FKK Project: 'Eclipse of the East'



Participating Institutions
Moesgaard Museum
Bahrain National Museum

The project is funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research (Grant 11-116817/FKK)



Spring 2012: Sampling of suitable carbon in the field and in Bahrain National Museum.

Spring 2012: Selection and submission of first batch of samples for C14 dating (Submitted July 12). (Results of first batch of dates received from AU AMS lab on September the 25th 2012.

Spring 2014, Visit to Kuwait National Museum.

May, 2014: Workshop participation: The Sargonic Empire: An interdisciplinary Workshop. Organized by Sichuan University & Harvard University. Semitic Museum, Harvard University.

Public talks

Laursen, S.T. Paper read: ’The potential of the Burial Mound Data Base’. International Conference on the Prehistory and Early Civilizations in Arab Region. The Regency Hotel, Manama, Bahrain. 2012 01/05.

Laursen, S.T. Paper read: ‘Dilmun’s pre-state organization and the “Indus Connection”, c. 2050 BC Transmission of technology though inter-elite marriages?’ The Seminar for Arabian Studies Annual Seminar. BP Lecture Theatre - The British Museum - London 2013 27/7.

Paper presentation:  “The role of Failaka Island with in the political and economic history of the ancient Dilmun State, c. 2250-1700 BC.”, Kuwait though the ages - International congress, Kuwait, Kuwait city 2014, 3-7 March 2014. 

Laursen, S.T. Invited Lecture: ‘The Royal Mounds of A’ali (Bahrain) – The “Eclipse of the East” and the rise of the Dilmun state in Bahrain, c. 2000 B.C. University of Gent, Gent 2014 24/4.

Invited Lecture: “New Light on the 1st Dynasty of Dilmun, c. 2000-1800 BC”. Harvard University, Near Eastern languages and Civilization, Semite Museum, 22 May, 2014.

Popular lecture: ”The Royal Mounds of Bahrain”. Moesgaard Museum (MOMU) auditorium, February 24, 2015.

Project Results and publications

Laursen, S.T. 2013. A late fourth- to early third-millennium grave from Bahrain, c.3100–2600 BC. Arabian Archaeology & Epigraphy 24: 125-133.

Laursen, S.T. accepted [2014]. Seals and Sealing technology in the Dilmun Culture – The post Harappan life of the Indus Valley sealing tradition. Book chapter accepted for publication in: 'Small Windows: New Approaches to the Study of Seals and Sealing as Tools of Identity, Political Organization and Administration in the Ancient World.' Jamison, G. & M. Ameri (eds.) Cambridge Uni. Press.

Laursen, S.T. in prep "Symbols of Dilmun’s Royal House – a primitive system of communication adopted from the late Indus world?” Submitted for publication in Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.

Project Presentation
This project examines the causal relationships between the enigmatic decline of urban complexity across Middle Asia in a dramatic horizon known as the “Eclipse of the East" (c. 2000-1900 BC) and the coterminous rise of the Dilmun state (modern-day Bahrain) in the Persian Gulf. By empirically investigating this collapse horizon through the lens of Dilmun’s contradictory ascent to statehood and the processes governing it, the project will offer new insights into the collapse of complexity in the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, Iran, Oman and beyond.

While cities have been hailed as symbols of man’s triumph over nature, since the Tower of Babel urban life has been equally associated with notions of decadence and imminent catastrophe. In 2008, mankind reached a momentous milestone when the size of the global urban population exceeded that of its rural counterpart for the first time ( This global development and its potential cataclysmic dimension only accentuate a growing concern with ecological sustainability, epidemics, population overshoot (7 billion by mid. Oct. 2011), migration, human security, and technological adaptation.

Simultaneously with the passing of the 21st century urban threshold, the world economy spun into one of its worst financial crises and exposed grave shortcomings in prevailing economic theory. Additionally, climate change and the depletion of energy sources now raise the distinct possibility that, for the first time in history, we may be facing a global decline.

While this general situation has sparked a renewed interest in the dynamics of global urbanism and sustainable economic growth, their - perhaps inevitable? - historic counterpart collapse cannot be ignored.

Given that we are in a position in which the future success of governments and decision makers depends on insight – be it predictive or retrospective – we have yet to explain the failure of one of mankind’s earliest, widespread experiments with urban and economic complexity, the “Eclipse of the East".

I propose to further our understanding of the dynamics which governed the collapse of complexity in Middle Asia from an entirely new empirical perspective by investigating a carefully selected set of archaeological data from Dilmun. Of equal import is the input offered by this project on comparative models of societal collapse (McAnany and Yoffee 2010, Yoffe 2005, Yoffee and Cowgill 1988, Tainter 1988) and the phenomenon’s abrupt effects on economic and ideological systems.

The most important dataset consists of 75,590 burial mounds from Bahrain of which c. 5000 excavated examples have produced an unprecedented collection of approximately 100,000 artifacts dating to c. 2250-1800 BC. I have previously constructed an extensive geographic information system (GIS) encompassing all these mounds, as well as selected artifact types. These data render the Dilmun case study a unique testing ground for models of collapse/resilience of complex societies.

Project outline
It may at first seem paradoxical to study a collapse horizon from the perspective of the sole society that rose in complexity, however, studies of ancient urban collapse are usually methodologically hampered by the fact that the disintegration of major cities and other important institutions resulted in a corresponding eclipse of the archaeological record. This project is significantly less susceptible to that problem since Bahrain Island, which became the center of the Dilmun state (Højlund 1989, 2007, Laursen 2008), possesses an overwhelmingly rich archaeological record with which to monitor change during precisely the horizon of urban collapse. In addition, the archaeological complex on Bahrain (Dilmun) is relatively well accounted for in the Mesopotamian literary sources from 3rd and early 2nd millennium BC, and consequently also offers important links between collapse episodes in Middle Asia and the historic record. Moreover, the society that rose on Bahrain is uniquely well-suited for detecting, illustrating, and explaining global changes because it was small, geographically bounded and came to serve as a major hub of international trade – general conditions which typically make cultural and economic processes unfold faster and reach more a extreme outcome than what would arrive elsewhere.

The GIS of the burial mounds and the associated collections in the National Museum of Bahrain represent the project’s primary empirical vantage point and will allow questions related to cultural change to be framed at an unparalleled level of spatial and chronological resolution. By dissecting a blend of local and regional relationships and their institutional properties, the project will pursue a multi-factor explanation to the “Eclipse of the East”. The study’s empirical focus is on releasing the explanatory potential of three analytical domains, all relating to the following societal aspects: transmission of technology, the disintegrating and integrating properties of migration and the vulnerability/resilience of complex systems to indirect network or ‘domino’ effects. These three aspects will be addressed through separate yet interwoven case studies, which seek to clarify and to combine the above domains. Each case has been carefully chosen so as to produce insights that complement those obtained through the other cases. By acknowledging the complexity of societal disintegration through this multi-stranded approach, the project will significantly advance our understanding of this enigmatic horizon of urban collapse.