This is a stone mould used for making a metal cross. It was carved from a fine grey soft stone which would have originated from outside Qatar, most likely the mountains of Oman, Iran or the western Arabian Peninsula. It was found on the surface of the ground in a small sandy depression in central Qatar, probably a transit point or campsite rather than a settlement.
The four arms of the cross have an outwardly flaring profile and have small hemispherical indentations on their edges and in the centre. Two horizontal grooves at the back of the mould allow a safe grip when handling and/ or casting the metal. Melted metal, likely lead or copper alloy, would have been poured into the mould to make a small Christian cross with beaded decoration. Once the metal had been cast, the beaded decoration would appear in relief.
This cross is based on the known Coptic style (Christian Church of Egypt founded in 294 CE) under the Eastern Byzantine Empire (330-610 CE). During the Sassanid reign (224-651 CE), many inhabitants of Eastern Arabia were introduced to Christianity. During the latter part of the Christian era, the region comprising the territories of Qatar, Bahrain, Al-Khatt (United Arab Emirates) and Al-Hasa (Saudi Arabia) was known by the Syriac name of Bet Qatraya.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT QATAR
The Empires 300 BCE-622 CE
At the end of the Iron Age, Qatar and the broader Gulf region fell under the successive cultural influence of the great Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanid Empires. Early on in this period, the first written references to Qatar appear in the works of Greek and Roman authors. The first probable mention comes from Roman author, Pliny the Elder (1st century CE) who referred to a people named Catharrei. Additionally, Greek geographer Ptolemy (2nd century CE) noted coordinates for a place called Katara in the same location as modern Qatar.
Herding livestock and fishing continued to be the main sources of livelihood in Qatar. On the island of Al Khor, groups of houses (huts built of stone and plants) appear to have been temporary settlements for fishing and commercial expeditions. Material culture is mainly represented by the objects found in graves, including imported iron weapons, beads and glass.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT - REGION/GULF/WORLD
At the end of the Iron Age, Qatar and the broader Gulf region fell under the successive cultural influence of the great Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanid Empires. At its start the Seleucid Empire (305–64 BCE) controlled the vast eastern provinces of Alexander the Great's conquests. The empire is described as Hellenistic, meaning Greek, because of its origins and the culture of its overlords. It was followed by two rival superpowers, the Romans and the Parthians, who divided control of the Middle East. Eventually the Parthians were superseded by the Persian Sasanian Dynasty (224–651 CE) that ruled over the whole of Iran, Central Asia and much of Iraq and Syria.
During Sasanian times the north of the Arabian Peninsula was occupied by two great tribes, the Ghassanids and the Lakhmids, while the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) was under the rule of the Byzantines (the Eastern Roman Empire). Sasanian control sometimes extended to Oman and the southern Arabian Peninsula, but it is uncertain whether they ever controlled the southern shores of the Gulf.
Starting in the 4th century, Nestorian Christians settled in the Gulf region and built monasteries (al-Qusûr in Kuwait, Khârg in Iran and Sîr Banî Yâs in the United Arab Emirates), whose archaeology proves they were occupied up until the 9th century (early Abbasid period).
PUBLICATIONS AND RESEARCH
CUTTLER, R. et al., 2014, Qatar National Historic Environment Record, vol.5 2012-2014, p.118 [unplished report for Qatar Museums, University of Birmingham].