site in the Arabian Gulf, located on the north coast of the island of Bahrain, with an areal extent of about 18 ha (46 acres), and its largest settlement (26°13′ 28″ N, 50°28′45″ E). Excavations began at the site In 1954, when Peter Vilhelm Glob and a Danish team from the University of Aarhus's Prehistoric Museum Moesgård, initiated work that was to continue uninterrupted until 1965. A follow-up season was carried out by T. Geoffrey Bibby In 1970, and In 1977 a new program of excavations, concentrating principally on a Parthian/Early Islamic fortress to the north of the main mound, was begun by the French archaeologist Monique Kervran. During the 1980s, the Bahrain Department of Antiquities carried out extensive restoration of the sixteenth-century Portuguese fort that crowns the site. In 1988 the French excavations were resumed under the direction of Pierre Lombard, who began work near the site of an Iron Age building originally exposed by the Danes, in a project which is still in progress.

The occupation of Qal῾at al-Bahrain dates to about 2400 BCE. Late Early Dynastic and/or Early Akkadian-related pottery, as well as sherds of painted Umm an-Nar pottery from the Oman peninsula occur in the settlement's basal city I levels alongside a local “chain-ridged” ware typical of Bahrain and the adjacent parts of the northeast Arabian mainland during that period. Soft-stone weights (imported from Oman) and cubical chert weights of Harappan type also appear in late city I contexts. At the beginning of the period known as city II (c. 2100 BCE), a distinctive stamp-seal form appears. The earliest so-called Persian Gulf seals are round, with a high, grooved boss and display animals and other nonhuman motifs. Nearly a dozen of the earliest seals also bear short Harappan inscriptions together with a humped bull (zebu) shown in profile. The iconography suggests that an Indian element in the population, or trade with India, played an important role at the site in the late third millennium.

In about 2000 BCE, a 3.5-meter-thick stone wall with a rubble core was built around the settlement. A system of lanes and streets, with well-planned houses, was exposed in the Danish excavation of levels dating to this period. A more developed seal type (Dilmun seals) with incised lines and four dotted double circles on the boss was in use from about 2000 to 1700 BCE. Seals of this type show a complex iconography that includes a wide variety of human, animal, and architectural features. Certain iconographic and stylistic details suggest that Dilmun glyptic may have influenced Anatolian glyptic of the Old Assyrian caravan period (e.g., at sites like Acemhöyük). Links to Isin-Larsa and Old Babylonian Ur are also clear, both from cuneiform and glyptic evidence. An Amorite element, perhaps originating on the mainland opposite Bahrain, appears to have been present at Qal῾at al-Bahrain as well, for at least one cuneiform text found there contains several Amorite personal names.

Qal῾at Al-Bahrain

QAL῾AT AL-BAHRAIN. View of Qal῾at al-Bahrain. The Portuguese fort lies in the background, the Neo-Assyrian building complex in the foreground. (Courtesy D. Potts)

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City III shows strong ties to the Kassite state, and a sizable proportion of Kassite pottery types appears in Qal῾at al-Bahrain's ceramic assemblage of the mid-second millennium BCE [See Kassites.] A large building from that period, which contained thousands of burnt date stones, has been identified as a storehouse. Above this level, in city IV levels, is a building complex that is, in some ways, reminiscent of Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian palace architecture. Ceramic bathtub coffins, with close analogues in Neo-Babylonian Mesopotamia, were buried in the ruins of the building after its abandonment. City V represents the Hellenistic and Parthian occupation of the site, probably extending into the Early Sasanian period; city VI was the designation used for the later Islamic remains. A square fortress with round corner towers, originally excavated by the Danish expedition and later reinvestigated In 1977–1983 by Monique Kervran for the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, was probably founded in the second or third century CE under Parthian or Characene influence and then rebuilt and reused in the thirteenth century. Imported Chinese ceramics and coins bear witness to the existence of far-flung trade with East Asia at this time. The largest monument on the site, however, is a fortress originally built by a local Arab dynasty and taken over and remodeled by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. The fortress, which is shown clearly on Portuguese drawings of the period, was surrounded by a dry moat. As the main ancient settlement on the north coast of Bahrain island, Qal῾at al-Bahrain was ancestral to the later population centers of Bilad al-Qadim and Manama.

[See also Bahrain; Dilmun.]


  • Bibby, Geoffrey. Looking for Dilmun. New York, 1969. Popular account of the Danish Gulf expedition, with primary reference to the work carried out on Bahrain and the search for Dilmun.
  • Khalifa, Shaikha Haya A. al, and Michael Rice, eds. Bahrain through the Ages: The Archaeology. London, 1986. Proceedings of a conference held In 1983; touches on most aspects of Bahraini archaeology.
  • Kervran, Monik, et al. Fouilles à Qal῾at al-Bahrein/Excavation of Qal῾at al-Bahrain, Ière partie/1st part, 1977–1979. Bahrain, 1982. Preliminary report on the first three seasons of excavation at Qal῾at al-Bahrain by the French mission.
  • Lombard, Pierre, and Monik Kervran, eds. Bahrain National Museum Archaeological Collections, vol. 1, A Selection of Pre-Islamic Antiquities from Excavations, 1954–1975. Bahrain, 1989. Catalog of objects in the Bahrain National Museum, many of which come from the Danish excavations at Qal῾at al-Bahrain.
  • Potts, Daniel T. The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity. 2 vols. Oxford, 1990. General survey of the archaeology of the Gulf region, with reference to the occupation of Qal῾at al-Bahrain in all periods.

D. T. Potts