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Exhibition commemorates Kuwaiti-Polish Archaeological Collaboration
November 16, 2016, 12:35 pm

Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to the State of Kuwait H.E. Grzegorz Olszak and Secretary General of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters Eng Ali Al-Youha jointly inaugurated an exhibition titled 'Ten years of Kuwaiti-Polish Archaeological Cooperation'. Photographs and documents were displayed of the Kuwait-Polish archaeological discoveries. 

Eng Al-Youha affirmed in his speech that he was pleased over the discoveries made during excavation, some of which are 10.000 years old, in Failaka Island in north of Kuwait. On his part, Polish Ambassador Olszak also showed his pleasure over the archaeological find, praising the cooperation between his country and Kuwait.

It has been 10 years from November 2006 since Professor MichaÅ‚ Gawlikowski, the head of the Science Council of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw (PCMA), arrived in Kuwait City with a visit to the Kuwaiti Department of Antiquities and Museums. On that occasion, he held first talks with the Director of the Department, Shehab A.H. Shehab and visited the area of planned work by a Kuwaiti–Polish Archaeological Mission. Guided by Kuwaiti archaeologists, now Ph.D. holders, Sultan Al-Duweish and Hamid Al-Mutairi, Prof. Gawlikowski toured the Al-Subiyah region and visited the sites that were to become the object of the work.

This visit was instrumental in the PCMA’s decision to start the first Polish archaeological project in the Persian Gulf region. It was a completely new area that had, until then, been outside the scope of University of Warsaw’s work. The council had years of experience in excavating various parts of the Near East: Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, but the archaeology of the Gulf region was a new territory and a new challenge that they decided to undertake.

Just a year after that initial visit, and after a visit by Mr. Shehab in Warsaw during which the framework of the cooperation was drawn up, the first small group of Polish archaeologists arrived in Kuwait. The first task was the investigation of tumuli graves in the Mughaira Well Field area, as suggested by Dr. Sultan Al-Duweish.

They did not expect it to be the start of a long, new chapter in their lives that lasts to this day. The results of that first season of work were both interesting and satisfying, especially due to the discovery of a richly equipped grave SMQ 30. Investigations of the desert burial ground in the Al-Subiyah soon became a separate research project headed by Dr. Łukasz Rutkowski. In the course of that project, around 130 burial structures of various types were registered and documented and 27 of them were also excavated (not counting other stone features of a non-sepulchral character).

But besides the investigations of the tumuli graves, the polish archaeologists looked to their Kuwaiti friends and colleagues who had new tasks for them, which was regarded as proof of their growing confidence in their professional skills. After investigations of a desert well (SM 12), the group was tasked with the excavations of a Chalcolithic-period settlement at a site later renamed as Bahra 1.

This vast settlement was connected with the Mesopotamian Ubaid culture and, in time, it proved to be a unique site unprecedented in the archaeological record of the Gulf region. In the course of their work, they had discovered 10 multi-room houses, most of them rectilinear, with the lower parts of their walls made of stone. The site, now located 7 km inland, must have had regular contacts with Mesopotamian centers of the Ubaid culture, as attested by the rich assemblage of imported ceramic vessels. Work on this site is still ongoing, as many research questions still wait to be answered.

The next step in the development of Kuwait- Polish archaeological cooperation was entrusting Polish archaeologists with investigating not only the Al-Subiyah region, but also the Failaka Island, famous for its rich archaeological past, and excavated for years by numerous research teams. Their first common project on Failaka was focused on a fragment of a large Nestorian settlement at the site of Al-Qusur. It was followed by a survey along large parts of the island’s north and south shorelines.

As a result of this survey, the site of Kharaib al-Desht on the northern coast of the island was chosen for excavations, which started in 2013 and are continued until now. The project, headed by Dr. Agnieszka PieÅ„kowska, led to the discovery of a late Islamic-period fishing village, and a large structure of an as yet unidentified character. Work at this site generated yet another common research project: underwater investigations along the island’s shore.

Its main aim is the search for ports, harbors and fish traps that must have been used at various stages of Failaka’s history. The first result of this work was the discovery of several fish traps alongside the northern coast of the island, including one in the vicinity of Kharaib al-Desht, and of one harbor that still needs to be investigated.

In the 10 years since the beginning of the Kuwait-Polish cooperation, seven research projects were undertaken, four of which are still ongoing. On the Polish side, over 50 researchers and students took part in these projects. Among them there were not just archaeologists, but also geologists, anthropologists, palaeobotanists, archaeozoologists, conservators, topographers and photographers. Their combined research resulted in the broadening of the knowledge of various aspects of Kuwait’s past. The common work done by the Polish visitors with their Kuwaiti colleagues afforded a great occasion to get to know each other better and forge new scientific and personal ties.

In all these years, the Polish visitors have profited from the constant support both of their Kuwaiti colleagues from the Department of Antiquities and Museums and of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Letters, the head of which, H.E. Eng. Ali Youha has visited the excavation sites since the first season of work in the Al-Subiyah region in 2007.

Piotr Bielinski, Professor at the Polish Center of Mediterranean Architecture at the Warsaw University and the Head of the Excavation Mission, stated, ”We hope that this anniversary is an occasion to sum up the 10 years of intensive work conducted hitherto, and the opening of a new chapter of this fruitful cooperation, for which we are grateful to our Kuwaiti hosts and friends.”

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