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Qatar - Early History

Historically, the Peninsula of Qatar witnessed various cultures and civilizations in various phases in the history of mankind even during the Stone Age or Neolithic period. A harsh climate, lack of resources, and frequent periods of conflict, however, seem to have made it inevitable that no settlement would develop and prosper for any significant length of time before the discovery of oil.

Human habitation of the Qatar Peninsula dates as far back as 50,000 years, when small groups of Stone Age inhabitants built coastal encampments, settlements, and sites for working flint, according to recent archaeological evidence. Other finds have included pottery from the Al Ubaid culture of Mesopotamia and northern Arabia (ca. 5000 BC), rock carvings, burial mounds, and a large town that dates from about 500 BC at Wusail, some twenty kilometers north of Doha. The Qatar Peninsula was close enough to the Dilmun civilization (ca. 4000 to 2000 BC) in Bahrain to have felt its influence. A recent discovery on the edge of an Island in the West of Qatar indicates the human presence during this period of pre-historic period. Discovery of a 6th millennium BC site at Shagra, in the South-east of Qatar revealed the key role the sea (Gulf) played in the lives of Shagras inhabitants. Excavation at Al-Khore in the North-east of Qatar, Bir Zekrit and Ras Abaruk and the discovery of pottery and Flint, Flint-scraper tool, Rim of painted ceramic and vessels there indicates Qatars connection with the Al-Ubaid civilization which flourished in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates during the period of 5th 4th millennium BC. There had also been barter trade system between the settlements at Qatar and the Ubaid Mesopotamia and the exchange of commodities were mainly pottery and dried fish.

The Peninsula of Qatar emerged as one of the richest places in the Gulf, with regard to the trade and commerce during the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC. This period witnessed the spread of the Bronze Age cultures and civilizations from Mesopotamia to the Indus Valley settlements of India. Trade between Mesopotamia and Indus Valley was channeled through the Gulf and the western coast of Qatar played a vital role in the transshipment of the commercial goods as the discovery of fragments of Barbar pottery in Ras Abaruk reveals it. The Peninsula of Qatar also attracted seasonal migrants during this period of Bronze Age.

Kassite of the Zagros Mountains assumed power in Babylon in the middle of the 2nd millennium and spread their influence throughout the Gulf region including a small Island on the bay of Al-Khore in the north of Doha. Kassite origin ceramics found in Al-Khore clearly indicates the close links between Qatar and Babylon during this period. The peninsula was used almost continuously as rangeland for nomadic tribes from Najd and Al Hasa regions in Saudi Arabia, with seasonal encampments around sources of water. In addition, fishing and pearling settlements were established on those parts of the coast near a major well. Until the late eighteenth century, the principal towns were on the east coast -- Al Huwayla, Al Fuwayrit, and Al Bida -- and the modern city of Doha developed around the largest of these, Al Bida. The population consisted of nomadic and settled Arabs and a significant proportion of slaves brought originally from East Africa.

The Greco-Roman trade between Europe and India was carried on via the Arabian Gulf during the 140 BC. Archaeological evidence found in Qatar suggests the Greek and Roman influences in the Peninsula particularly at Ras Abaruk, where some stone structures, including a dwelling, a cairn, a hearth and a low mound containing a large quantity of fish bones were located. Excavation of the dwelling revealed two chambers; linked by a cross-wall, with a third room open to the sea. No doubt Ras Abaruk was a temporary fishing station where periodic landing were made to dry fish during this period. In fact, pearls and dried fish were the major items for exportation from Qatar during the Greco-Roman period.

The Qatar Peninsula came under the sway of several great powers over the centuries. The whole Arabian Gulf region emerged as the most important trade centre linking between the West and the East, during the time of the Persian Sasanid Empire in the 3rd century A. D. Cargoes of copper, spices, sandalwood, teak, blac kwood, etc. arriving from the East were exchanged for shipments of purple dye, clothing, pearls, dates, gold and silver. Qatar played a pre-eminent role in that commercial activity contributing at least two of these commodities to the Sasanid trade purple dye and precious pearls. Islam swept the entire Arabian region in the 7th century, overturning the idol worshippers. With the spread of Islam in Qatar, Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) sent his first envoy Al Ala Al-Hadrami to Al-Mundhir Ibn Sawa Al-Tamimi, the ruler of Bahrain, which extended the coast from Kuwait to the south of Qatar including al-Hasa and Bahrain Islands, in the year 628, inviting him to accept Islam. Mundhir responding to the Prophets call announced his conversion to Islam and all the Arab inhabitants of Qatar including some Persians living in Qatar also became Muslim, heralding the beginning of the Islamic era in Qatar. Consequently, Al Ala Al-Hadrami was appointed by the Prophet as his representative in Bahrain to collect the Jizya (religious tax). During this early phase of Islam Qatar was famous for the robes which were woven there and exported to the various places. It is said that the Prophet to have worn a Qatari robe, as did his wife Aisha. Umr Ibn Al-Khattab had a Qatari cloak patched with feather.

During the Umayyad and the Abbasid rules in Damascus and Baghdad respectively, there was further growth of trade and commerce in Qatar. The Abbasid era (750-1258) saw the rise of several settlements, including Murwab. Yaqut al-Hamawi, an Arabian historian, who died in 1229, considered Qatar as a village and famous for camel and horse breeding centre during the Umayyad period. During the ascendancy of the Abbasid in Baghdad the pearling industry in the rich waters around Qatar developed considerably and the demand for Qatari pearl increased in the East, which extended as far as China. With the expansion of the mercantile activities on the Coast of Qatar, settlements began to grow on the north of Qatar, particularly at Murwab in the Yoghbi area between Zubara and Umm el- Ma with more than 100 small stone built houses.

At the beginning of the 16th century the Portuguese enhanced their power and influence over the Gulf of the Arabian Peninsula after establishing hold over Strait of Hormuz. In 1520, the Bahrain Islands in the Persian Gulf were subjected to the Portuguese. The Portuguese Empire settled its commercial relations with many Gulf harbors including Qatar, where it was exporting gold, silver, silk textiles, dianthus, all kinds of pearls, amber and horses. In 1538 the Turks fitted out a strong fleet at Suez, and made an attempt upon Diu, in which they failed; but on their return to the Red Sea, they succeeded in expelling the Portuguese from Aden. The Portuguese ruled from 1517 to 1538, when they lost to the Ottomans.



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