Qatar's Early History
Qatar History: Read About The Origins of this Tiny Desert Country
Qatar's early history is characterized by uncertainty and speculation. However, with the oldest of Qatar's archaeological sites, Al Shagra, dating back to 6000 BC, the first habitation that historians can be certain of takes place at the end of the Stone Age.
One theory is that these early inhabitants were pastoral nomads, searching for grazing for their animals at a time when the climate was more temperate. An alternative hypothesis is that they were hunter gatherers living on what cereals and plants they could find as well as animals and sea creatures such as onager (wild ass), gazelle, hares, turtle and dugongs.
They may also have utilized small and basic boats for fishing, and have been involved in pearl diving. Shards of Ubud pottery, dating back to 5000 BC and originating from Iraq, suggests that some sort of trading network also existed.
Originally, it was thought that there was continuous habitation from this period on. Now it seems likely that there were long periods when Qatar was uninhabited. Findings from a site in Al Khor, which had previously been assumed to be from a wide range of cultures and times, have now been proved to be from between 5600 and 5300 BC.
After 4000 BC the climate became drier and harsher, and it would have been difficult for nomads with livestock to survive. Dr Kullweit, quoted in a recent article in the Gulf Times (see sources below), suggested that these nomads may gradually have adopted camels and become the Bedouin of Arabia.
Later on Qatar probably belonged to Dilmun, a Bronze Age kingdom which grew wealthy by providing a trading link between Mesopotamia and the Indus valley in India. Dimun was mentioned in the Summerian myth of the flood, and was later said to be the location of the survivors of the flood.
Many archaeological sites associated with Dilmum are located in nearby Bahrain, but the kingdom also covered the Eastern coast of Arabia, and Barbar Pottery, manufactured in Bahrain circa 2450 1700 BC has been found in Ras Abrouq.
It is not clear exactly when Dilmun declined in importance, but it is probably linked to the collapse of the Indus civilisation in the second millennium and a decrease in the copper trade it controlled. Following Dilmun, Kassites, who had taken control of Babylon, inhabited at least parts of Qatar.
Evidence of their existence has been found in a tiny island in the bay of Al Khor. Here they crushed sea snails produce the royal dies of purple and scarlet. Kassite ceramics have also been discovered in Al Khor itself.
Ancient historians (Itabo and Herotodus) believed that Phoenicians were the first inhabitants of the area. While they could not have been the first (their civilization existed from around 3000 BC, and they only became a significant power from around 1100 BC), it's interesting that they were famous for their purple die produced from sea snails.
The Amiri Diwan website suggests that there was inhabitation during Roman and Greek times. The remains of a stone house has been found in Ras Abrouq: this may have been part of a temporary fishing station. However, after this period there seems to have been no evidence of habitation for some centuries, although there may well have been nomads moving through the land: the camel had been domesticated and utilised for travelling in the third millennium BC.
The Amiri Diwan website suggests that Qatar again produced purple die, as well as pearls, in the third century AD, and acted as a trading link between West and East at the time of the Sassanids, a Persian Empire which existed from 226-651 AD.
Visitors to Qatar can see stone age tools and arrow heads in the Qatar Natural History Museum. Rock carvings can be seen in Jabal Al Jassasiya, and ancient burial mounds in Omm Slal Ali date to the third millennium BC.
Also see The Rise of the Qatar Ruling Family.
Gillespie, F. (2006) Discovering Qatar
Gotting, F. (1996) Healing hands of Qatar
Gillespie, F. (2007) in Gulf Times (January 12 2007) Expert puts spotlight on region's rich archeological past