We visited most of Bahrain’s T List sites in 2005 and, with Bahrain hosting the 2011 WHC, are interested to guess which (if any) might be inscribed as that country’s “reward”! Could it be the “Burial Ensembles of Dilmun and Tylos”? Now, right from the start, I must make it clear that we were blown away in amazement at these remains – burial mounds stretching into the desert as far as the eye could see (photo 1). At first sight one thinks that they must be the detritus from some huge modern construction project and that dumper trucks have left thousands of mounds of unwanted spoil. But no – each one represents a single or family burial. Go to the magnificent Bahraini National Museum to see a reconstruction of one shown in section. Most of the mounds are 1-2 mtrs in height but, in some areas, there are enormous hills which tower over the surrounding houses. Their age covers the period “mid 3rd millennium B.C. till the mid 1st millennium A.D.” – such continuity, such enormity!!
Now this T List site was only added in May 2008 and encompasses 11 different sites of moundfields and associated remains. Surprisingly, these 11 include 2 other sites from Bahrain’s earlier T List which dates back to Sep 2001 and which have been allowed to remain in the new list
a. The Hamad Town Tumuli moundfield
b. The Saar Honeycomb tombs
So could this be Bahrain’s 2011 “prize”? Certainly the fact that the new T List entry was made as recently as May 2008 might indicate that work is in progress to get it inscribed. The description is much more “on message” than that for the earlier one. I note the use of phrases like “The Cultural Landscape of Aali” (CLs are definitely a “plus point” when it comes to gaining inscription!). In terms of its intrinisc merits I put it in a very high category – I know of nothing like it elsewhere in the World and there are not that many T list sites to which I would apply the epithet “Unique” ( and even many Inscribed sites don’t reach this bar!!). Yet I somehow feel that this particular T List entry is too “big”. Can Bahrain really satisfy ICOMOS across all 11 sites- perhaps if a fair number of them were sacrificed and effort were concentrated on just 1 or 2 – e.g the “Aali cultural Landscape”? But another problem is the integrity and preservation of the sites. Bahrain faces similar problems to other countries in arriving at a balance between the needs of development and preservation – the island is short of development land, has an increasing population and is not as rich as other Gulf states. In addition it faces a religious dimension to these tensions. Conservative Islamists (with Wahabbi influences?) can actively oppose the preservation of ancient artefacts and especially those of non Islamic provenance. “Attempts to protect the burial mounds have run into opposition by religious fundamentalists who consider them unIslamic and have called for them to be concreted over for housing.” One MP said in Parliament “Housing for the living is better than the graves for the dead. We must have pride in our Islamic roots and not some ancient civilisation from another place and time, which has only given us a jar here and a bone there." The larger mounds of the Aali mound field for instance are not well preserved – they are situated among housing (photo 2) and the burial chambers of some are used for play. So, on balance, I would be surprised if Bahrain was able to bring this site to a suitable level of conservation by 2011.
Date posted: February 2009
Have you been to Burial Ensembles of Dilmun and Tylos? Share your experiences!