Bahrain’s Dilmun Burial Mounds – Janabiyah Burial Field

One of Janabiyah Burial Field’s chieftain mounds

photography by: Omri Westmark

Despite being the third smallest country in Asia, Bahrain is home to the world’s largest concentration of burial mounds, created by a pre-Islamic civilization known as Dilmun. Varying both in size, style and age, the thousands of tumuli are spread out across several burial fields in the northern part of the island. Tucked away between the suburban homes of Janabiyah Village, the Janabiyah burial complex might not be Bahrain’s largest or most important Dilmun necropolis, yet the absence of tourists and its mundane urban context make it a fascinating place to explore.

While nowadays, the island nation of Bahrain is overwhelmingly dominated by the desert, it wasn’t always the case. Around 3000BC-2000BC, the island experienced a far wetter climate, which coupled with the presence of countless wells gave birth to an ancient pre-Islamic civilization across the region, known as Dilmun. As its economic prosperity peaked during the late third millennium BC, tens of thousands of elaborate burial mounds were erected throughout Bahrain, the vast majority of which was built in the island’s northern half.

 

Nestled throughout 21 different sites, there are currently 11,774 extant tumuli, nevertheless, this figure is dwarfed by the original number of graves, estimated to be as high as a whopping 350,000. Constructed over a period of 450 years, the mounds can be divided into five main categories: Early type mounds, Late type mounds, Chieftain and royal mounds, Subsidiary burials and Ring mounds. Since the construction of kurgans spans across a long timescale, the structures vastly differ from each other in many ways, whether it is their volume, proportions, architectural style and materials.

 

Eclipsed by many of its counterparts, Janabiyah Burial Field is neither the largest nor the most significant mound complex. However, don’t let the field’s lack of fame keep you from visiting the place as not only the Janabiyah necropolis is completely free from the hassle of mass tourism, it also boasts a couple of well-preserved tumuli, elegantly contrasted by the surrounding modern single-houses of Janabiyah. The fenced graveyard along Rd No 7151 is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and doesn’t entail any entrance fee.

 

The Janabiyah complex is home to 18 stone and soil-made tumuli in total, of which 5 are chieftain mounds and the rest are late-type mounds, both of which date back to around 2050-1750 BC.
Whereas the latter are characterized by a 2–3 meter height and 6–11 meter diameter, the former are far larger in size and can reach 25 meters in diameter as well as 12 meters in height. Additionally, the late-type mounds are often clustered together, with their shape ranges anywhere between H, L and T, while the chieftain mounds are usually a sole two-story structure, featuring up to six alcoves and accessible through a designated passage.

The field’s main entrance, along Rd No 7151

photography by: Omri Westmark


Two burial niches, part of a chieftain mound

photography by: Omri Westmark


A burial chamber atop a tumulus

photography by: Omri Westmark


A burial mound on the backdrop of Janabiyah's suburban homes

photography by: Omri Westmark


One of Janabiyah Burial Field's late type mounds

photography by: Omri Westmark


Partly covered by soil, the Janabiyah's tumuli

photography by: Omri Westmark


A semi-surviving mound, surrounded by a ring-wall made out of stones

photography by: Omri Westmark


An inside look of one of the mounds

photography by: Omri Westmark


The Janabiyah Burial Field, dominated by a series of small-sized tumuli (late type mounds) alongside larger tumuli (chieftain mounds)

photography by: Omri Westmark


One of the complex's most well-preserved mounds, located at the northern tip of the field

photography by: Omri Westmark