A review of the conference “Archaeology of Failaka and Kuwait Coast – Current Research” (Nitra, Slovakia)

The conference “Archaeology of Failaka and Kuwait Coast – Current Research” coordinated by Shehab A. Shehab, Karol Pieta, Matej Ruttkay, and Branislav Kovár, at the Institute of Archaeology (Slovak Academy of Sciences) in Nitra, Slovakia, on the 4th and 5th of October, 2016, was an opportunity to demonstrate the current state of archaeological activities in Kuwait. Researchers (from Kuwait, Slovakia, Poland, Georgia, Italy, and France) came together to present their current research and results. The papers will be published by the organizers of the conference: the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters of Kuwait and the Institute of Archaeology at the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

Fig. 1: Map of Failaka with archaeological sites presented during the Nitra conference (map H.David-Cuny 2010-2017, after the KSAM topographic base).
Fig. 1: Map of Failaka with archaeological sites presented during the Nitra conference (map H.David-Cuny 2010-2017, after the KSAM topographic base).

The first conference session was dedicated to the Early Islamic period and al-Qusur site, excavated by the Kuwaiti-Slovak Archaeological Mission (KSAM) and by the French-Kuwaiti Archaeological Mission in Failaka (MAFKF). This settlement well-known for its two churches is composed of a large number of courtyard buildings visible on the surface. Both missions mapped the site; KSAM used prospection and geophysical measurements while MAFKF recorded precise drawings of surface remains. The Department of Antiquities and Museum (DAM) asked both missions to excavate in different parts of the settlement. The KSAM concentrated on two courtyard buildings which were numbered 26 and 81 (conference paper by Karol Pieta, co-written with Matej Ruttkay and Zbigniew Robak). Situated northwest to the centre of the site, building 26 is the most impressive of these structures. It is enclosed and much larger than the buildings in the centre of the settlement that had been previously excavated by a French Mission. For example, building 26 is composed of 11 rooms, not 3 or 4 rooms, like the previously excavated buildings. Additionally, the excavations of building 26 revealed high quality material artefacts such as painted stucco fragments, a fine glass vessel and amethyst stones. The MAFKF is primarily working in the middle of the settlement. It is an area that surrounds churches that were discovered by a previous French Mission. The conference presentation by Julie Bonnéric discussed the results of the excavations and ceramic analysis. An unusual building was discovered north of the monumental church. It is built entirely of mudbricks, contrary to the courtyard buildings that are visible on the surface of the settlement, which were built with mudbricks but on a stone base. This mudbrick building seems to predate the phase of construction of the courtyard buildings. Directly in front of the monumental church a food preparation building was unearthed and it included a press room for making dates molasses (madbassa). To the south, a large structure was identified as a refectory. It is evidence that supports the monastic nature of the central part of the site. An analysis of the ceramics at the site definitively dates the occupation of the churches and the buildings excavated by MAFKF to the Early Islamic period.

Fig. 2: Aerial view (from the northeast) of the southern part of al-Qusur (Y. Guichard, NCCAL 2009).
Fig. 2: Aerial view (from the northeast) of the southern part of al-Qusur (Y. Guichard, NCCAL 2009).

The second session of the conference concentrated on the modern occupation of the Island. The Kuwaiti-Italian Archaeological Mission (KIAM) is currently excavating the large village of al-Qurainiyah, on the north shore of Failaka. The director of KIAM, Andrea Di Miceli, was unable to attend so his conference paper was read aloud. According to the ceramics recovered from the settlement, al-Qurainiyah was occupied from the second half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, and a smaller site, (unknown before the work of KIAM) was occupied between the end of the 7th century and the beginning of the 9th century. The second conference paper (David Lordkipanidze, read by Guram Kvirkvelia) introduced the Kuwaiti-Georgian Archaeological Mission (KGAM). KGAM was responsible for conducting a survey from the east of Failaka Island (conference paper by Guram Kvirkvelia). Settlements dating from the Bronze Age to the Late Islamic period were identified. The KGAM also concentrated on the site of al‑Awazim. The settlement was mainly composed of houses –which may have had seasonal occupation – and structures relating to fishing activities (conference paper by Jimsher Chkhvimiani). In the fifth conference paper, Agnieszka Pieńkowska presented the results of an excavation (that has been in operation since 2014) undertaken in Kharaib El-Desht by the Kuwaiti-Polish Archaeological Mission (KPAM). This project has unearthed many hearths and, more recently, large walls of what could be a tower. The structures date to the Late Islamic period. The ceramics of Kharaib El‑Desht was not only dated, but also compared, with the ceramics from underwater survey around Kharaib El-Desht, al-Qurainiya, and al-Sabbahiya (conference paper by Marta Mierzejewska). Since 2013, underwater archaeological survey has been conducted along the Failaka coast by the Waterfront and Underwater Archaeology of Kuwait (conference paper by Magdalena Nowakowska). Since the beginning of the project, 32 stone structures were studied –most are circular and/or linear designed fish traps. Two breakwaters were also located in Kharaib El-Desht and al-Khidr Bay. These structures are very difficult to date because of the lack of material, such as pottery.

