Saturday, February 27, 2010

Geoffrey Bibby

It's one thing to see a famous person, but another to have the opportunity to spend some time in conversation.

I met Geoffrey Bibby when he arrived in Bahrain to do a BBC special about the tumuli and water qanats of Bahrain.

Mr. Bibby later became curator of the Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, Denmark, where many artifacts from Bahrain are housed. The museum also has a large collection of Viking artifacts.

Tumuli are earthen or stone burial chambers dating from ancient times. Bahrain is peppered with them. On an island roughly 27 miles long and 14 miles wide, as I remember, there are an enormous amount of tumuli over the terrain. It has been referred to as the largest burial site of the ancient world. It isn't clear whether the island supported a large population or if it was used as a large tomb site for religious reasons.

One theory is that Bahrain or Dilmon was the original location of the Garden of Eden (although there are many places that have claimed that) and another that it was the original location of the Tree of Life, a prevalent motif or symbol of the ancient world. During the original excavation of a Babylonian-era temple and city site, a well fed by a spring and a small basket containing a skeleton of a snake curled around a round pearl-like stone were found. The Snake and the Pearl or Dragon and Pearl are ancient icons of the far and middle east.

Qanats are a system of underwater channels built to conserve water. They are punctuated at intervals with access towers . These water systems were in use all over the middle east. Some are still used today. The water table has dropped considerably in Bahrain, so at the time I was there, they were dry and accessible for exploration.

Mr. Bibby was the archaeologist who confirmed that the ancient kingdom of Dilmun was Bahrain. I believe there is a mention of the name Dilmun in the Bible and legend has it as the island where the ancient Sumerian hero, Gilgamesh, after surviving a catastrophic flood (much like Noah) went to the land of Dilmun in search of eternal life. This story, first written in verse on clay tablets, was used by Bibby to research and later find a 4000-year old temple and ruins, establishing the connection between Dilmun and Bahrain. His book Looking for Dilmun was written about his search.

Trained as a classical archaeologist and versed in Assyrian script, Mr. Bibby was well versed in many fields and was a fascinating conversationalist. At a roof-top dinner party one evening, we had a most interesting conversation about the effects of geography on the development and migrations of people in history. He spoke about the process of working in archaeology and researching european pre-history. It was one of the most interesting evenings I have ever spent.

Later I was able to go down into the ruins at Barbar and stand on a floor that had not seen the light of day since the days of Babylonia. And even later, a small group of us were allowed to climb down and explore the passageways of the water qanauts--bats and all. But that's another story.


Nora said...

This is so funny a friend of mine gave me a copy of his book when I moved back to charleston in January. I haven't had a chance to read it. Life with a three year old doesn't lend it's self to reading.

Anonymous said...

His "Testimony of the Spade" is also a good book.

Nora said...

Started "Looking for Dilmun" What a wonderful book. It makes me want to go to Bahrain.

nora said...

The Al Alreen company has built a waterpark in Bahrain called the "Lost Paradise of Dilmun".