"From Death to Life in Ancient Bahrain" Unveils Customs, Faces of Ancient Society in First Traveling Exhibit

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Facial reconstruction of a young boy from the Bahrain area who lived 4,000 years ago is part of the new exhibit at the SSU University Art Gallery coordinated by anthropology professor Alexis Boutin.

Four thousand years ago and half the world away, an ancient society known as Dilmun existed in what is present-day Bahrain. To commemorate their dead, the people living there built thousands of burial mounds that still dot the landscape.


From Death to Life in Ancient Bahrain is now on view in the Sonoma State University Library Art Gallery through Oct.13, giving visitors a close-up view of remains from these burial mounds, as well as insights in the archealogical processes used in recovering and reconstructing ancient life. A reception will be held from 4-5:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 and a gallery talk from 4-5:30 p.m. on Sept. 18.

The SSU exhibition marks the first time this research has been organized into a traveling exhibition format. Highlights include reproductions of ancient pottery made by Sonoma State University ceramics students, a life-size replica of the contents of a burial mound, and facial reconstructions of two ancient Dilmunites, created by 3-D scanning and forensic science.


"This face-to-face encounter with ancient Bahrain will help demystify faraway places and narrow the 4,000 years that separate our lives, allowing us to see people not so different from ourselves." said Alexis Boutin, SSU anthropology professor who headed the project.


From Death to Life in Ancient Bahrain begins with archaeological materials excavated by Peter B. Cornwall in the 1940s--one of the first excavations in the area. The materials are currently stored at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley.

Starting in 2008, an inter-institutional team of researchers began in-depth analysis of this collection. With the help of undergraduate student assistants from Sonoma State University and UC Berkeley, the researchers used contemporary techniques to analyze, describe, and interpret these human remains, artifacts, and animal bones. They then employed cutting-edge technology to visualize and reconstruct ancient human faces.


Now, for the first time, this research is on display for the broader public. Visitors to the exhibit are introduced to ancient societies of the Arabian Gulf; uncover the story of Cornwall, an archaeologist who not only surmounted the challenge of fieldwork during World War II, but also his own deafness; and learn how bioarchaeologists reconstruct past lives from bones and teeth of the dead.


Participating researchers and coordinators include: Alexis Boutin (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Sonoma State University), Benjamin Porter (Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology, UC Berkeley), Sabrina Sholts (Stockholm University), Gloria Nusse (San Francisco State University), Gregory Roberts (Associate Professor of Studio Art, Sonoma State University) , Jennifer Jacobs (Sonoma State University), and Karen Brodsky (Sonoma State University Library).


For more information, contact Alexis Boutin, 707-664-2729 (alexis.boutin@sonoma.edu) or Karen Brodsky, 707-664-4240, (karen.brodsky@sonoma.edu).

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