Fig. 3: Aerial view of al-Khidr Bay (from the southwest): on the coast, the Bronze Age settlement excavated by the Kuwaiti-Slovak Archaeological Mission; at the mouth of the bay, the two breakwaters studied by the Waterfront and Underwater Archaeology of Kuwait (Y. Guichard, NCCAL 2009).
Fig. 3: Aerial view of al-Khidr Bay (from the southwest): on the coast, the Bronze Age settlement excavated by the Kuwaiti-Slovak Archaeological Mission; at the mouth of the bay, the two breakwaters studied by the Waterfront and Underwater Archaeology of Kuwait (Y. Guichard, NCCAL 2009).

The last session of the conference was dedicated to earlier periods of occupations of Kuwait, excavated both by the Kuwaiti-Slovak Archaeological Mission and by the Kuwaiti-Georgian archaeological mission. The KSAM is excavating not only in al-Qusur but also on the northwest coast of Failaka, in al-Khidr (conference paper by Branislav Kovár, co-written with Lucia Benediková and Klaudia Daňová). This Bronze Age settlement was most likely a harbour that was occupied from the early to middle phase of Dilmun (2000‑1500 BC). However, it is still unclear if the settlement was reoccupied in the Middle and Late Islamic periods. The ceramics recovered from the site were described in detail in the presentation. As mentioned previously, KGAM is researching in Failaka but it also has excavations on Kuwait’s mainland in Bahra (al-Sabiyya region); a site occupied during the Early and Middle Bronze Age (conference paper by Guram Kvirkvelia). The presentation discussed an exciting discovery of a stone complex that has a long corridor leading to a vertical column stone slab which is interpreted as an altar.

Fig. 4: Poster of the conference “Archaeology of Failaka and Kuwait Coast - Current Research” organised by Sh. A. Shehab, K. Pieta, M. Ruttkay and B. Kovár at the Institute of Archaeology (Slovak Academy of Sciences) in Nitra on the 4th and 5th of October 2016.
Fig. 4: Poster of the conference “Archaeology of Failaka and Kuwait Coast – Current Research” organised by Sh. A. Shehab, K. Pieta, M. Ruttkay and B. Kovár at the Institute of Archaeology (Slovak Academy of Sciences) in Nitra on the 4th and 5th of October 2016.

This conference highlighted the variety of research approaches encouraged by the Department of Antiquities and Museums of the Kuwaiti National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters. Archaeological exploration covers different regions, on the mainland and islands, and within various eras, from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Islamic period. Unfortunately, the Kuwaiti team, British team, and Kuwaiti-Danish archaeological mission were absent and their research could not be presented. The members of the Kuwaiti Department of Antiquities and Museum have various archaeological operations underway such as rescue excavations on the mainland or excavations in the centre of the ancient Kuwait city. The Kuwaiti-Danish archaeological mission is currently working in the Bronze Age site of Tell Sa’ad (known as F3), on Failaka Island. The British team (from 2010 to 2015) carried out excavations in the Early Islamic Kadhima in the mainland. Additionally, the Kuwaiti-Polish archaeological mission was not able to present their research conducted in the Bronze Age settlement of al-Sabiyya and the French-Kuwaiti archaeological mission in Failaka their investigation in the Hellenistic Fortress of Tell Sa’id (Failaka Island).

The introductory and final remarks of the conference demonstrated the importance of collaboration –for better understanding the country’s history– between the numerous teams working in Kuwait especially since some of the teams are excavating the same site or contemporaneous settlements. Discussions throughout the conference revealed some gaps in the basic knowledge of Failaka. For example, it appears that all teams need to do a complete geomorphologic study of the island. Since the work of Rémi Dalongeville in the 1980s, no one had addressed the question of the vegetation of Failaka in Antiquity, its relief or the sea level. The landscape, currently characterised by a semi-arid climate and scarce vegetation, was most likely completely different in the past.

Thanks to the National Council for Culture, Arts, and Letters and the Institute of Archaeology in the Slovak Academy of Sciences for inviting me to present a paper on the work of the French-Kuwaiti Archaeological Mission in Failaka. Many thanks to the French Centre for Archaeology and Social Sciences (Cefas) in the Arabian Peninsula, for paying for my travel expenses.

Pour citer ce billet

Julie Bonnéric, « A review of the conference “Archaeology of Failaka and Kuwait Coast – Current Research” (Nitra, Slovakia) », Le carnet de la MAFKF. Recherches archéologiques franco-koweïtiennes de l’île de Faïlaka (Koweït), 30 avril 2017. [En ligne] https://mafkf.hypotheses.org/1600

 


Julie Bonnéric

Docteur en histoire et archéologie de l’Islam médiéval (École Pratique des Hautes Études), responsable scientifique de la partie française de la Mission archéologique franco-koweïtienne de Faïlaka depuis 2014, Julie Bonnéric travaille sur le site d’al-Quṣūr depuis 2007 et en dirige l’étude dans le cadre de la MAFKF depuis 2011. Elle s’intéresse au christianisme oriental, en particulier dans le golfe Arabo-Persique, à la fin de l’Antiquité tardive et aux débuts de l’Islam. Céramologue et archéologue de terrain, elle participe ou a participé à des missions au Liban, en Jordanie, en Égypte, en Libye et dans le Golfe (Koweït, Qatar). Elle conduit également des travaux d’anthropologie historique, s’appuyant sur des sources à la fois archéologiques, textuelles, architecturales et iconographiques. Sa thèse était ainsi consacrée à la question de la lumière, naturelle et artificielle, dans les mosquées d’Égypte et de Syrie médiévales, des conquêtes arabes à la fin de la dynastie ayyūbide.

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