Merchant trading network burials threatened

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Quick: where in the world is the largest concentration of Bronze Age graves?

Read on….

Bahrain is a large island in a shallow bay on the west side of the Persian Gulf called the Gulf of Bahrain. Bahrain’s modern residents can cross a series of causeways that link the island to Saudia Arabia to the west. Most of the island is relatively low-lying, flat, and arid.

Due to the petroleum industry, the country of Bahrain has had a booming economy over the last generation or so. The country also has a strong banking sector. Accompanying population growth has meant the expansion of suburban neighborhoods westward from the capital of Manama, in the northeast part of Bahrain.


New York Times photograph by Shawn Baldwin, captioned “Hundreds of burial mounds near the village of A’ali in Bahrain. The country has the world’s heaviest concentration of graves dating from the Bronze Age.”

This expansion and development threatens a landscape peppered with Bronze Age burial mounds. In fact, in an article published by the New York Times on September 17, 2009, author Michael Slackman says this is “the heaviest concentration of graves dating from the Bronze Age found anywhere in the world.” At present, some 35 areas are set aside to preserve clusters of mounds. Slackman writes:

Most of the graves contain a death chamber shaped like a boot on its side. The body was placed in the fetal position while personal items, ceramic pots, personal seals and knives were stored in the toe. The value of the graves is not, necessarily, in what they contain but in what they tell about the lives, values and funerary practices of an ancient civilization.


Google Earth screen grab of one of A’ali’s larger mound fields, now split by a divided highway.

The community of A’ali (also spelled Aali and Ali) is currently favored by middle-class families building new homes on the outskirts of suburban Manama. In UNESCO World Heritage materials online:

The Ali mound field is a large mound field of primarily Late Type divided into two parts by a north-south running highway. At the north end of the burial mound field is a group of huge mounds, called “Royal Mounds”, which have during the growth of the village become part of its urban fabric, so that the immediate neighbourhood of these mounds has been utilized for habitation and small industries, e.g. pottery and lime production.

Historically, Bahrain “is believed to have been the capital of Dilmun, which lay along a trade route linking the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia,” Slackman writes. In fact, Dilmun’s capital may have been what is now the modern community of A’ali, southwest of Manama. Certainly, long-distance trading networks developed early and were extensive throughout this region. Archaeological finds from many locations along the Persian Gulf coast indicate the ongoing presence of Bronze Age merchant ships.

Preservationists have been working with UNESCO to make the mound fields a World Heritage Site, so far without success. Online UNESCO materials note:

The Burial Ensembles of Dilmun and Tylos are the expression of funerary practices of these civilizations which flourished in Bahrain from the mid 3rd millennium B.C. till the mid 1st millennium A.D. and which played essential roles in the organization of trade between Mesopotamia, South Arabia and the Indian subcontinent.

Bahrain’s Gulf Daily News published an article dated August 23, 2009, by Mohammed al A’ Ali. He reported on the clash between the forces for development and those pushing for preservation:

Historic burial mounds in a Bahraini village, which the government hoped to have recognised as a World Heritage Site, will be bulldozed to make way for a new road, houses and a public park. Councillors have successfully argued that 62 mounds in Buri, which date back as far as 4,000 years, were standing in the way of development. However, heritage chiefs are insisting on excavating the area, near Hamad Town, before allowing the bulldozers in.

That’s the story from a distant part of the world.

How about your area? What archaeological remains are threatened near your house or neighborhood? What preservation efforts are underway, if any? Comments?

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