Cotton cultivation and textile production in the Arabian Peninsula during antiquity; the evidence from Madâ’in Sâlih (Saudi Arabia) and Qal’at al-Bahrain (Bahrain)
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The discovery of seeds and textiles from Gossypium (cotton) in Achaemenian levels of the mid-6th–late 4th century b.c. at Qal’at al-Bahrain, Bahrain and in early 1st millennium a.d. at Madâ’in Sâlih, Saudi Arabia, reveals the role played by the Arabian Peninsula as a textile production centre during the centuries before and after the beginning of the Christian era. Both these sites were situated on important trade routes, overseas (Qal’at al-Bahrain) and overland (Madâ’in Sâlih), and it is likely that at least part of the cotton production was intended for trade, complementing and perhaps competing with other sources of cotton textiles in the contemporary Middle East. In the arid climate of the Arabian Peninsula, cotton was probably grown in association with irrigated date palm gardens where a wide array of other crops was grown, as is shown by the analysis of charred seeds and wood from occupation levels at both sites. The present article places these particular finds in the larger context of cotton cultivation in the Middle East and India.