I Paradisets Have


  • Flemming Højlund




Bahrain, Barbar temple, Dilmun, Karl Bovin, Abdelkarim Al-Orrayed, P.V. Glob, Poul Rovsing Olsen


In the Garden of Eden

The covers of the first three volumes of Kuml show photographs of fine Danish antiquities. Inside the volumes have articles on the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in Jutland, which is to be expected as Kuml is published by the Jutland Archaeological Society. However, in 1954 the scene is moved to more southern skies. This year, the cover is dominated by a date palm with two huge burial mounds in the background. In side the book one reads no less than six articles on the results from the First Danish Archaeological Bahrain Expedition. P.V. Glob begins with: Bahrain – Island of the Hundred Thousand Burial Mounds, The Flint Sites of the Bahrain Desert, Temples at Barbar and The Ancient Capital of Bahrain, followed by Bibby’s Five among Bahrain’s Hundred Thousand Burial Mounds and The Well of the Bulls. The following years, reports on excavations on Bahrain and later in the sheikhdoms of Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi are on Kuml’s repertoire.

However, it all ends wit h the festschrift to mark Glob’s 60th anniversary, Kuml 1970, which has three articles on Arab archaeology and a single article in 1972. For the past thirty years almost, the journal has not had a single article on Arabia. Why is that? Primarily because the character of the museum’s work in the Arabian Gulf changed completely. The pioneers’ years of large-scale reconnaissance and excavations were succeeded by labourous studies of the excavated material – the necessary work preceding the final publications. Only in Abu Dhabi and Oman, Karen Frifelt carried on the pioneer spirit through the 1970s and 1980s, but she mainly published her results in in ternational, Englishlanguage journals.

Consequently, the immediate field reports ended, but the subsequent research into Arab archaeology – carried out at the writing desk and with the collections of finds– still crept into Kuml. From 1973 , the journal contained a list of the publications made by the Jutland Archaeological Society (abbreviated JASP), and here, the Arab monographs begin to make their entry. The first ones are Holger Kapel’s Atlas of the Stone Age Cultures of Qatar from 1967 and Geoffrey Bibby’s survey in eastern Saudi Arabia from 1973. Then comes the Hellenistic excavations on the Failaka island in Kuwait with Hans Erik Mathiesen’s treatise on the terracotta figurines (1982), Lise Hannestad’s work on the ceramics (1983) and Kristian Jeppesen’s presentation of the temple and the fortifications (1989). A similar series on the Bronze Age excavations on Failaka has started with Poul Kjærum’s first volume on the stamp and cylinder seals (1983) and Flemming Højlund’s presentation of the ceramics (1987). The excavations on the island of Umm an-Nar in Abu Dhabi was published by Karen Frifelt in two volumes on the settlement (1991) and the graves (1995), and the ancient capital of Bahrain was analysed by H. Hellmuth Andersen and Flemming Højlund in two volumes on the northern city wall and the Islamic fort (1994) and the central, monumental buildings (1997) respectively.

More is on its way! A volume on Islamic finds made on Bahrain has just been made ready for printing, and the Bronze Age temples at the village of Barbar is being worked up. Danish and foreign scholars are preparing other volumes, but the most important results of the expeditions to the Arabian Gulf have by now been published in voluminous series.

With this, an era has ended, and Moesgård Museum’s 50th anniversary in 1999 was a welcome opportunity of looking back at the Arabian Gulf effort through the exhibition Glob and the Garden ef Eden. The Danish Bahrain expeditions and to consider what will happen in the future.

How then is the relation ship between Moesgård Museum and Bahrain today, twenty-three years after the last expedition – now that most of the old excavations have been published and the two originators of the expeditions, P.V. Glob and Geoffrey Bibby have both died?

In Denmark we usually consider Bahrain an exotic country with an exciting past. However, in Bahrain there is a similar fascination of Denmark and of Moesgård Museum. The Bahrain people are wondering why Danish scholars have been interested in their small island for so many years. It was probably not a coincidence when in the 1980s archaeologist and ethnographers from Moesgård Museum were invited to take part in the furnishing of the exhibitions in the new national museum of Bahrain. Today, museum staff from Arab countries consider a trip to Moesgård a near-pilgrimage: our collection of Near East artefacts from all the Gulf countries is unique, and the ethnographic collections are unusual in that they were collected with thorough information on the use, the users and the origin of each item.

