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The Arabian Gulf in Antiquity, vol. 2, From Alexander the Great to the Coming of Islam.

This two-volume work represents the most complete presentation of archaeological and historical information pertaining to the Arabian Gulf, prior to the rise of Islam, to be written so far. Until now the only other work covering the same area and an even longer chronological perspective was The Persian Gulf by Sir Arnold Wilson, published in 1928. Writing 62 years prior to Pott' Arabian Gulf in antiquity, Wilson was able to proceed from 'Primitive man in the Persian Gulf and Oman' to 'The Persian Gulf in the earliest historical times' and on to the accounts of 'The classical writers' in just under 40 pages. Potts himself makes this point in his own Introduction, indicating to the reader, unfamiliar with the history and archaeology of the area, that much progress has been made in recent years towards a more comprehensive awareness of the area's pre-Islamic heritage.

Potts handles the now abundant material in an admirable, scholarly fashion, and not only presents the more recent archaeological discoveries, but also brings to attention the many earlier scholarly works overlooked by Wilson and even more recent researchers working in this area. As a result Potts not only provides us with a complete survey of the evidence currently available, but also a historiography of the area.

Each of the volumes is methodically arranged, with the Gulf region divided into geographical units appropriate to specific historical periods. Volume I begins with an account of the environmental setting which sets the stage for the second chapter, dealing with hunters, gatherers and fishers of the East Arabian littoral. With chapter three, which covers the late 4th and early 3rd millennia BC, we enter the period when the earliest written evidence becomes available and from this chapter onwards the written and archaeological evidence is presented in tandem. From chapter four onwards the overall geographical unity of 'The Gulf' is divided into a number of inter-related geographical and historical entities, notably the Oman Peninsula, the Central and Northern Gulf, Bahrain and Failaka. Systematically these areas are dealt with up to 300 BC. Volume II begins with a chapter on Alexander, the Seleucids and the Arabian Gulf. From then on, roughly the same geographical subdivisions as dealt with in Volume I are maintained, and each area covered up to, and including, the Sasanian period.

To review such a book in detail would be a daunting task for any one reviewer, given the geographical and chronological range covered, and this in itself is an acknowledgement of Potts' achievement and success in providing '... the scholar and the interested layman with a comprehensive, up-to-date synthesis of what is perhaps the only major sub-area of the Near East for which a work of this sort was still lacking'. However, at least for the layman, the inclusion of one or a number of chronological charts, correlating names and events in the different parts of the Gulf and neighbouring areas, would have been welcome. Alternatively, each volume could have benefitted from a chapter providing a brief, overall synthesis of the evidence presented. Such a chapter might also have made way for more creative use and overall interpretation of the wealth of information that is provided. However, this suggestion and any reservations that one may have regarding the lack of interpretation of the data are quickly forgotten when compared with the well-integrated presentation of solid historical and archaeological evidence and the clear avoidance of archaeological theorizing, not to say fantasy, of the sort that now appears typical of too many archaeological publications.

Clearly, any reader inspired to know more about the Arabian Gulf in antiquity will want to see more in the way of illustrative material. The few illustrations and plates provided in each of the volumes are generally acceptable and appropriate; the lack of a scale on many of the drawings is at times frustrating, though the source of all illustrations is well documented. This, however, leads me on to my major criticism of these two volumes, namely the system of bibliographic references. Potts is fastidious in his provision of bibliographic information which is presented in the form of extensive footnotes with the references contained therein. The use of the Harvard system in preference to the system used would have made the initial locating of references much easier, and would also have provided a readily available bibliography on the archaeology of the Gulf, itself of great value for all of us working in this area and who will no doubt be using this publication as an indispensable reference work for many years to come. This, it might be added, is irrespective of the rapid pace at which further new discoveries continue to be made in the Gulf region. Recent discoveries, such as those made by Potts himself at the site of Tell Abraq in the UAE, and, it should be added, already efficiently published (Potts 1990; 1991) since the publication of the book under review, can only add to the wealth of information that has been brought to our attention and which provides an erudite base for future Gulf studies.

CARL PHILLIPS Institute of Archaeology, University College London


POTTS, D.T. 1990. A prehistoric mound in the Emirate of Umm al Qaiwain, UAE: excavations at Tell Abraq in 1989. Munksgaard. 1991. Further excavations at Tell Abraq: the 1990 season. Munksgaard.
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Author:Phillips, Carl
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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