Late Mature Harappan Period
Some changes occurred in the Indus region during the final part of the Mature Harappan period, but at most sites there is insufficient chronological precision for change through time to be recognized. Harappa is an exception: in this city the period saw housing congestion and some consequent decline in civic standards as the city's population grew. In Gujarat there was a general decline in the city of Dholavira, marked particularly by the lack of maintenance in the citadel area, though continuing commercial activity is indicated by the presence of seals. More generally, the introduction of summer crops was beginning to effect a change in the agricultural regime that was to have enduring significance.
Major changes were occurring at this time in the west. After the collapse of the Ur III empire (which culminated in the Elamite sack of Ur in 2004 BCE), southern Mesopotamia split into a number of independent city-states, among which Isin was preeminent during the twentieth century BCE. Sumerian traders were usually private individuals, but until the end of the Ur III period the majority of the goods they transported were furnished by state (palace or temple) investment, though the merchants also carried small quantities of goods on their own behalf. Now, however, traders were largely self-financed or relied on private investment, and they had neither the means to finance long-distance expeditions nor the backup resources needed as insurance against major disasters. Mesopotamian trading expeditions and the vessels in
Which they were undertaken were therefore scaled down, and the texts now make it clear that these sailed only to Dilmun, three days' sailing from Ur and five to seven days back. However, there are far more references to Mesopotamian boats in this period, suggesting that a greater proportion of the commerce between Mesopotamia and Dilmun was in the hands of Mesopotamian merchants. By this period, Dilmunites had also settled on the island of Failaka, much closer to Mesopotamia. Relations between Failaka and Mesopotamia were close, and the island has yielded large quantities of Early Dilmun seals, in use from around 2000 BCE (Early Dilmun period, also known as City II).
As a result of these changes, Dilmun now became the intermediary, providing Mesopotamia with goods and raw materials from the Gulf and Meluhha and growing rich on the proceeds. Elam also traded with Dilmun, though this trade is less well documented. Copper in this period was said to come to Mesopotamia not from Magan but from Dilmun. Omani Wadi Suq ware on Bahrain demonstrates the existence of direct links between Magan and Dilmun. Numerous texts in the Ur temple archives record offerings from individual traders returning from successful expeditions to Dilmun where, in exchange for textiles and silver, they had obtained copper, ivory, lapis lazuli, beads of precious stones, and pearls, of which only the latter were the produce of Dilmun itself. The scale of the trade was still substantial: For example, one text refers to 13,000 Dilmun minas of copper. On the other hand, it is clear that only small quantities of small pieces of ivory were available; this may reflect differences in the volume of trade between Dilmun and Magan (the main copper source), and between Dilmun and the Indus (the most likely source of the ivory).
Dilmun was now a state, with its capital at the coastal city of Qala'at al-Bahrain. Qala'at, now grown to around 40 hectares, had substantial warehouses in its center and many of its houses had seals and weights. A building beside a gate in the city wall, where many seals and weights were found, may have been a customs house, though this is disputed. To the city's southwest, located inland but probably connected by an inlet of the sea to the sheltered Tubli Bay on the east coast, the prosperous village of Saar was founded around 2050 BCE, and there too seals and a few weights were found in some of the houses. The weights followed two systems: that of Mesopotamia and that of the Indus. This indicates that the conversion of weights and prices of goods between the two systems now took place in Dilmun. In Mesopotamian texts, the Indus weight system was referred to as the standard of Dilmun, emphasizing Sumer's loss of direct contact with the Harappans. This weight system was used also in Ebla, an important city-state in Syria. Texts from Mari, a city-state on the middle Euphrates, indicate that Mari also traded with Dilmun.
In the poem "Enki and Ninhursaga," dated around 2000 BCE, Dilmun was said to be visited by traders from Tukrish (northwestern Iran), Meluhha, Marhashi (the area west of Elam and north of Anshan), Magan, the Sealand (the far south of Mesopotamia), Zalamgar ("the tentlands"), Elam, and Ur. Significantly, Tukrish is given as the supplier of lapis lazuli, suggesting a loosening of the Harappan monopoly on Badakshan lapis and perhaps renewed
Iranian trade in lapis derived from Chagai. Several objects from Bahrain, such as a seal from Hamad town and copper objects in the temple at Barbar, show links with Turkmenia and Afghanistan, probably reflecting the growing international importance of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) and in particular its spread into Seistan. Further evidence of Dilmun's international contacts has been recovered through analysis of bitumen found in Bahrain; while the pieces of bitumen found at Qala'at al-Bahrain came only from Mesopotamian sources, other sites on the island yielded bitumen pieces mainly of Iranian origin.
In the early second millennium, the trade between Bahrain and Magan (Wadi Suq period) increased, since Dilmunite traders had replaced Mesopotamians in the north-bound copper trade. Early Dilmun pottery occurred in coastal sites, such as vessels from Abraq made of the same clay as some vessels from Saar. An Early Dilmun seal was found at the inland site of Mazyad in Buraimi. The expansion of Dilmun's role coincided with cultural changes in Magan, where the tower houses were abandoned and permanent settlements were reduced in number and extent, although many settlements continued to prosper. For example, on the western coast Umm-an-Nar was abandoned but Tell Abraq continued to flourish. Though direct Mesopotamian trade with Magan had ceased, trade with Dilmun still brought a limited amount of Mesopotamian material to the western coast, for example to Tell Abraq. Settlements on the south and east coast continued to trade with the Harappans, as probably did those on the west coast and inland. A Harappan pot and a chert weight, for example, were deposited in a grave at Shimal in the north. Several South Asian technological features were adopted in Magan at this time. It is possible that Harappan involvement in trade with Magan increased after 2000 BCE with the removal of Mesopotamian influence.
In the poem "Enki and Ninhursaga," Meluhha is referred to both as the supplier of its own goods and as the transporter of Magan timber, suggesting that its boats were larger than those of Magan or Dilmun. Though direct Harappan trade with Mesopotamia had ceased, the Mesopotamians obtained Indus goods through the Dilmun entrepot. From the Harappan perspective, the loss of direct access to Mesopotamian markets may have been satisfactorily offset by the reduction in the distance that Harappan ships had to sail to obtain the goods they desired. In any case, in the aftermath of the chaos that attended the end of the Ur III empire, the increasingly prosperous Early Dilmun culture was probably a more satisfactory trading partner than Sumer, and by the time that political order was reestablished in southern Mesopotamia, the new pattern of trade through Dilmun had become the norm.
Early Dilmun Seals. The early second millennium was marked by the development of a new style of Gulf seal. These Early Dilmun seals were still round but had two or three parallel lines and four dots decorating a rather lower boss on the reverse, and they had new designs on the obverse. These included two men drinking with straws from a jar, probably filled with beer; two or three
Gazelles; and a number of other pictorial subjects, as well as animal heads arranged in a wheel. These were used alongside the earlier Persian Gulf seals for a while, but the latter type went out of use by 1800 BCE. Very many Early Dilmun seals were found in Failaka and at Qala'at and Saar on Bahrain. Two economic documents, one from Susa, were impressed with Dilmun seals, demonstrating the commercial function of the latter.
An Early Dilmun seal was found on the surface of the Indus trading town of Lothal, perhaps indicating that Dilmun traders visited the Indus region or at least Gujarat. Unlike the Persian Gulf seals, about a third of which bore Indus inscriptions, none of the Early Dilmun seals were inscribed.