The Bahrain fascination of Moesgård Museum. was also evident, when the Bahrain minister of education, Abdulaziz Al-Fadl, visited the museum in connection with the opening of the Bahrain exhibition in 1999.

Al-Fadl visited the museum’s oriental department, and in the photo and film archive a book with photos taken by Danish members of the expeditions to the Arabian Gulf was handed over to him. Al-Fadl was absorbed by the photos of the Bahrain of his childhood – the 1950s and 1960s – an un spoilt society very different from the modern Bahrain. His enthusiasm was not lessened when he saw a photo of his father standing next to P.V. Glob and Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa taken at the opening of Glob’s first archaeological exhibition in Manama, the capital. At a banquet given by Elisabeth Gerner Nielsen, the Danish minister of culture, on the evening following the opening of the Glob exhibition at Moesgård, Al-Fadl revealed that as a child, he had been on a school trip to the Danish excavations where – on the edge of the excavation – he had his first lesson in Bahrain’s prehistory from a Danish archaeologist (fig. 1).

Another example: When attending the opening of an art exhibition at Bahrain’s Art Centre in February 1999, I met an old Bahrain painter, Abdelkarim Al-Orrayed, who turned out to be a good friend of the Danish painter Karl Bovin, who took part in Glob’s expeditions. He told me, how in 1956, Bovin had exhibited his paintings in a school in Manama. He recalled Bovin sitting in his Arabian tunic in a corner of the room, playing a flute, which he had carved in Sheikh Ibrahim’s garden.

In a letter, Al-Orrayed states: ”I remember very well the day in 1956, when I met Karl Bovin for the first time. He was drawin g some narrow roads in the residential area where I lived. I followed him closely with my friend Hussain As-Suni – we were twentythree and twenty-one years old respectively. When he had finished, I invited him to my house where I showed him my drawings. He looked at them closely and gave me good advice to follow if I wanted to become a skilful artist – such as focusing on lines, form, light, distance, and shadow. He encouraged me to practice outdoors and to use different models. It was a turning point in our young artists’ lives when Hussein and I decided to follow Bovin’s instructions. We went everywhere – to the teahouses, the markets, the streets, and the countryside – and practised there, but the sea was the most fascinating phenomenon to us. In my book, An Introduction to Modern Art in Bahrain, I wrote about Bovin’s exhibitions in the 1950s and his great influence on me as an artist. Bovin’s talent inspired us greatly in rediscovering the nature and landscape on Bahrain and gave us the feeling that we had much strength to invest in art. Bovin contributed to a new start to us young painters, who had chosen the nature as our main motif.”

Abdelkarim Al-Orrayed was the first Bahrain painter to live of his art, and around 1960 he opened a studio from which he sold his paintings. Two of his landscape watercolours are now at Moesgård.

These two stories may have revealed that Bahrain and Moesgard Museum have a common history, which both parts value and wish to continue. The mutual fascination is a good foundation to build on and the close bonds and personal acquaintance between by now more generations is a valuable counterbalance to those tendencies that estrange people, cultures, and countries from one another.

Already, more joint projects have been initiated: Danish archaeology students are taking part in excavations on Bahrain and elsewhere in the Arabic Gulf; an ethnography student is planning a long stay in a village on Bahrain for the study of parents’ expectations to their children on Bahrain as compared with the conditions in Denmark; P.V. Glob’s book, Al-Bahrain, has been translated into Arabic; Moesgård’s photos and films from the Gulf are to become universally accessible via the Internet; an exhibition on the Danish expeditions is being prepared at the National Museum of Bahrain, and so forth.

Two projects are to be described in more detail here: New excavations on Bahrain that are to investigate how fresh water was exploited in the past, and the publication of a book and three CDs, Music in Bahrain, which will make Bahrain’s traditional music accessible not just to the population of Bahrain, but to the whole world.

