Ancient Places / Blog / Natural History and Science



Pottery shards.

Pottery shards and flint flakes.  You look for them, don’t you?  I do. They are like movie tickets for the latest film.  The one that’s already been shown.  A film that seems to halt the flow of time long enough to look at the product of its passage.  What has gone before us is a long, captivating film.  And there are theaters everywhere.


The Arabian Peninsula is bounded by two defining seas, the Persian Gulf to the north, and the Red Sea to the south.  Some religions have spent a lot of time crossing the Red Sea, while others have spent a lot of time fighting over the different interpretations that exist on either side of the Persian Gulf.  It is that latter Gulf that I wish to explore today.  To find my ticket and watch a film of its development.

During the Ice Ages, not long ago¾they only retreated 12,000 years ago¾sea level was lower.  What is now the Persian Gulf was then a long, beautiful, warm watered river valley.  An extension of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.  It emptied into the Gulf of Oman at what we now call the Strait of Hormuz.  It is a choke point.  Physically and politically.  But back then, during the Ice Ages, it opened up into a wonderfully lush, long strip of garden-edged river.  Perhaps like the Nile.  Or Eden.


Eight thousand years ago, glaciers were melting, resulting in rising seas.  Up through the Strait of Hormuz the waters crept, eventually flooding this long inland river up to Nippur and the earliest Sumerian civilizations growing at the shoreline of what is now Iraq.  And this is where Dilmun comes in.  For farther out around that ocean, past what is now Iran and Afghanistan, lay another great civilization forming in the Indus Valley at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.  And trade figured mightily in its economic vitality.

Let’s see.  The Egyptian civilization to the west, Mesopotamia to the north, and the Indus civilization just around the corner to the southeast.  Bingo!  Middlemen. Goods moving up and down what is now called the Persian Gulf.  With the trading network of the Dilmun culture settlements lining its shores.  The bible mentions such a people, the Dedanites, in this area.

Many architectural remnants of this culture may be hidden under the risen waters of the Gulf.  But ancient ruins can be found on the island nation of Bahrain, across the way from the peninsula of Qatar, and on Failaka Island, part of Kuwait.

The cultures of these Dilmun lands are so old that they were referred to in Sumerian poetry 4,000 years ago.  Gilgamesh, the mythological King of Sumerian Uruk, sought Utnapishtim and immortality in Dilmun.  At the gardens of Bahrain.  Back then, much of the coast was called Bahrain.  And had not Utnapishtim survived the great flood?  The flooding of the Persian Gulf?  The Garden of Eden? The Bible?  Climate Change?


But let us reach farther back.  Back when the glaciers still stood tall.  Back when Neanderthal men and women lived in the mountains of Iran.  Then the Persian Gulf was another fertile Nile, with constant water and growth.  Sometime after 100,000 years ago, a new hominoid species began migrating north, out of the great African gorges.  They were us. Just not complete.  Some meeting and mingling with those Neanderthals was going to occur along that oasis-like river now flooded.  Some interbreeding yet left to do.

No more Neanderthals live today.  In fact, all of our sister species are extinct.  And there were a number of species within our genus, Homo.  It is intriguing to explore our part in their extinctions.  But much of us carry Neanderthal genes.  Maybe 4-10% of our genome.  And distinctly round heads!

Heads that are now looking back at what came before. Much like those ancient gazelles on Dilmun cylinder seals.  Yes, seals. Find their pottery shards and you will find the seals of Dilmun.  You might also find the scale weights of their commerce.  Such is the bounty of searching!

And there, where the Arabian Continent is drifting north, it is diving down and pushing up deep deposits of oil and gas.  And that movie is still being filmed!



About Author

Ronald R. Van Stockum, Jr. is a lawyer, teacher, biologist, writer, guitarist, and recently an actor living on his family's old farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Santa Clara University, and a Masters and PhD. in Biology from the University of Louisville. He also has his Juris Doctorate in Law from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. He practices law from offices in Shelbyville, Kentucky concentrating his legal practice in environmental law. His biologic research is in historical phytogeography. Dr. Van Stockum, Jr. has published numerous books, articles, and short stories in the areas of law, science, and creative writing. most of his 24 titles are available on this site and Amazon with many on Kindle and Audible!

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