Excavated Burial Chambers at Saar
Topic: Ancient life of Saar
Saar is a single-period Early Dilmun settlement, located on the northwest part of the island of Bahrain, near the center of the Persian Gulf. Dilmun was a trade partner between the ancient states of Meluhha (the Indus Valley civilizations of Pakistan and India) and Mesopotamia (what is today Iraq). Saar covers an area of about 2.5 hectares (~6 acres), and it lies on the lee side of a north/south limestone ridge which once included an extensive cemetery.
2300 BC – Founded
1950-1850 Main phase of settlement
1800-1700 BC – Abandoned
The central portion of the town of Saar is laid out in a rectangular plan, on a northwest/southeast grid: the grid breaks down on the outskirts, suggesting that although the foundation of the town was planned, additional growth was not. The settlement is dominated by a central temple, which stood at the highest point at an elevation of 14 meters (~46 feet), and at the junction of two major roads. The temple is also set aside from the rest of the town by alleyways. Smaller roadways divide up the houses into blocks of four or five houses each.
Residential structures at Saar were built in rows, rather than stand-alone buildings, with shared walls and, occasionally, open spaces. The walls and door sockets were constructed of roughly finished local limestone, although some amount of architectural stone was imported from the Arabian mainland. Most of the single nuclear family dwellings conform to a plan of two rooms, an outer L-shaped area and a smaller inner room in a total area of about 80 square meters (860 square feet). The inner room, believed to have been used for storage, typically had a stone-built roof. The outer room, which may have been a private courtyard, was usually simply covered by a palm-frond roof.
At the entrance of a typical house was a double basin with two bowls, a higher and lower one, both covered in grey plaster. Open hearths with clay rims, and elaborated double hearths with clay tripods were used as cooking areas. Plastered pits and sunken storage jars are common in the floors of the outer L-shaped room.
No evidence of workshops has been discovered at Saar: there are few weapons, no observable hierarchy in the houses, no evidence for fortification walls of the town, and the only non-domestic public building is the temple. Artifacts within the residences included hand-made pottery, stone tools, copper fishhooks and beads, and bitumen.
Agriculture and Diet
Bahrain is an island in the Persian gulf, and the sea played an important role in the economy of all of the Dilmun settlements. Although agricultural products such as dates, wheat and barley have been identified in the archaeological collections, 90 percent of animal bones recovered from Saar were fish, both inland and deep-water species, clearly the primary source of protein. Goat, sheep and cattle were other documented dietary mainstays.
Agriculture is in evidence, although scholars have been divided as to whether grain was grown on the island of Bahrain or imported from Mesopotamia. Although preservation of plant remains was poor, quernstones and grinding stones were used as some form of processing, date palms are the most common food plant.
Archaeobotanical research at Saar was conducted during the early 1990s by Mark Nesbitt, who discovered that the primary food resources used at Saar were dates (Phoenix dactylifera), wheat (Triticum durum/aestivum), and barley (Hordeum vulgare). Nesbitt argues that the limited presence of barley and wheat may signify that these two essentially crops were imported from Mesopotamia, as part of the considerable trade between Dilmun and that part of the world.
Annual rainfall at Bahrain is highly variable, and there is evidence at Saar that date gardens were irrigated by qanats and shadufs.
Possible Temple at Saar
Building 201 at Saar is believed to have been used as a temple, although some scholars (Tews 2011) report some doubt as to the assignment of this structure to a religious function. Built of local stone and mortared with gypsum, the temple is an irregular trapezoidal structure, with a roof supported by three stone pillars. The walls were heavily plastered, at least some of which was painted purple. The final phase of construction split the building into three separate areas.
Two altars within Building 201 are both decorated with a semi-circular plastered symbol at the back which may represent bulls’ horns or a crescent moon. Burnt offerings in the form of fish and vegetable matter were found on the altars. Three platforms are also within the temple, all of which are finely plastered. On the top of one of the platforms is the imprint of a rectangular base, where a jar or urn was placed.
In the open area in front of the temple entrance are five circular bases, perhaps the remains of further offering tables. One stamp seal and fragments of 77 seal impressions was recovered from the temple, but only one of the impressions match the single seal, and there are very few clear impressions.
Other buildings in Saar includ a well, a large kiln and two circular structures at the southeastern border of the settlement which may have been storage facilities.
Artifacts from Saar
Artifacts found within the households include copper fishhooks, bitumen nodules, and numerous shells from shellfish, including pearl oyster. The copper was produced in Bahrain; the bitumen imported from Mesopotamian quarry sites. Tiny seed pearls were found in the excavations, although they were probably too small to e used as ornaments. Nearly 100 seals, used to seal packages, bales and jars, have been found at the Saar settlement, and 48 seals from the associated burial ground: this is very unusual for a small town and unmatched on Bahrain. Four or five seals were found in a single house. All of the seals are of the early Dilmun style.
Saar was discovered on a survey in 1977, and excavated in 1977-1979 under the direction of M. Ibrahim. Some unpublished work by a joint Bahraini-Jordanian expedition at Sarr in the 1980s. The London-Bahrain Archaeological Expedition was conducted at Saar between 1990 and 1999, led by Robert Killick, Jane Moon and Harriet Crawford.
This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Dilmun Culture, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.
Crawford H. 1997. The site of Saar: Dilmun reconsidered. Antiquity 71(273):701-708.
Nesbitt M. 1993. Archaeobotanical evidence for early Dilmun diet at Saar, Bahrain. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 4(1):20-47.
Tews S. 2011. Seals in Dilmun Society: The use and value of Bronze Age seals from Saar, Bahrain: Universiteit Leiden.
By K. Kris Hirst about.com guide