New excavations on Bahrain
For millennia, Bahrain was famous for its abundance of fresh water springs, which made a belt of oases across the northern half of the island possible. Natural fertility combined with the favourable situation in the middle of the Arab Gulf made Bahrain a cultural and commercial centre that traded with the cities of Mesopotamia and the IndusValley already in the third millennium BC.

Fresh water also played an important part in Bahrain’s ancient religion, as seen from ar chaeological excavations and Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets: A magnificent temple of light limestone was built over a spring, and according to old texts, water was the gods’ gift to Bahrain (Dilmun).

Although fresh water had an overwhelming importance to a parched desert island, no studies have been directed towards the original ”taming” of the water on Bahrain. Therefore, Moesgård Museum is now beginning to look into the earliest irrigation techniques on the island and their significance to Bahrain’s development.

Near the Bahrain village of Barbar, P.V. Glob in 1954 discovered a rise in the landscape, which was excavated during the following years. It turned out that the mound covered three different temples, built on top of and around each other. The Barbar temple was built of whitish ashlars and must have been an impressive structure. It has also gained a special importance in Near East research, as this is the first and only time that the holy spring chamber, the abzu, where the god Enki lived, has been un earthed (fig. 2).

On the western side of the Barbar temple a monumental flight of steps, flank ed on both sides by cult figures, was leading through a portal to an underground chamber with a fresh water spring. In the beautiful ashlar walls of this chamber were three openings, through which water flowed. Only the eastern out flow was investigated, as the outside of an underground stonebuilt aqueduct was found a few metres from the spring chamber.

East of the temple another underground aqueduct was followed along a 16-m distance. It was excavated at two points and turned out almost to have the height of a man. The floor was covered with large stones with a carved canal and the ceiling was built of equally large stones (fig. 3).

No doubt the spring chamber was a central part of the temple, charge d with great importance. However, the function of the aqueducts is still unknown. It seems obvious that they were to lead the fresh water away from the source chamber, but was this part of a completely ritual arrangement, or was the purpose to transport the water to the gardens to be used for irrigation?

To clarify these questions we will try to trace the continuations of the aqueducts using different tracing techniques such as georadar and magnetometer. As the sur roundings of Barbar temple are covered by several metres of shifting sand, the possibilities of following the aqueducts are fine, if necessary even across a great distance, and if they turn out to lead to old gardens, then these may be exposed under the sand.

Underground water canals of a similar construction, drawing water from springs or subsoil water, have been used until modern times on Bahrain, and they are still in use in Iran and on the Arabian Peninsula, especially in Oman, where they supply the gardens with water for irrigation. They are called qanats and are usually considered built by the Persians during periods when the Achaemenid or Sassanid kings controlled Arabia (c. 500 BC-c. 600 AD). However, new excavation results from the Oman peninsula indicate that at least some canal systems date from c. 1000 BC. It is therefore of utmost interest if similar sophisticated transportation systems for water on Bahrain may be proven to date from the time of the erection of the Barbar temple, i.e. c. 2000 BC.

The finds suggest that around this time Bahrain underwent dramatic changes. From being a thinly inhabited island during most of the 3rd millennium BC, the northern part of the island suddenly had extensive burial grounds, showing a rapid increase in population. At the same time the major settlement on the northern coast was fortified, temples like the one at Barbar were built, and gigantic ”royal mounds” were built in the middle of the island – all pointing at a hierarchic society coming into existence.

This fast social development of Dilmun must have parallelled efficiency in the exploitation of fresh water resources for farm ing to supply a growing population with the basic food, and perhaps this explains the aqueducts by Barbar?

The planned excavatio ns will be carried out in close cooperation between the National Museum of Bahrain and Aarhus University, and they are supported financially by the Carlsberg Foundation and Bahrain’s Cabinet and Information Ministry.

The music of Bahrain
The composer Poul Rovsing Olsen (1922-1982) was inspired by Arab and Indian music, and he spent a large part of his life studying traditional music in the countries along the Arabian Gulf. In 1958 and 1962-63 he took part in P.V. Glob’s expeditions to Arabia as a music ethnologist and in the 1970s he organised stays of long duration here (fig. 4).

The background for his musical fieldwork was the rapid development, which the oil finds in the Gulf countries had started. The local folk music would clearly disappear with the trades and traditions with which they were connected.” If no one goes pearl fishing anymore, then no one will need the work songs connected to this work. And if no one marries according to tradition with festivity lasting three or sometimes five days, then no one will need the old wedding songs anymore’’.

It was thus in the last moment that Rovsing Olsen recorded the pearl fishers’ concerts, the seamen’s shanties, the bedouin war songs, the wedding music, the festival music etc. on his tape recorder. By doing this he saved a unique collection of song and music, which is now stored in the Dansk Folkemindesamling in Copenhagen. It comprises around 150 tapes and more than 700 pieces of music. The instruments are to be found at the Musikhistorisk Museum and Moesgård Museum (fig. 5).

During the 1960s and 1970s Rovsing Olsen published a number of smaller studies on music from the Arabian Gulf, which established his name as the greatest connoisseur of music from this area – a reputation, which the twenty years that have passed since his death have not shaken. Rovsing Olsen also published an LP record with pearl fisher music, and with the music ethnologist Jean Jenkins from the Horniman Museum in London he published six LP records, Music in the World of Islam with seven numbers from the Arabian Gulf, and the book Music and Musical Instruments in the World of Islam (London 1976).

Shortly before his death, Rovsing Olsen finished a comprehensive manuscript in English, Music in Bahrain, where he summed up nearly twenty-five years of studies into folk music along the Arabian Gulf, with the main emphasis on Bahrain. The manuscript has eleven chapters, and after a short introduction Rovsing Olsen deals with musical instruments, lute music, war and honour songs of the bedouins, festivity dance, working songs and concerts of the pearl fishers, music influenced front Africa, double clarinet and bag pipe music, religious songs and women’s songs. Of these, eighty-four selected pieces of music are reproduced with notes and commented in the text. A large selection of this music will be published on three CDs to go with the book.

This work has been anticipated with great expectation by music ethnologists and connoisseurs of Arabic folk music, and in agreement with Rovsing Olsen’s widow, Louise Lerche-Lerchenborg and Dansk Folkemindesamling, Moesgård Museum is presently working on publishing the work.

The publication is managed by the Jutland Archaeological Society and Aarhus University Press will manage the distribution. The Carlsberg Foundation and Bahrain’s Cabinet and Information Ministry will cover the editing and printing expenses.

The publication of the book and the CDs on the music of Bahrain will be celebrated at a festivity on Bahrain, at the next annual cultural festival, the theme of which will be ”mutual inspiration across cultural borders” with a focus on Rovsing Olsen. In this context, Den Danske Trio Anette Slaato will perform A Dream in Violet, a music piece influenced by Arabic music. On the same occasion singers and musicians will present the traditional pearl fishers’ music from Bahrain.
In connection with the concert on Bahrain, a major tour has been planned in cooperation with The Danish Institute in Damascus, where the Danish musicians will also perform in Damascus and Beirut and give ”masterclasses” in chamber music on the local music academies. The concert tour is being organised by Louise Lerche-Lerchenborg, who initiated one of the most important Danish musical events, the Lerchenborg Musical Days,in 1963 and organised them for thirty years.

Pride of concerted effort is not a special Danish national sport. However,the achievements in the Arabian Gulf made by the Danish expeditions from the Århus museum are recognised everywhere. It is only fair to use this jubilee volume for drawing attention to the fact that the journal Kuml and the publications of the Jutland Archaeological Society were the instruments through which the epoch-making investigations in the Gulf were nude public nationally and internationally.

Finally, the cooperationon interesting tasks between Moesgård Museum and the countries along the Arabian Gulf will continue. In the future, Kuml will again be reporting on new excavations in the palm shadows and eventually, larger investigation s will no doubt find their way to the society’s comprehensive volumes.

Flemming Højlund
Moesgård Museum

Translated by Annette Lerche Trolle





Højlund, F. (2001). I Paradisets Have. Kuml, 50(50), 205–220. https://doi.org/10.7146/kuml.v50i50.103162