Exploitation and trade of Iranian bitumen in the Persian Gulf (2009-2015)

The origins of the Petroleum industry: the large-scale exploitation and long-distance trade of Iranian bitumen and the Persian Gulf as their area of distribution.

The main aim of the research is to characterize the interregional trade in bitumen that was initiated as early as 5th millennium B.C. and became large-scale in the late 3rd- and 2nd millennium B.C. in the Persian Gulf. Previous research has already shown that, despite the obvious ties between the Dilmun society in the Gulf and the Babylonian in Mesopotamia in the Middle Bronze Age, Iranian bitumen dominate the Lower Seas. This project is largely threefold; in the first place it aims to characterize and identify archaeological bitumen as it is found on settlement-sites alongside the Arabian littoral of the Persian Gulf. Therefore, we analyse samples from both the Dilmun- and Magan cultural complex. Two techniques are used to relate this archaeological bitumen to their host deposit(s): Stable Carbon Isotope Analysis and Gas Chromatography – Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS). Another other focus point of the project is the actual bitumen seepages in Southwest Iran (Khuzestan province). Despite the fact that bitumen was extracted and traded on a large scale, no information is known on the mechanisms of extraction and how this was organized both socially and economically. A third point of study is a technological one to enhance the existing techniques to identify archaeological bitumen and to research alternative techniques.



Dr Thomas Van de Velde