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Potts 2016 - Trends and patterns in the archaeology and pre-modern history of the Gulf region. In J.E. Peterson, ed. The Emergence of the Gulf States: Studies in Modern History. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 19-42.

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Potts 2016 - Trends and patterns in the archaeology and pre-modern history of the Gulf region. In J.E. Peterson, ed. The Emergence of the Gulf States: Studies in Modern History. London: Bloomsbury, pp. 19-42.
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  Edited by J.E.Peterson The Emergence of the Gulf States Studies in Modern History  Advisory Editors: Bernard HaykelFrauke Heard-BeyMohammed al-MuqadarnJames Piscatori Bloomsbury Academic An  imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Pic BLOOMSBURY LONDON' OXFORD· NEW YORK' NEW DELHI' SYDNEY  1 Trends and Patterns in the Archaeologyand Pre-modern History of the Gulf Region D.T. Potts Recent decades have witnessed an explosion of archaeological and historical literatureexamining the past 8.000 years of human occupation in the Gulf region, but only rarelyhave scholars taken a step back from their particular fields of expertise to look more broadly for trends that might be relevant to both the earlier and the later periods, and to the Iranian and Arabian sides of the Gulf. The aim of this chapter is to examine anumber of issues from an explicitly holistic perspective, before turning to someillustrations of interconnectedness or centripetal interaction  in  the Gulf from pre- modern times. To begin  with,  however, a few words about the physical configuration of the Gulf are in order. The Gulf as we know it today is a shallow, epicontinental sea - a trough c.1,000  km long, 200-350  km  wide - bordered by eight countries: Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia,Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman (Ra's Musandam) and Iran.The creation of this trough has been explained by the theory of plate tectonics and attributed to the movement of two of its plates. Sometime between c. twenty-fivemillion and twelve million years ago, the upthrust of the Arabian plate in the westagainst the Asian plate, followed by the downward warp of the eastern side of theArabian Peninsula, created the floor of the Gulf. The formation of the Zagros Mountainsc. 5 million to 2 million years ago caused the marine transgression that inundated thearea, creating a vast sea. During the Late Pliocene (3.6 million to 2.6 million years ago),when sea levels worldwide were up to 150 m higher than they are today, the coasts of Arabia, Iraq and Iran were up to 100  km  inland from where they currently are.Thereafter, cooler temperatures  locked   up more and more of the Earth's water supply inthe polar ice caps, and sea levels fell accordingly. In the Gulf the successive phases of marine regression that ensued are marked by marine terraces at UO, 70, 50-45, 40-38,25,18-15 and 10-7 metres above modern sea  level.  Dating these episodes is difficult,however, and seismic activity,  resulting  in both tectonic uplift and subsidence,complicates our understanding of the geomorphology of the Gulf's coasts.Between 70,000 and 17,000 years before the present, when worldwide sea levelswere up to 120 m below their present  levels,  the trough between the southernmostranges of the Zagros Mountains in Iran and the Arabian Shelf was not the shallow,epicontinental sea that  it  is today, but a river valley through which the combined   20  The Emergence of the Gulf States effluent of the Euphrates. Tigris and Karun rivers ran southward, through the Straits  ri Hormuz, and into the Arabian Sea or Gulf of Oman. From a purely geograp~ perspective, this palaeo-river divided the valley floor into an Iranian and an  Arabian hemisphere. Yet the human effects of the river's presence were probably very  d.i.fferent Instead of separating the populations of these two hemispheres, the river almost certainly acted as a magnet, drawing late Pleistocene bands of hunters and gatherersits banks in search of game. water fowl. fish and shellfish, and creating opportunities  for  interaction between groups exploiting the resources of the river's catchment area.  iii!: least on a seasonal  if  not year-round basis.Unfortunately, we have no way of retrieving either the material remains of   the earliest inhabitants of this region or the evidence of their interactions because. around 17,000 years ago, worldwide sea levels began to rise, eventually transforming the Ttgris-Euphrates-Karun river valley into the Gulf as we know it. Several generations  of  geomorphologists and hydrologists have documented the progressive infilling of   t:br  Gulf, the implications