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'Detectives' unearth secrets of the past

Artefacts dating back 4,000 years, unearthed at a burial site in Janabiya, are shedding more light on merchant movements during the Dilmun era. Dilmun seals found at the site are inscribed with an Indus Valley inscription. Indus Valley was an ancient civilisation that thrived in an area between Pakistan and India between 2,800BC and 1,800BC.

Archaeologists believe that these inscriptions may reveal that there was a merchant relationship between the Indus Valley civilisation and the Dilmun civilisation.

This is not the first time that Indus Valley inscriptions have been found on Dilmun seals, but it is rare, said archaeology and heritage acting director Khalid Al Sindi.

Mr Al Sindi believes that the inscriptions may give clues as to who was living in the area at the time and that perhaps are an indication that the burial mound belonged to an Indus Valley merchant.

"We believe the huge burial mound in Janabiya was built for important or rich, or religious people who lived in the Dilmun era," said Mr Al Sindi.

"Either merchants, or religious people, as they would have to pay for people to move the stones for the mound."

The Janabiya site is home to hundreds of burial mounds dating back to 2200BC and is considered by archaeologists as one of the most important heritage sites in Bahrain.

The people buried in Janabiya are thought to have lived in Saar, or Budaiya, as they liked to live in the northern area, which was rich in water and greenery.

The practice was to bury the dead in the middle of the island in places such as Hamad Town, because it was a high and dry area, though this was not always the case.

The burial mounds were made from limestone and sand, which were thought to have been available in the local area.

Although many of the burial mounds have been robbed throughout the ages, archaeologists at the Janabiya site are opening some of the burial chambers for the very first time.

Around 45 relics including Dilmun seals, pottery, ostrich eggs, shells, daggers, baskets, beads and two complete human skeletons have so far been found at the site since excavations began in January.

"We found ostrich eggs, with a spearhead and a jar with decorative painting. It's not the first time we have found ostrich eggs, but it's very rare as most of these eggs were robbed and broken quickly," said Mr Al Sindi.

"They are easily destroyed and it's rare to find ones in good condition."

The site is being excavated by archaeologist and supervisor of the project Abbas Ahmed Al Aradi, archaeologists Abdul Kareem Al Aradi and Khalil Ebrahim Faraj and surveyor Khamis Al Ali.

It is being funded by the Information Ministry's Archaeology and Heritage Directorate.

Excavations at the site are expected to be completed by the end of this month.

The archaeologists are particularly excited about the types of burial mounds that have been found located together at the site.

"In the Dilmun era, at the end of the third millennium BC, they built burial mounds that contained the main chamber in the centre, surrounded by a ring wall.

"The main chamber was built for male and female adults," said Mr Al Sindi.

"Sometimes they added other chambers on one side of the main chamber and we believe these additional chambers would have been meant for family members."

There are three types of burial mounds that have been found in Janabiya: a mound with a chamber built on top of the bedrock; a mound with a chamber built into the bedrock (underground); and a chamber built on top of the bedrock with 'arms' - walls built between the main chamber and the ring wall.

"We found the three types before, but it is difficult to find them together," said Mr Al Sindi.

"When we find them together it raises the question: how can there be three types in one area and in the same period?

"Were there three groups of builders, or three different religious groups?"

Mr Al Sindi said that there was no evidence found so far that could answer this question but that the way the burial mounds were made supported the idea that the sun played an important role in the religion at the time.

"I think when we talk about the direction of the body, or skeleton, we should think of the religion and at that time the stars and sun were very important in their religion," he said.

Because of this the body would almost always lay in the foetal position with the head towards the east, feet towards the west and face towards the north, said Mr Al Sindi.

The west wall of the chamber would not be built until the dead body was put inside and they would then cover the chamber with a cup stone or slab stone, to cover the ceiling of the chamber.

Unfortunately there is no evidence to show one way or the other if, or how the body was prepared for burial, but it is possible that the dead were buried with items because they needed them for their journey into the next life, said Mr Al Sindi.

"It's difficult to say that they covered the body with clothes or not as we haven't found any remains of clothes, but we know that they put the body in the foetal position," he said.

"They buried the body with good pottery and jars, which maybe contained water, milk, or honey."

A primary report on the excavations in Janabiya will be published later in the summer and the directorate hope to stage a temporary exhibition of their findings at the Bahrain National Museum early next year.

Every year the Information Ministry earmarks different areas of Bahrain for excavation and the next project will begin in October.



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