Extensive commercial networks stretching from the Indus Valley to the Aegean Sea can be traced back approximately 4500 years.

Within these networks, the key role of land routes and sea lanes is evidenced by the discovery of objects made from exotic and precious materials at numerous sites that occupied important nodes along potential routes.

It is highly likely that the Gulf region served as a nexus between East and West during this period. Much like today, the northern part of the southeastern Arabian Peninsula was significant for exchange networks in prehistory, not only due to its favorable trading location.

Map of Early Bronze Age sites in southeastern Arabian Peninsula
Map of Early Bronze Age sites in southeastern Arabian Peninsula. Credit: C. Schwall & M. Börner / Antiquity

One of the sites investigated as a hub of these early commercial networks in the southeastern Arabian Peninsula is Kalba. Located in the Emirate of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, on the shores of the Gulf of Oman, Kalba was continuously inhabited between 2500-600 BCE despite environmental changes that made the area more arid.

Recent excavations shed light on how the inhabitants of Kalba managed to survive due to its strategic geographical position and the utilization of local and exchange resources.

Kalba’s location near Wadi Ham connected it with the eastern coast and the desert through the mountains, making it conducive to trade. In addition to favorable environmental conditions, its geostrategic location offered ideal conditions as a gateway between sea routes and land routes. Wadi Ham appears to have been crucial for the site’s occupation over time, still functioning today as a convenient passage through the Hajar Mountains.

However, it is important to consider which objects or raw materials were brought to Kalba, which were produced and used on-site, and which likely served as trade goods. All indications point to the special relevance of mineral resources.

Aerial photograph of the excavations at Kalba
Aerial photograph of the excavations at Kalba. Credit: K. Kamyab / Sharjah Archaeology Authority

Evidence of copper processing has been found, likely brought from nearby deposits in the Hajar Mountains. Flint, jasper, and chalcedony artifacts were also found that were not locally available.

Significantly, a “Gulf-type” seal was found in Kalba, showing a unique fusion of Eastern and Western iconographic traditions.

According to archaeologists, this type of seal, originally produced in the Dilmun region, can be dated to the late third millennium BCE. The seal depicts a bull and possibly a lion in an attacking posture. The bull motif, widely recognized in similar seals, is clearly influenced by the iconography of the Indus Valley seals. The lion, however, is intriguing, as it is not represented in Indus seals, but is rather known as a motif in the cylinder seals of the westernmost Mesopotamian region.

Consequently, they conclude, the motifs depicted on the “Gulf-type” seal from Kalba appear to be a possible fusion of Eastern and Western motif traditions within a unique local seal type in the southeastern Arabian Peninsula, highlighting the unifying character of this coastal trading place.


Sources

Schwall C, Brandl M, Börner M, et al., Kalba: research on trade networks of a prehistoric coastal community on the Gulf of Oman, United Arab Emirates. Antiquity. doi:10.15184/aqy.2024.45


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