of which are wide-ranging from the standpoint of humangeography and prehistoric settlement. As late as 10,000 years ago sea levels were  still c,40 m lower than they are at present, after which they rose by fits and starts. The valley became covered, in part, by a discontinuous lake, and only gradually assumed   its  present form. Thus, for example, at 6000  BCE,  Bahrain w~s not ~et .an archipelago;Qatar was not yet a peninsula; and the coast of Abu Dhabi was significantly further north than it is today. In other words, Bahrain, Qatar and many of what are today theoffshore islands in the area of the Great Pearl Banks, including Dalma, Marawah  and Sir Bani Yas, were part of the Arabian mainland. Thereafter, the sea level in the Gulf continued to rise, reaching a high point  c.2-3  rn above modern levels about 6,000 yearsago, before receding gradually to its current level at a rate of c.0.4  m/.l.000  jeers, according to Kurt Lambeck. To complicate the situation, howev~r, tectoruc uplift and subsidence must also be considered, and Lambeck has emphaSIzed that. west of theStraits of Hormuz, towards the eastern end of the Zagros Mountains, late Holocene beach deposits have been observed at elevations of 30 m above sea level which cannot be explained by 'eustatic and glacio-hydro-isostatic m~dels'. Moreover, due to  the effects of local topography, the infilling of the Gulf did not proceed smoothly or uniformly, affecting all parts of the region at precisely the same rate. As such. it woull be unwise to make generalizations about the situation throughout the Gulf at a  given oint in time, and as Bernier and his colleagues showed, the detailed study of micro-~nvironments along the Gulf coast is the only way to arrive at insights into the situatior.in a specific topographic zone, Be that as it may, it seems clear that the  infilling  of ~Gulf had many consequences.From the outset we should dispense with the notion that the Gulf, any more  than  U s  predecessor, the palaeo-river formed by the combi~ed ~ffluent of the Tigris. Eupbraesand Karun rivers, ever acted as a barrier to commumcatlon. Aswe know from  excavated   prehistoric sites in Kuwait (e.g. al-Sabiyyah) and surface finds made at coastal sitesbeastern Saudi Arabia (e.g. Dawsariyyah and 'Ayn al-Sayh), boats made of wood aneL",reeds covered with bitumen were being used by the inhabitants of the Gulf's coasts  " ; ; ' 1 ' 1 6000  BCE.  Thereafter, sailing technology was certainly not static and the sailors  Cl 3000  BCE,  1000  BCE  or 1000  CE  had, at their disposal, vessels, sails and   rigging ~ Pre-modem History of the Gulf Region  21 must have been technically more advanced than those of their ancestors thousands of years earlier. But technological constraints did not hinder communication and, as aglance at Whittingham and King's  Reed's Tables of Distances  dearly shows, the distances between the coasts are modest. Thus Bahrain is only 175 nautical miles from Bushihr (Bushire), while Bushihr is only 150 nautical miles from Kuwait. Similarly, the distancefrom Ba~dar Abbas to Bandar Lingah is only 110 nautical miles. Compared to overland travel, either on the Iranian Plateau, particularly  if   the Zagros Mountains had to betraversed, or through the east Arabian desert, seaborne travel in the Gulf was relativelyeasy, both for   the  transport of goods and people.While the holistic approach to the study of the Gulf encouraged by the abovereading of Its geomorphology and hydrology is appealing, it has found much lessfavour among archaeologists than historians. This is due to a constellation of factorsand reflects a scholarly trajectory that needs to be dissected before it can be properlyunderstood. Dysfunctional archaeologies Arch~eological research in the Gulf began in the late 1870s and is thus much younger than  111  other parts of the Near East such as Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Egypt or continentalIran. By the early twenty-first century, hundreds of sites had been identified along the~ast Arabian coast, from Kuwait to Oman, and on many of the major islands fronting It  (e.g. Faylaka, Tarot, Bahrain, Sir Bani Yas, Dalma, Marawah). Yet the evidence fromthe Iranian coa~t is largely limited to the areas around Bushihr and Siraf and to just afew of the Iranian Gulf islands (principally Kharg and Kish).' The imbalance in thequantity of data available from the two sides of the Gulf has an obvious effect on our u~der~tanding of the past and may be attributed to a variety of factors. Fundamentally,this ~lscrepancy reflects the relative intensity of survey and excavation along theArabian seaboard. particularly in the past thirty-five years, and the much moredesultory nature of the exploration that has occurred along the Iranian coast. In fact,the 1979 Islamic revolution. which ended decades of intensive archaeological research~n.~ontinental Iran, prompted many scholars who had formerly worked in Iran tolrutI.a~esurve~ and. excavation in eastern Arabia (principally the UAE and Oman). Inaddition, the isolation of Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution has made it difficult for scholars in the West to access what information has been published in Iran on researchconducted along the Iranian coast, and for Iranian scholars to access publicationsconcerned with sites in Arabia.'But there are other reasons why it has been difficult to discern patterns and establishcorrelations between the Arabian and Iranian hemispheres; indeed, why very fewattempts have been made to unite the two hemispheres into a coherent whole. First. thearchaeology and early history of settlement in the Arabian hemisphere has generally been studied by a different set of scholars than those concerned with the Iranianevidence. Second, indigenous scholarship in virtually all of the countries bordering theGulf - O~an, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran - isoverwhelmingly national in orientation and there is little engagement with work being  22  The Emergence oj the Gulf States done outside the nation  in which scholars  in these countries work, even when  it  is dear  that the pre-modern archaeological remains found   in one state are related to those of another,' Although meetings of archaeologists and museum professionals from  states of the  Gee  do occur, few of the participants have the overview of the corpora of contemporary and related archaeological finds from across the region that Westernacademics typically have. And finally, the pcliticization of the terms 'Persian' and 'Arabian' Gulf has obscured the common histories and archaeologies of the twohemispheres.Despite these mitigating circumstances, however.  it  is obviously tempting - and timely - to try to view the Gulf region holistically. In the current, admittedly imperfectstate of our knowledge about the Iranian coast, it certainly does seem as though  this area was less densely occupied (density being a relative term) than the Arabian shore(including major islands like Faylaka, Tarot, Bahrain and Muharraq), particularly  in the  pre-Islamic period. A survey by Andrew Williamson and Martha Prickett (published  by Seth Priestman and Derek Kenner) identified hundreds of sites along the coast,overwhelmingly Islamic in date, but the evidence of early sites is slim. It isfrustratinglydifficult, however, to interrogate the available evidence with a view to determiningwhether periods of elevated settlement density, which might reflect higher populationlevels and/or economic activity, coincided on the two coasts of the Gulf and its mainislands. Can we reasonably speak of anything  like  alternating rhythms of expansionand contraction in settlement and economy on the two coasts? Of coordinated periodsof activity, or contrasting'boom' in one area accompanied by'bust'  in the other? Bearingin mind that, apart from copper and pearls (and horses in the medieval and later  periods), most of the commodities being moved around (sugar, porcelain, yarn, indigo.lead, wood, drugs, pepper, coffee, paper, silk, tobacco, tin, steel, cochineal, beads. iron.turmeric and many others) originated outside the region, how integrated were theeconomies of the two coasts? Did similar patterns emerge in the two coastal zones onlywhen both were united under a single political system? What were the local economiceffects of overarching, bi-coastal political unification  in the Gulf when it did occur?A rough and ready assessment of the settlement record on the two sides of the Gulf might look something like this: early sites, ranging from  the  Neolithic (c.6000  BCE) through the Hellenistic-Parthian era (first century  CE),  seem to be located  predominantly on the Arabian side of the Gulf. Later sites, beginning with Siraf,  in theSasanid and early Islamic period, followed by Kish in the medieval period (eleventhcentury) and ultimately Hormuz (with Qishm, which provided it with drinking water from cisterns as well as foodstuffs) in the later medieval and SafavidfPortuguese periods, were predominantly located on the Iranian side of the Gulf. In the earlymodern era _ beginning with the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century - supra-regional powers blurred this pattern by periodically extending their authority throughconquest from the Iranian side (viz. Hormuz) to the Arabian side {al-Qatif Bahrain.