, The Stamp and Cylinder Seals. Jutland Archaeological Society Publications, 17.1. Aarhus, 1983.
  • Potts, Daniel T., ed. Dilmun: New Studies in the Archaeology and Early History of Bahrain. Berliner Beitrage zum Vorderen Orient, vol. 2. Berlin, 1983.
  • Potts, Daniel T. The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity. 2 vols. Oxford, 1990.
  • Salles, Jean-François, et al. Failaka: Fouilles français. 3 vols. Travaux de la Maison de l'Orient, nos. 9, 12, 18. Lyon, 1984–1990.
  • Salles, Jean-François. “The Arab-Persian Gulf under the Seleucids.” In Hellenism in the East, edited by Amélie Kuhrt and Susan Sherwin-White, pp. 75–184. London, 1987.

Theresa Howard-Carter

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