Overview of the early Islamic site discovered by the Kuwaiti-Italian Archaeological Mission of al-Qurainiyah

One of the most interesting results of the Kuwaiti-Italian Archaeological Mission at al‑Qurainiyah is the discovery of a new site dated to the early Islamic era and located to the west of the modern village (fig. 1). Al-Qurainiyah, located along the north shore of the western-central part of the island, has been known thanks to the textual sources as a deserted late Islamic village dating back to the 18th century. The Kuwaiti-Italian archaeological fieldwork mission at al‑Qurainiyah on Failaka Island that began in 2010 is based on an international agreement between the Kuwait National Council for Culture, Arts & Letters and the University of Perugia.

Fig. 1: Orthophoto of al‑Qurainiyah site: in red the ancient coast line; in green the early Islamic village extension.
Fig. 1: Orthophoto of al‑Qurainiyah site: in red the ancient coast line; in green the early Islamic village extension.

KIAM Excavations at al‑Qurainiyah

According to the aim of the project, an intensive survey covered the entire area of the site during the first campaign of the KIAM and allowed the recovery of a great number of finds, mostly pottery. Trenches that were opened in different parts of the settlement allowed for the rebuilding of an archaeological sequence that seems to indicate an intensive occupation starting from the second half of 18th century and running through the first decades of 20th century. According to the pottery assemblage collected on the surface west to the village, it was clear that this western area was not directly connected with the main site of al‑Qurainiyah and represent a new intensive occupation of the area dated back to the early Islamic era. Together with this new evidence, traces of a different and more ancient phase were detected around and beneath the early Islamic dwellings. After 10 years of excavation, we are able to recover fundamental information about both the sites and to improve our knowledge about the history of the island. According to the aim of the Project, in the last years our efforts focused on the earliest phases of occupation of al‑Qurainiyah, from the first signs of human presence to the rise of the early Islamic village, trying to rebuild and put in sequence the archaeological stratigraphy.

The workshop and the buildings

The early Islamic settlement of al‑Qurainiyah, (Fig. 1) with an estimated dimension of about 9000‑10000 m² was placed close to the shoreline of a huge natural bay. There were discovered buildings of different dimension and shape as well as a work space. The latter was characterized by two elongated kilns surrounded by circular ovens, all with traces of a high firing activity (fig. 2). Large quantities of torpedo jar sherds were recovered during the excavation of this area, the majority of them presented bitumen on the interior surface. Inside jars, were observed a thin bitumen coating for waterproofing as well as thick crusts of bituminous amalgam. According to this evidence, it is possible to assume that the workspace was linked to bitumen processing. Indeed bitumen was usually transported in solid form and melted at a later time. The bitumen was stored and, when processed, may have been used to coat fishing vessels or to coat roofs or terrace structures. This is evidenced by the discovery in one building of fragments of bitumen with impressions.

Fig. 2: The workshop with the kilns and the ovens.

In regards to the houses, at least two construction typologies were identified. The most represented one seems to be the “elongated house” (Houses 1 and 3) with rectangular shape and inner partition walls that divide the space in different rooms (Fig. 3). The second type, exemplified in only one case so far (House 2), is square shaped and shows a more complex internal partition (Fig. 4). In both cases, the buildings dimension represents one of the most unexpected evidence. In the first case, according to the excavation data and the aerial photos as well, it is possible to presume a medium length between 15 and 20 m and a width of about 4‑5 m. The square house, instead, occupies an area of about 120 m². Although the two types differ in size and shape, the building techniques are quite the same: all the walls were constructed from mud bricks placed on a foundation realized with at least two courses of flat stones of different size without any binding. The use of mud bricks instead of stones or wood seemed to have some advantages: they provide good insulation from the heat and offer added stability to the structure. In some cases, due to the presence of alignments of pebbles just in connection with the bottom part of some walls, it was possible to hypothesize an external stone facing of the exterior walls in order to protect the first courses of mud bricks from water and humidity. So far no deep foundations were found during the excavation; all the walls investigated until now seem to be placed in a low trench cut inside a loose sandy layer or in a conchiferous sediment rather loose and unsteady.

Fig. 3: One of the elongated houses completely excavated (House 3).
Fig. 4: The square house with its inner partitions (House 2).

At this stage of the research, nothing can be said about the roofing because no evidence was found during the excavation. It is likely that the roofs were flat and made from wood and palm branches and other perishable materials coated with bitumen, that have left no visible traces. All the inner flooring was made with clay that was spread out regularly on the whole surface. In some cases, it was laid on a bed off small stones and pebbles, probably with the aim to better insulate the upper level. Due to this difference between the floors, it was hypothesized that there was a distinction in the condition of use of the rooms; the rooms prepared with pebbles could be used to contain and preserve perishables inside jars or other containers that had to be insulated from water and humidity.