[ulfar) of the Gulf. In many instances, however, the ability of a particular power, eventhe Portuguese, and certainly the Safavids and Afsharids, to manage such a hi-coastalsituation for more than a few years was difficult to sustain.Yet historical reality was hardly as neat as presented in this simplistic reconstruction.Although our image of Bronze Age settlement is based largely on excavations  in the Pre-modern History oj the Gulf Region  23Arabian hemisphere - Qal'at al-Bahrain, Barbar and Sa'ar, on Bahrain; Umm al-Nar,Tell Abraq, al-Sufuh, Asimah and Hili 8, in the UAE; Bat, Maysar and Ra's al-Iinz inOman - a major site dwarfing virtually all of these in size (with the possible exceptionof QaI' at ai-Bahrain) called Tol-e Peytul was located on  the  Iranian  coast   near Bushihr.While early twentieth century excavations there by Maurice Pezard were limited,enough votive inscriptions in Elamite were recovered to confirm the identification of the site as ancient Liyan and to ascertain the presence of one or more major sanctuaries in  the second millennium  BCE  to, among other deities, the Elamite goddess Kiririsha-of-Liyan. Although this is the only significant Bronze Age site found to date on theIranian coast, the size of the mound suggests that Liyan may have been  the  major metropolis in the Gulf. Later, shortly after the Persian Empire was founded in the mid-sixth century  BCE,  Cyrus the Great built a palatial complex at Taoce, near modernBorazjan, a short distance inland from Bushihr. We are fortunate  in  having both the partially excavated ruins of this palace as well as cuneiform texts describing work details sent from Babylon to construct it (these workers presumably got there, not bytravelling overland, but by sailing down  the  Euphrates into  the  Gulf and docking atLiyan).  In  the early third century  BCE  a successor to Liyan was founded by the Seleucid  emperor   Antiochus I  Soter   (r. 281-261  BCE)  and populated by colonists fromMagnesia-ad-Maeandrurn in Asia Minor as Antiochia-in-Persis, perhaps with theintent of making this a major trade entrep6t for long-distance commerce with India.Roughly 600 years later   the  founder of   the  Sasanid Empire, Ardashir I (r. 224-41  CE) established Rev-Ardashir on or near the site of the Seleucid town. according to Tabari.By the early  fifth  century, Rev-Ardashir was  the  seat of   the  Metropolitan of   the  Nestorian church of Fars, and the main point of contact between the Christian provinces of Bet Qatraye (north-eastern Arabia) and Bet Mazunaye (south-easternArabia) and the church hierarchy. By the eighth-ninth centuries the town seems tohave ceded some of its importance to Siraf. Nevertheless, the site remained inhabited for Reshahr, a contraction of Rev-Ardashir according to Hamza, as cited by Yaqut, wassacked by the Portuguese in 1532 and razed by the Safavids in 1540. Its successor,Bushihr, was first attested   in the late sixteenth century but only became important once Nadir Shah decided to  make  it  the centre  of his Gulf navy in 1734.Despite a dearth of excavation, Tol-e Peytul and Antiochia/Rev-Ardashir warrant areconsideration of the primacy of the Arabian side of the Gulf over the Iranian sideduring the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Se1eucid and the Sasanid periods. Conversely,although Siraf near modern Bandar Tahiri on the Iranian coast, is most often invoked as the major Gulf port during the early Islamic era (see below), Bahrain, al-Qatif and Kadhimah (Kuwait) were certainly important at this time, judging by the numismaticevidence, which includes large quantities of Chinese cash, and imported Far Easternceramics. Thus, not all of the important post-Sasanid settlements in the area weresituated on the Iranian coast and islands.Moreover, it seems clear that, by looking at the Gulf holistically, interesting newquestions arise and, even given our incomplete knowledge of many periods, certain patterns begin to emerge. For example, the Gulf often seems to have been dominated  by at least one major trading entrep6t that acted like a magnet, attracting tradingvessels from smaller. secondary ports within the Gulf, as well as the larger ports outside  24  The Emergence of the Gulf States Figure  1.1  'The Jewel of Muscat'. A modern reconstruction  in Oman of a ninth- century Arab sailing vessel.of   it  (e.g. in the Indian subcontinent). At the moment, a brief catalogue of such siteswould include Ur,  in southern Iraq (c.3000-2000  BeE);  Tarut, in eastern Saudi Arabia(c.2300-2100 BeE); Bahrain (c.2100-100 BeE); Llyan, on the Iranian coast (c.2000 BCEand later); Antiochia·in·Persis and Rev·Ardashir (c.300 BCE-600 CE); Siraf   (c.  500- 900 CE); the island of Kish (900-1100 CE); Horrnuz  (c.  1200-1500 CE); and Bandar Lingah (1700-1900 CE). On the Arabian side, places  like  Tarut island and the port of  al-Qatif as  well  as Bahrain, were important during the Bronze Age (Bahrain also during the Iron Age), while [ulfar became a