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Failaka (Kuwait)


Bronze Age Ruins on Failaka

Bronze Age Ruins on Failaka

Hunny Alrohaif

Failaka is the name of an island in the Persian Gulf, belonging to the modern country of Kuwait. The island holds important occupations associated with the Bronze Age Dilmun culture of the 3rd-2nd millennium BC, as well as a large Hellenistic settlement and sanctuary during the 3rd-1st centuries BC. Failaka is believed to be the place described as the Garden of Eden in the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic.

Failaka was founded in the third millennium BC by Dilmun, an important trading society based on the Persian Gulf as a sea lane connection between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley civilizations of Pakistan and India. Eventually, Failaka's proximity to the modern-day country of Iraq, and the concentration of Dilmun on Bahrain, led to Failaka's control by Mesopotamia.

Features of Failaka

When first excavated, Failaka had several tells--great earthen mounds resulting from hundreds or thousands of years of building and rebuilding in the same place without the benefit of bulldozers.

Two tells dated to the first half of the second millennium BC were found to contain a small town (Tell F3) approximately 10 square kilometers in size, and a small palace (Tell F6), both dated to the Bronze Age Dilmun occupation. An additional tell (F5) contained a Hellenistic fortification with temples and dwelling houses. Excavated between 1958 and 1963, these tells contained about 450 seals, carved stone objects used in commercial trade, 430 of which date to the Dilmun period.

Cylinder Seals

Of the seals recovered at Failaka, over 60 are cylinder seals. Two mark the earliest occupations of the tells as post-Akkadian (F6) and Ur-III (F3). Most of the other cylinder seals are Mitanni seals of brown and greenish faience; and Kassite and pseudo Kassite seals in deep blue glass, steatite, and ivory from Elam period Isin-II.

The remainder of the seals are stamp seals, dominated by the type known to have been made and used by the Dilmun culture. A typical Dilmun type seal is circular, with a bossed reverse pattern consisting of one or usually 3-4 parallel lines with two circles on the side. All are made of steatite, and most are covered with a white glaze. About 300 of the seals found on Failaka are of the Dilmun type.

Dilmun type stamp seals are part of the evidence supporting the creation of a substantial trade colony on Failaka beginning around 1950 BC. The number of Mesopotamian cylinder seals increases through time in the archaeological deposits, an indication that the island came under increasingly strong Mesopotamian influence during the Old Babylonian and Kassite periods, and perhaps during the First Dynasty of the Sealand. Potts (2010) suggests that at the time, Failaka was a dependency of the Kassite kingdom.

Hellenistic/Seleucid Fort at Failaka

Tell F5 at Failaka represents the remains of a classical Greek period fortress, founded during the 4th century BC or the first decade of the 3rd century BC (based on the recovery of Alexandrian coins). This occupation began during the reign of the Persian Seleucid king Seleucus I (although some evidence points to an earlier settlement in this near location). The earliest fort at the site (Stage I), was a square structure, each wall about 60 meters (~200 ft) long with square watch towers in each corner. The main gate was in the southern wall, reinforced by a massive tower; a smaller gate was in the northern. The interior of the fort included two small temples, one constructed in the Ionic style and the other perhaps Doric. Stage II of the fort included residential houses within the walls.

Stages III and IV are dated to the end of the 3rd century BC, during the reighn of Antiochus III. The fortress was widened ca. 200 BC, by the building of a new defensive wall to the north, and a remodeling of the inteiror residential settlement. During Stage V, the fort's population decreased sharply until its abandonment in the 1st century BC.

Recent Investigations

Five seasons on Failaka were conducted by the Danish Archaeological Expedition between 1958 and 1963. Most recently, investigations by the Kuwaiti-Slovak Archaeological Mission on Failaka have been focused at the Bronze Age site of Al-Khidr, a Dilmun culture occupation that is located along the western shore of an important harbor on Failaka.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Dilmun, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Callot O, Gachet J, and Salles J-F. 1986. Somes notes about Hellenistic Failaka. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 17:37-51.

Howard-Carter T. 1981. The tangible evidence for the earliest Dilmun. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 33(3/4):210-223.

Kjaerum P. 1980. Seals of "Dilmun-type" from Failaka, Kuwait. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 10:45-53.

Laursen ST. 2008. Early Dilmun and its rulers: new evidence of the burial mounds of the elite and the development of social complexity, c. 2200–1750 BC. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 19(2):156-167.

Potts DT. 2010. Cylinder seals and their use in the Arabian Peninsula. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 21(1):20-40.

Thapar R. 1975. A possible identification of Meluhha, Dilmun, and Makan. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 18(1):1-42.

Also Known As: Agarum (Sumerian), Ikaros

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