The Ancient History of the Arabian Peninsula
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Ancient Arabian Peninsula

Map From Ubar: Lost City of Arabia (NOVA Online)

Arabian Peninsula Neolithic Period (5000 - 3000 BC)

There is no evidence that farming was practised in the Arabian Persian Gulf region at this time and a herding way of life had developed to suit the harsh conditions. The people were probably nomadic or semi-nomadic and the lifestyle may have been similar to that of the bedouin of recent times. Important differences are that cattle as well as sheep and goats were herded and that the camel had not yet been domesticated. Fishing was also very important as was gathering shellfish for eating. Hunting supplemented the diet. Building remains of this period are scarce probably because tents and other temporary structures are more suited to a mobile lifestyle. Arabian Neolithic sites frequently survive only as scatters of flint or as extensive shell mounds on the coast .....

Painted pottery was not made by the Arabian Neolithic people though coarse red ware may have been manufactured by them in the Central Gulf region. The stone tools of the Arabian Neolithic are different from the Ubaid ure material, tending to be made from shorter flakes which have been chipped on both sides. This local tool-kit is called the Arabian Bifacial Tradition .....

The Arabian-Ubaid Interaction

During the 6th and 5th millennium BC the peoples of Ubaid in Mesopotamia and the Arabian Neolithic met and interacted. This was first realised when numerous sites were identified in the Central Gulf region which contained pottery in the Ubaid style. These were mostly coastal sites and were mainly found in the northeastern province of Saudi Arabia though sites were also identified in Bahrain and Qatar. The majority were small and ephemeral but a handful were large with deep deposits and abundant pottery.

This part of Arabia had enjoyed a close and integral relationship with Southern Mesopotamia. More controversially it was suggested that the Mesopotamian and Ubaidian related Arabian sites should be regarded as part of the same social and economic system .....

Bronze Age Period (3000 - 1300 BC)

SEE the City-States Dilmun and Sharjah

This period shows the establishment of a population in Sharjah where agriculture and grazing flourished and increased. As the 3rd millennium BC draws near there is evidence for renewed contact with Southern Mesopotamia. From the late 4th millennium BC there are references in the earliest Mesopotamia texts to a place named Dilmun (Bahrain). Dilmun is mentioned along with two other places: Magan (Southeast Arabia) and Meluhha (Indus Valley). These city-states supplied southern Mesopotamia with a wide range of raw materials and exotic goods. These include timber, stone and above all copper.

In prehistoric times in southern Arabia we have evidence of human settlement for all major periods of the Stone Age so it can hardly be assumed that there was no continuous human settlement in Southern Arabia prior to the first millennium BC .....

Iron Age Period Onwards

From circa 1200 BC the region of the Southern Arabian Peninsula was ruled by three successive civilisations. The Mineans (1200 - 650 BC) Sabeans (Sheba) [1000 BC - 570 AD] and Himyarite (2nd to 6th centuries AD) brought with them the rudiments of what was to become the highly developed civilization of Southern Arabia. These three kingdoms all depended for their wealth on the spice trade. Aromatics such as myrrh and frankincense were greatly prized in the ancient civilised world and were used as part of various rituals in many ures including Egypt Greece and Roman.

In the 11th century BC land routes through Arabia were greatly improved by using the camel as a beast of burden and frankincense was carried from its production centre at Qana to Gaza in Egypt. The camel caravans also carried gold and other precious goods which arrived in Qana by sea from India.

The chief incense traders were the Minaeans who established their capital Karna before they were superseded by the Sabaeans in 950 BC. The Sabaean capital was Marib where a large temple was built. The mighty Sabaean civilization endured for about 14 centuries and was based not only on the spice trade but also on agriculture. The impressive dam built at Marib in the 8th century provided irrigation for farmland and stood for over a millennium. Some Sabaean carved inscriptions from this period are still extant.

The Himyarites established their capital at Dhafar and gradually absorbed the Sabaean Kingdom. They were urally inferior to the Sabaeans and traded from the port of Muza on the Red Sea. By the first century BC the Romans had conquered the area .....

Online Bibliography

Sharjah Archaeological Museum (United Arab Emirates)

The British Archaeological Expedition to Kuwait

Outline of the History of Ancient Southern Arabia by Walter Muller (Yemen Web Database)

Lost City of Arabia (NOVA Online)

The Search For Ubar (NASA)

The Oriental Institute Archaeological and Environmental Investigation of Yemeni Terraced Agriculture

Ancient Arabia (LIVIUS)

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The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium