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Friday, January 19, 2007

Qatar's early history

Qatar’s early history is characterized by uncertainty and speculation. However, with the oldest of Qatar’s archaeological sites, Al Shagra, dating back to 6000 BC, the first habitation that historians can be certain of takes place at the end of the Stone Age.

One theory is that these early inhabitants were probably pastoral nomads, searching for grazing for their animals at a time when the climate was more temperate. An alternative theory is that they were hunter gatherers living on what cereals and plants they could gather as well as animals and sea creatures such as gazelle, onager (wild ass), hares, turtle and dugongs. They were probably also fisherman who utilized small and basic boats, and may have been involved in pearl diving. Shards of Ubud pottery, dating back to 5000 BC and originating from Iraq, suggests that some sort of trading network also existed.

Originally, it was thought that there may have been continuous habitation from this period on. Now it seems likely that there were long periods when Qatar was uninhabited. Findings from a site in Al Khor, which had previously been assumed to be from a wide range of cultures and times, have now been proved to be from between 5600 and 5300 BC. After 4000 BC the climate became drier and harsher, and it would have been difficult for nomads with cattle to survive. Dr Kullweit, quoted in a recent article in the Gulf Times (see sources below), suggested that these nomads may gradually have adopted camels and become the Bedouin of Arabia.

Later on Qatar was probably part of Dilmun, a Bronze Age kingdom which grew rich by providing a trading link between Mesopotamia and the Indus valley in India. Dimun was mentioned in the Summerian myth of the flood, and was later said to be the location of the survivors of the flood. Many archaeological sites associated with Dilmum are located on nearby Bahrain, but the kingdom covered the Eastern coast of Arabia, and Barbar Pottery, manufactured in Bahrain circa, 2450 – 1700 BC has been found in Ras Abrouq.

It is not clear exactly when Dilmun declined in importance, but it is probably linked to the collapse of the Indus civilisation in the second millennium and a decrease in the copper trade it controlled. Following Dilmun, Kassites, who had taken control of Babylon, were present in at least parts of Qatar. They used a tiny island in the bay of Al Khor to produce the royal colours of purple and scarlet by crushing sea snails, and Kassite ceramics have been discovered in Al Khor itself.

Ancient historians (Itabo and Herotodus) believed that Phoenicians were the first inhabitants of the area. While they could not have been the first (their civilization existed from around 3000 BC, and they only became a significant power from around 1100 BC), it’s interesting that they were famous for their purple die – produced from sea snails.

The Amiri Diwan website suggests that there was inhabitation during Roman and Greek times. A stone house has been founded in Ras Abrouq: this may have been part of a temporary fishing station. After this period there seems to have been no evidence of habitation for some centuries, although there may well have been nomads moving through the land: the camel had been domesticated and utilised for travelling in the third millennium BC. The Amiri Diwan website believes that Qatar again produced purple die, as well as pearls, in the third century AD, and acted as a trading link between West and East at the time of the Sassanids, a Persian Empire which existed from 226-651 AD.

Visitors to Qatar can see stone age tools and arrow heads in the Qatar Natural History Museum. Rock carvings can be seen in Jabal Al Jassasiya, and ancient burial mounds in Omm Slal Ali date to the third millennium BC.

Also see The Rise of the Qatar Ruling Family.



Gillespie, F. (2006) Discovering Qatar

Gotting, F. (1996) Healing hands of Qatar


Gillespie, F. (2007) in Gulf Times (January 12 2007)
Expert puts spotlight on region's rich archeological past


Amiri Diwan: History of Qatar http://www.diwan.gov.qa/english/qatar/qatar_history.htm

Wikipedia: Dilmun http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilmun

National Geographic: Who were the Phoenicians? Wikipedia: Sassanid Empire: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sassanid_Empire

Qatar Visitor Bookstore


Iranian Early History