Monday, May 8, 2017

Ancient Resources of the GCC: timber, pearls, carnelian, ivory, linen, copper, dates, and perfumes

Timber (i.e, trees) is not a natural resource I often relate to the context of Oman. I, having been born in a temperate rain forest, and living close to a lot of villages where logging was the predominant historical livelihood (or fishing) kind of smirk when I think of the trees we have here in Oman in general: Date palm, Mangrove, Christ's thorn, or more rarely, Juniper, and Olive. But ancient Kings in Sumeria and Mesopotamia did not laugh at the GCC timber industry.
Pakistani rosewood, called "mes-magan-na" by the Sumerians, came via trade with Magan (i.e, Oman). This was probably sourced from Baluchistan or the Indus Valley through further trade links there.

Dilmun (i.e Bahrain) was referenced by Mesopotamian Kings as the exporter of teak, Indian cedar, and probably rosewood. This was all back in the mid 3rd millennium B.C. .
The degree of competency required for sailing as far as the Indus valley has been discussed by Potts (1995 & 2017) and Potts mentions depictions of sailing craft that would be capable of such a journey being found on pottery dated to 6,000 BC. Potts likens these craft to the batil style dhow boat from Musandam in Oman.
Similarly, anywhere, and anyone who brought timber to Mesopotamia, also brought Indian carnelian gemstone, and carnelian has been found in period sites along the Gulf coast and up inside
the mainlands here as well, along with famous finds in Mesopotamia.
Ivory (being famously valued for the hilts of Omani khanjar daggers) came the same route as timbers, and gemstones...from the Indus Valley civilization, and examples have been found dated to the late 3rd millennium BC. Most ivory found in Mesopotamia was imported via Magan (Oman), and to the UAE (parts of which were then part of Magan) as early as 2000 BC. Ivory appeared to be worn as hair combs at this time period, and persons were found buried wearing these hair combs, which I personally find very interesting.
Pearls are by far the most famous resource for GCC states other than Oman before the discovery of oil. Pearling sites existed from the cost of Qaatif in Eastern Saudi Arabia, to Dubai, being the richest in pearls to the North of Bahrain and Qatar, and North-Western of Abu Dhabi in UAE. The world's earliest pearls have been excavated from Umm al-Qaiwain in UAE, this being dated to the mid 6th mill. B.C. (Potts, 2017). The closest date-able pearl finds to Mesopotamia of course, come from Kuwait.
Linen was sent (we know this by the remains of letter sent to the Queen of Lagash by the/a Queen of Dilmun (Bahrain)) in the form of three gift dresses. The cultivation of flax for linen has been found in Turkey to date from at least 7,000 BC, but we know from the Egyptians, that this goes back earlier. For Mesopotamia, a scrap of linen was found dating back to the mid 3rd mill., and linen production is known to have existed here around 2000 BC. However, did earlier linen come from the Indus Valley or the ancient GCC areas? While the most likely source was export from Baluchistan, whether or not flax was cultivated and produced in linen weaving by Dilmun, UAE Tal Abraq culture, or Magan remains unknown, only that ancient GCC civilizations circulated linen and flax, and that, by the reign of Queens of Lagash and Dilmun, the craft existed to make linen dresses worthy of gifting to queens.
Copper is Oman's most famous ancient resource. The copper mines of Magan were well-established exporters to Mesopotamia by the mid 3rd mill. BC, via trade links with Dilmun (Bahrain).

Frankincense perfumes are also famous to Oman via the Dhofar region, but Dilmun was a famous for trade in the stuff. Myrrh has been found (probably from Baluchistan)  taken from Dilmun by the Assyrians in the 7th century BC, but deposits of it may exist on the Ras Al Jinz finds.

Relating to the perfume export business, through which Magan often acted as a centre, soft-stone containers and dishes have been found to originate, which, Potts (2017) surmises were mostly for the holding or perfumes and oils and incense gums and resins. These have been distributed as far afield in the 3rd mill BC as Palmyra in Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and Uzbekistan.

Dates were also traded, as the letter from the Queen of Dilmun to the Queen of Lagash illustrates, and although Iraq would have been no stranger to date cultivation, maybe ancient men and women preferred variety in their produce as much as modern day Omanis do, when it comes to dates?:).

Potts (2017) surmises that the most common trade Magan and Dilmun made with Mesopotamia was for clothing and textiles.

Potts, D. T. (2015). Watercraft of the Lower Sea. Pages 559-557.
Potts, D. T. (2017). Resource Origins and Resource Movement In and Around the Persian Gulf. Pages 133-142.

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