significant appendage of the kingdoms of Kish and Hormuz and eventually, via their conquest of the latter, of the Portuguese.Settlements like al-Zubarah  in  Qatar, or Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Ra's al-Khaymah, inthe UAE. only achieved importance much later, beginning principally  in  the lateeighteenth and early nineteenth century.What particular factors influenced the location and success of those sites? Is there a pattern in their distribution through time? What influence did geomorphology,geography and of course subsurface water sources have on t~is seemingly ~h~g pattern of site supremacy? And why do there seem to be so few  sites  on the I,raman .sIdeof the Gulf? In answer to this last question, a closer look at coastal Iran  1S  required.Unlike eastern Arabia, the coastal plain of southern Iran is narrow, backed by the highranges of the Zagros Mountains, and relatively uninviting for human habitation. This isclear, not only from the reports of nineteenth-century European mariners, but fromthe description given by Nearchus, the admiral of Alexander the Great's fleet on itswestward journey from the mouth of the Indus River,  in the late fourth century  BeE, which shows that there was little settlement on the Iranian coast aside from a  few Pre- modern History of the Gulf Region  25fishing villages and date gardens. Although Nearchus, in Arrian's account, noted anumber of anchorages, his remarks uniformly highlight the very modest nature of settlement along the Iranian coast.As noted above, the only early, major settlement known is Tol-e Peytul (ancientLiyan) on the Bushihr peninsula, an important Elarnite stronghold founded by at least2000 BCE. Liyan was the gateway to highland Fars. Via the steep pass known as KotalDukhtar one ascends from the coast up through the Zagros Mountains onto the IranianPlateau and gains access to the capital of Fars: Anshan in the Bronze Age, Persepolis inthe Achaemenid period. Istakhr in the Sasanid period and Shiraz since the coming of Islam, Thus,  Liyan  and its successors Antiochia-in-Persis, Rev-Ardashir, Reshahr and Bushihr represented the natural outlet to the Gulf for any power based in Fars.While the Gulf coastal plain in Iran is undoubtedly narrow and generally uninvitingfor human settlement, it is also true, though generally overlooked, that inland from thefirst range of mountains backing the coast are plains running north-west  -south  -east inline with the main folds of the Zagros Mountains and   it  is here that much larger settlements supported by agricultural hinterlands are located. And although these sitesare not in fact on the coast. their relationship with the Gulf is likely to have been strong in  all  periods.  In modern times, for example, the town of Bastak, which is well inland from the actual coast, 'behind' Kish, as it were, was responsible for much of the Iranian population of the Bastakiyyah area in Dubai, just as many families in Galehdar, insouthern Fars, have members elsewhere in the Emirates. Examples such as thesesuggest that our understanding of Iran and the Gulf should not be limited strictly tothe actual Iranian coast itself, but must be broadened to include settlements just behind the southernmost range of the Zagros. Finally, although it is beyond the scope of thischapter to discuss in any detail, the Gulf's involvement in much wider networks of contact involving Mesopotamia/Iraq, the Iranian Plateau, Central Asia, the Indo-Iranian Borderlands, the Indian subcontinent and East Africa, should not be forgotten. Trans-regional control in the pre-modern Gulf  In the Islamic era the Gulf was marked by a centripetal pattern of development that bound both the eastern and western Gulf coasts (and principal islands) together under a succession of competing powers seeking to build, maintain, extend and defend their  particular spheres of influence. Both the Achaemenid Persian and Sasanid empiresachieved some measure of bi-coastal control during certain periods in their history.Under the Achaemenlds, the island of Bahrain may have functioned as the capital of the fourteenth satrapy but while this undoubtedly included the Persian coast and certain other islands. like Qishrn, it is not clear that the mainland of north-eastern or south-eastern Arabia was under Achaemenid control. The Sasanids, on the other hand,did control the entire eastern seaboard, as well as Bahrain. according to literary sources. beginning as early as the reign of Ardashir. Moreover, as noted above, the Christian population in the ecclesiastical provinces of Bet Qatraye (north-eastern Arabia and Bahrain) and Bet Mazunaye (south-eastern Arabia/Oman) was administered by theMetropolitan ofFars based in Rev-Ardashir.
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