A universally accepted chronology for the entire ancient Near East remains to be established. On the basis of the Royal Canon of Ptolemy, a second-century A.D. astronomer, regnal dates can be determined with certainty in Babylonia only as far back as 747 B.C. (the accession of King Nabonassar). Through the use of excavated royal annals and chronicles, together with lists of annually appointed limmu-officials, the chronology of Assyria can be confidently extended back to 911 B.C. (the accession of King Adad-nirari II). The earliest certain link with Egypt is 664 B.C., the date of the Assyrian sack of the Egyptian capital at Thebes. Although it is often possible to locate earlier events quite precisely relative to each other, neither surviving contemporary documents nor scientific dating methods such as carbon 14, dendrochronology, thermoluminescence, and archaeoastronomy are able to provide the required accuracy to fix these events absolutely in time. The West Asian portion of the Timeline therefore employs the common practice of using, without prejudice, the so-called Middle Chronology, where events are dated relative to the reign of King Hammurabi of Babylon, which is defined as being ca. 1792–1750 B.C.
By the eighth millennium B.C., the previously savanna-like grasslands of the region had given way to an arid desert environment. The earliest people enter the western Arabian Peninsula from the Levant. By 5000 B.C., settlements appear in Qatar in the east, where flint tools—similar to those used in the Levant—are found alongside pottery from southern Mesopotamia. Around 3100 B.C., domesticated cereals and dates appear at Abu Dhabi. The Umm an-Nar culture dominates the Oman peninsula during the second half of the third millennium B.C. Close to a round building at the site of Hili 8 is a coppersmith’s working area. Copper may have been smelted on an industrial scale during this period. By the end of the third millennium B.C., the Gulf is the focus of contacts between the civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.
The most ancient flint tools from north and central Arabia belong to hunter-gatherer societies. The tools are characterized by tanged arrowheads similar to those of the same period in the Levant, where agriculture is already being practiced.
The eastern coast is settled for the first time and pottery is produced. Among the numerous encampment sites in the Riyadh area, Thamamah is one of the largest. Situated on the terrace of a wadi (seasonal river course), it consists of a large number of circular stone structures.
Ubaid-style painted pottery from Mesopotamia appears along the eastern shore of Arabia as far south as Oman. It is probably imported by boat during exchanges between the inhabitants of southern Mesopotamia and local fishermen. At Sin as-Sayh near Dhahran (in present-day Saudi Arabia), fragments of the bitumen caulking from reed boats, perhaps used for these exchanges, have been discovered.
Domesticated cattle, sheep, and goats appear in eastern Arabia. The region is called Dilmun in Mesopotamian records of the late fourth millennium B.C. Copper mining begins in Oman (possibly referred to as Magan in later Mesopotamian texts).
Material of Mesopotamian origin once again appears along the shore of the Gulf, primarily ceramic jars that are imitated locally. At Tarut, a limestone Mesopotamian-style worshipper figurine, a copper bull’s head, and chlorite vases are discovered. The vases, carved in the so-called Intercultural Style, are at various stages of manufacture and suggest that Tarut is a production center for examples found at Khafaje, Nippur, Kish, and Ur in Mesopotamia. In the southwest, a sculptural tradition emerges, characterized by extreme simplification and the containment of the figure within a rectangular space.
Hundreds of tumuli on Bahrain represent the largest burial site of the Bronze Age. Men, women, and children are buried as individuals with ceramics, personal ornaments, copper weapons and cups, and stone vessels.
The Gulf is the locus of trade routes linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley civilization. The most distinctive products of this trade are Persian Gulf circular stamp-seals decorated with animals and abstract motifs. Some show a humped bull with an Indus inscription above it. Normally made of soft stone, they are characterized by a high back boss, always pierced horizontally for suspension. From around 2000 B.C., the Persian Gulf–type seals are superceded by the so-called Dilmun seal, characterized by a low boss decorated with three parallel incised lines down the middle running perpendicular to the perforated boss.
“Arabian Peninsula, 8000–2000 B.C.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=02®ion=wap (October 2000)