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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)

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The only radiocarbon date available was from a fireplace which contained cotton seeds (81–238 cal. a.d.).

  2. 2.

    It is possible that the proportion of cotton will increase since the study of the textiles is still in progress

  3. 3.

    All of them are made of single Z-spun threads. Fibres have been identified with a microscope either in Saudi Arabia or in France. We are very indebted to Dominique de Reyer, who made some of the analyses at the Laboratoire de Recherche des Monuments historiques, at Champs-sur-Marne.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the archaeological teams of Qal’at al-Bahrain (director P. Lombard) and Madâ’in Sâlih (directors D. al-Talhi, L. Nehmé and F. Villeneuve) for their support and interest in our archaeobotanical and textiles research. We are also grateful to the research unit for annual crop systems at the CIRAD (Centre de cooperation internationale en recherches agronomiques pour le développement) in Montpellier, for supplying us with wood from Gossypium arboreum and G. herbaceum as well as to Y. Pauthier at the seed collection of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris for his expertise. Furthermore, we thank N. Giret and L. Nehmé for their corrections and comments on our text.

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Correspondence to Charlène Bouchaud.

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Communicated by M. van der Veen.

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Bouchaud, C., Tengberg, M. & Dal Prà, P. 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). Veget Hist Archaeobot 20, 405–417 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00334-011-0296-0

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Keywords

  • Cotton
  • Gossypium
  • Arabian Peninsula
  • Textile production
  • Achaemenian
  • Nabatean and Early Islamic periods