Saar and its external relations: new evidence for interaction between Bahrain and Gujarat during the early second millennium BC

The apparently sudden appearance of Indus-type seals, pottery and other implements around 2000 BCE in the Arabian Gulf, just before the Indus cities and culture seems to have gone into decline, is a great mystery. It has only deepened as recent excavations in the Gulf seem to make clear that Indus people worked their way well inland, not just in port areas. This article, while somewhat early, shows not only how important Indus seals and particularly pottery at one point in the history of this early Dilmun (Bahrain) settlement, but also that this rural town's relationship seems to have primarily been with Gujarati Indus people given the type and style of artifacts discovered. "Over ninety-two Dilmun-type seals have been found (4). Additionally, 261 fragments of sealings have been discovered (5). This impressive total, from a non-urban site, supports the textual evidence that the people of Early Dilmun were a trading nation, whose economy was intrinsically linked to the exchange of finished goods and raw materials from Mesopotamia, Southeast Arabia, the Harappan orbit and elsewhere" writes the author (p. 184). The scope of trade from what seems like once was such a small area reminds us that ancient peoples were not less entrepreneurial than people in more recent centuries despite what must have been much greater difficulties in travel and communication.

Interesting facts emerge from what was found: "Taken as a whole, Saar’s Indus-related assemblage is a highly specialized one, almost entirely consisting of large storage jars. Other characteristic Late Sorath Harappan types are absent, such as painted bowls, stud-handled bowls and dishes-on-stand. It is presently not known whether the jars are items of trade in their own right, or were purchased for their contents. The former is a possibility, given the lack of a native tradition of large necked storage jars within the Saar Period 1–3 assemblage" (p. 186).

Carter ends his article with relevant larger points: "The cessation of trade between Bahrain and Gujarat is certainly connected to the end of the Early Dilmun civilization and the final disappearance of the Harappan culture. It is not possible, however, to make simple causative links. In the first place, there is insufficient certainty as to the absolute dating of the Early Dilmun and Harappan sequences and their chronological correspondences to establish the exact sequence of developments. Secondly, the Bahrain-Gujarat connection is just one part of a complex web of economic, cultural and political relationships within an immense network of neighbouring regions and peoples, stretching from Central Asia to Mesopotamia, and encompassing Southeast Arabia, Eastern Arabia and highland and lowland Iran" (p. 194).

And what did this trade consist of? "Other than pottery, various goods may have been traded between Bahrain and Saurashtra during the early second millennium. Items recorded in the texts, transhipped to Ur via Dilmun during the Isin Larsa period, include leather goods, sheepskin containers, wooden artefacts, garments, asphalt, ivory, semi-precious stones, gold and copper, including the famous 18-tonne shipment by the merchant Ea-Nasir (81). Much of this material may have originated from the Late Harappan sphere in Saurashtra " (p. 195).

Carter looks forward to further analytical research, and given continuing excavations and publications, one can look forward to a many more exciting discoveries linking Indus and Gulf cultures during the Bronze Age.

Image: Saar, south-eastern block, the main excavated part of the site. House 53 is where nearly half the late Harappan sherds were found.