Solstice holds key to Saar secret
Gulf Daily News, Bahrain Mon June 21 2004 Vol XXVII NO. 93
WHILE thousands flock to celebrate the Summer Solstice in Europe today, archaeologist Nabiel Al Shaikh expects to once again take up a lone vigil at the site of Bahrain's Saar settlement.
Mr Al Shaikh is convinced the event holds the key to one of the historic landmark's strangest secrets.
A temple at the 4,000-year-old Dilmun settlement has an odd triangular corner, which to this day remains unexplained.
However, Mr Al Shaikh claims it was once an astronomical device used by priests to measure the position of the sun.
He thinks it was built so that on the Summer Solstice - the first day of summer when the sun reaches its northernmost point - the sun would set directly over the corner of the temple.
This would allow astronomers inside the temple to calculate the time of year by the position of the sun.
If Mr Al Shaikh's theory is true, it would prove that the Dilmun calendar 4,000 years ago was one of the first to be based on the movement of the sun.
It could also mean that the Dilmun new year started on the Summer Solstice, which always falls on June 21.
Mr Al Shaikh, a photographer and archaeologist at Dammam Regional Museum, in Saudi Arabia, has returned to the settlement on this day every year for the past eight years to watch the sun go down over the temple.
However, his enthusiasm for the theory is yet to catch on.
"I have tried to get more publicity and more people to come and see this phenomenon," he said.
"In the UK, 25,000 people watch the sun set over Stonehenge on the summer solstice, which only happens once a year.
"People should go and see it while they still can because the area is being developed."Soon you will not see the sunset (from the temple) because of the new buildings."
One reason why Mr Al Shaikh's theory has not been officially accepted - and therefore why more people are not expected to join him today - is that the sun does not set exactly over the corner of the temple.However, he says this can be explained by movement in the soft sand beneath the settlement, which could have caused the buildings to slowly shift position over the past 4,000 years.
He thinks that is the likely explanation for the sun setting slightly to the side of the temple corner - and he has pictures to back it up.
These includes shots of walls still standing at the settlement which have clearly bowed over time, while others have been reinforced by the Dilmun people themselves.
He even thinks the unusual corner of the temple - which he says is the only one of its kind in the world - may have been initially adjusted by settlers to account for this movement.
"I don't know how the priest would have seen the sun," he said. "Maybe it would shine through a hole in the corner of the temple.
"The Dilmun civilisation did not leave any written evidence except the Dilmun seal, which does show both the sun and the moon.
"In the temple, there are two alters and on both were found remains of fish bones.
"Maybe they were for the sun and the moon gods."
Mr Al Shaikh's theory is also backed up by a 1998 report by a Khazal Al Majdee, which claims Saar is actually a Sumerian word and means "cycle" or "year".
"More people should come and witness this," said Mr Al Shaikh, who would like to see a proper study carried out to see how much the settlement has actually moved over time.
He says this would require proper equipment - such as that used in California to measure the earth's movement in volcanic zones.
However, he says it is worth it if it proves his theory once and for all.
"We have taken measurements with a compass and surveying equipment, but it is not that accurate," said Mr Al Shaikh.
He also urged local enthusiasts to visit the settlement today to see the phenomenon for themselves.
"Maybe people from Bahrain University or the Bahrain National Museum should come and witness this and record it," he said.
"People may only have the chance to see it for a couple of years before new buildings block out the view of the sunset."
The sun will set today at 6.33pm according to the Bahrain Met office, which is forecasting a clear evening.
GDN Vol XXVI NO. 93 Saturday 21 June 2003
By ROBERT SMITH
A SAUDI archaeologist will once again take up position at the Saar settlement today - convinced he has unlocked the secret behind one of its most puzzling features.
It has become an annual pilgrimage for Nabiel Al Shaikh, who claims to have uncovered solid evidence which sheds new light on the Dilmun culture.
A temple at the 4,000-year-old site has an odd triangular room at one corner, which until now went unexplained.
But Mr Al Shaikh says it was an astronomical instrument used to measure the position of the sun.
He claims the sun would set directly over the corner of the temple on the summer solstice, which falls on June 21, every year.
This is the first day of summer, when the sun reaches its northernmost point.
If the theory is true it would prove the Dilmun calendar was based on the movement of the sun. It would also mark the start of the Dilmun new year.
Mr Al Shaikh, a photographer and archaologist at Dammam Regional Museum, in Saudi Arabia, has returned to the site on this day for the past seven years.
So far his claims have received little support from official authorities in Bahrain.
Now he has compiled a report on his findings, which he intends to submit to his superiors in Saudi Arabia.
"It would mean the Dilmun culture was unlike that of Mesopotamia, Egypt or Iran " he told the GDN. "They would have followed the sun itself by recording its position on the summer solstice.
"This means they would have had a calendar of 365 days a year."
One reason why Mr Al Shaikh's theory has not been officially accepted is that the sun no longer sets directly over the corner of the temple. But he says this can be explained by movement in the soft sand beneath the temple, which could have thrown it 10 degrees out of sync.
Meanwhile, a 1998 report by another archaeologist which explains the meaning of the word "Saar" appears to lend weight to his argument.
Khazal Al Najdee claims it is a Sumerian word which means "cycle" or "year".
"We don't know the Dilmun language, but we take a little of our knowledge about the culture from the Sumerian people," explained Mr Al Shaikh.
"For example, we found out about the name Dilmun from a tablet in Mesopotamia - not Bahrain.
"This would support my theory. The name has stayed for 4,000 years and has not disappeared.
"It must have been important."
Expert reveals Dilmun truths
Saudi archaeologist Nabiel Al Shaikh observes yesterday's sunset from the remains of the 4,000-year-old Dilmun settlement in Saar.
Mr Al Shaikh, a photographer and archaeologist at Dammam Regional Museum, in Saudi Arabia, claims the landmark proves that the Dilmun civilisation was one of the first to use a solar calendar.
He says that on the summer solstice, which occurs every year on June 21, the sun sets directly over an odd triangular corner of the temple - suggesting the corner was some sort of astronomical device used to measure the position of the sun.
He has returned to the site every year since 1996 to witness the phenomenon, but has yet to convince the Bahraini authorities that his theory is correct.
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