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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.

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Located at the head of the Arab-Iranian Gulf, the State of Kuwait bounds with Saudi Arabia to the south, Iraq to the west and north, and the Gulf to the east. Kuwait consists of 17,000 sq km (10,540 sq. mi.) of the Arabian desert, the Gulf littoral, and several uninhabited off-coast islands, of which Bubiyan and Warba are the largest and lie near the Shatt al-Arab. Other islands to the south—Kubbar, Qaruh, Auha, Umm al-Marindin, and Umm an-Nammal in Kuwait Bay—are bare and small. The principal archaeological remains are found on Failaka Island at the entrance to Kuwait Bay, which has been inhabited since 2000 BCE.

The mainland is characterized by a mostly flat, stony desert plain broken by escarpments and hills. Particularly in the north, the wadi systems drain internally, except along the east coast, where they drain into the Gulf. Wadi al-Batin, the relic of an ancient watercourse, rising in Arabia to the south, is a prominent feature defining the state's western boundary. Shallow, depressed basins (playas) in the central, north, and west of Kuwait are important collection stations for winter rains. Typical coastal sand dunes occur in the southern part of the region.

The earliest inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf must have derived from populations enacting a developed Olduwan culture in Tanzania and Kenya more than one million years BP. Arabian-bound emigrants probably crossed from Africa near Bab al-Mandeb (Ethiopia) to Yemen at the mouth of the Red Sea. Acheulean sites are known in North Arabia at Shuway Hittiyah 644 km (400 mi.) due west of Kuwait) and at more than two hundred lakes sites in central, west, and southwest Arabia dating between 700,000 and 100,000 bp. Wadis running north from central Arabia were natural corridors for the peoples who were to inhabit the Gulf and the whole of the Near East. Wadi al-Batin, framing Kuwait on the west, and still archaeologically unknown, is an obvious route. By 50,000 bp, Mousterian culture had developed on the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf was a fertile valley, well-watered by an extension of the Shatt al-Arab emptying into the Gulf of Oman (Indian Ocean) at Hormuz. In 15,000 BCE, the Gulf began to fill from the south, forcing the resident populations of the Shatt valley to seek higher ground north and west.

Between 8000 and 5000 BCE, a Mesolithic hunting culture was established in the Burgan Basin, where characteristic microliths have been found in association with bitumen pools. Drawings of animals (horned quadrupeds with elongated bodies, giraffelike creatures) and a palm tree, executed in a reddish-yellow pigment, decorate the underface of a prominent flat rock near Mudaira (on the north side of Kuwait Bay) that may date to this period.

Neolithic (5000–3500 BCE) sites are distributed along all of the Gulf's western littoral. One site identified in Kuwait at Sabiyah (on the north side of Kuwait Bay) exhibits pottery, fishing gear, celts, and small blades, a rather deprived version of the contemporaneous Ubaid culture flourishing in Sumer. [See Ubaid.] The Neolithic may have continued for some time in Kuwait, although no artifacts have been discovered on the mainland or islands to suggest any continuity of habitation.

There is no evidence of an Early Bronze culture. Nevertheless, somewhere along the mainland littoral a society based on a fishing culture must have existed because the economic surplus provided by fishing would have created the initial stimulus for trade. Two of the types of boats that would have been utilized still survive: the warjia (a reed craft) and the houri (a dugout); the bones of large sea mammals from the second-millennium BCE excavations on Failaka Island indicate the use of a frame or plank boat essential for deep-water fishing.

Other recognized archaeological remains in the State of Kuwait are to be found on the tiny island of Umm an-Nammal, located very close to the tip of Cape Asharij, which juts into the rear position of Kuwait Bay. The island is accessible to the mainland at low tide, and they were no doubt joined in antiquity. The staff of the Kuwait National Museum have completed a thorough survey of the island and conducted test excavations at several of the more substantial locations. Four sites containing meager Bronze Age remains are clustered near the center of the island. One of the sites is identified as a kiln, and sherds of ceramic wares are comparable to material from excavations at Qal῾at al-Bahrain that has been dated to the end of the third millennium and the first half of the second millennium BCE. Other small sites on the island contained Late Kassite, Late Hellenistic, and Late Islamic period material.

The Sabiyah peninsula has been briefly surveyed along the Khor Sabiyah, the channel separating the mainland from Bubiyan Island. Four sites were located, devoid of architecture but identified by pottery dating mainly from the Middle and Late Islamic periods.

[See also Failaka.]


  • Dickson, H. R. P. Kuwait and Her Neighbors. London, 1956.
  • Howard-Carter, Theresa. “Kuwait.” In Reallexikon der Assyriologie, vol. 6, pp. 389–397. Berlin, 1983.
  • Howard-Carter, Theresa. “The Johns Hopkins University Reconnaissance Expedition to the Arab-Iranian Gulf.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 207 (1972): 6–40.
  • Howard-Carter, Theresa. “The Tangible Evidence for the Earliest Dilmun.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 33 (1981): 210–223.
  • Kassler, P. “The Structural and Geomorphic Evolution of the Persian Gulf.” In The Persian Gulf: Holocene Carbonate Sedimentation and Diagenisis in a Shallow Epicontinental Sea, edited by B. H. Purser, pp. 11–33. Berlin and New York, 1973.
  • McClure, Harold A. The Arabian Peninsula and Prehistoric Populations. Coconut Grove, Fla., 1971.

Theresa Howard-Carter

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