The pottery

Evidence of the presence of “storehouses” could be gathered from the huge number of large storage jar fragments, torpedo and others typologies, recovered inside and outside of the buildings, in some cases with traces of restorations. Two of these were found in their primary position, almost completely buried in two cuts made intentionally in the floor of two different rooms. Many other fragments come from the levels under the wall collapses and from one dump outside one of the house. Other classes of artifacts related to everyday activities are represented inside all the structures. The most common ones are SBBW cooking pots imported from India and refined pottery such as green glazed cups from Iran and Iraq and sandy common ware, found in large quantity (Fig. 5). The pottery assemblage recovered during the excavation of all the structures allowed us to determine the main phase of life of the village in a timeframe of about 100 years, between the end of 7th century and the end of the 8th century A.D.

Fig. 5: Potteries from the early Islamic site of al‑Qurainiyah .

Although archaeological investigations have clarified that most of the houses were abandoned at the end of the 8th century, there are some traces that indicate the frequentation of the area even in a period subsequent to the end of the village. From the abandonment levels that covered two of the houses, an interesting late early Islamic phase assemblage was collected. It is characterized by the presence of Turquoise-Cobalt and Cobalt glazed jars and jugs and some sporadic bowls and cups. An object in particular is worthy of note because it represents a unique example so far: an incised and excised lidded jar with Turquoise-Cobalt glaze on the outside. All the classes above mentioned can be dated to the first half of the 9th century period, which seems to mark the end of the occupation of this part of the island before the foundation of the modern village of al‑Qurainiyah.

The late-Hellenistic settlement

The last years of excavations provide also fundamental information about the chronologic horizon preceding the Islamic occupation of the island. The archaeological sequence recovered in the same area of the village, underneath the houses and along the seaside, speaks about a different kind of occupation, based on light structures of poles and perishable coverings. The stratigraphy is characterized by thin levels of clay that worked external planning levels, associated with ovens and trace of human activities. In particular, north of the village, the excavation showed the presence of a complex stratigraphic sequence, clearly visible for a depth of about 1.20 m. Different levels of occupation, characterized by pottery sherds, ovens and traces of human activities were excavated for about 40 cm and registered for the rest of the depth, thanks to the artificial section of a modern cut coming from the surface. Some of these levels are in connection with an oval structure recognizable as a hut and some others with a structured fire place stratigraphically previous to the hut. The vast majority of finds are Organic-tempered jars (mostly transport amphorae) and Torpedo jars; they are usually associated with Yellow Glazed bowls, jars and jugs, the typologies of which are evidently pre-Islamic. The date preliminary proposed is comprised between the 1st century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D. More work on the finds needs to be carried out not only to define precise chronologies, but also to properly classify the materials from this phase. This represents a new phase for the site of al‑Qurainiyah and an addition to the late-Hellenistic and “BI horizon” phase of Failaka.

Conclusion

The long-term occupation of this part of the island seems to highlight its importance from a strategic and geographic point of view. The east side of Kharaib al‑Desht lagoon was the probable ancient coastline, drawing a natural bay that seems to be one of the best choices to approach the coastline and fix a non-structured dock. This side of the island was visited for a long time from seafaring traders who camped along the shore at certain times of the year, as proven by the ephemeral structures found along the shoreline. Over time, this area became a stable port with a market, and a well-organized settlement were boats could safely land, collect water and trade. Al‑Qurainiyah was a fundamental source for the large community of al‑Qusur and the island. 

Bibliography

Di Miceli A., ‹‹ The occupation and space organization at the al‑Qurainiyah site from the early to the late Islamic period: an overview ››, in Ruttkay M., Kovar B. & Pieta K. (eds.), Archaeology of Failaka and Kuwaiti Coast. Current research, Nitra/Kuwait City, 2019, pp. 135‑147.

Grassigli G.L, Di Miceli A. (eds.) Al‑Qurainiyah, Failaka. Kuwaiti-Italian Excavation 2010‑2015. Stratigraphy and Phases, Kuwait City, 2018.

Grassigli G.L, Di Miceli A. (eds.) Kuwaiti-Italian Mission to Failaka 2010‑2014, Kuwait City, 2015.

Grassigli G.L, Di Miceli A., ‹‹ La missione italiana in Kuwait, Isola di Failaka. Sito di al‑Qurainiyah ››, in I beni Culturali, Tutela, Valorizzazione, Attività culturali, Architettura contemporanea  e Bioarchitettura, 4/5 Anno XX, luglio-ottobre, Viterbo, 2012.

Pour citer ce billet

Andrea Di Miceli, « Overview of the early Islamic site discovered by the Kuwaiti-Italian Archaeological Mission of al‑Qurainiyah », », Le carnet de la MAFKF. Recherches archéologiques franco-koweïtiennes de l’île de Faïlaka (Koweït), 28 avril 2020. [En ligne] https://mafkf.hypotheses.org/2041

Andrea Di Miceli

graduated from the University of Perugia in the Archaeology of Ancient Greece. He continued his studies at the School of Specialisation in Archaeology of Matera, where he graduated in Classical Archaeology. Di Miceli received his PhD from the University of Perugia with a dissertation in Late Antiquity studies. He took part in numerous archaeological excavations led by both Italian and foreign universities. He works as a professional archaeologist for the S.M.A.Art Center (Center for Scientific Methodologies Applied to Archaeology and History of Art) at the University of Perugia. Since 2010, Di Miceli is the director of the Kuwaiti-Italian Archaeological Mission(KIAM).

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