Pearl merchant's chest (al bishtakhta) excavated at Al Zubara
18th to early 19th century
Object Name: Pearl chest, al bishtaktah
Period: 18th to early 19th century
Date: 1765-1811
Provenance: Probably produced in India
Dimensions: 13cm x 16cm x 30cm
Medium: wood,metal,copper,iron
Registration Number: ARC.2009.3.186.1
Place Of Discovery/Findspot:  Al Zubarah
This rare pearl merchant's chest, al bishtaktah, exemplifies the importance of pearling in Qatar in the 18th century. It is probably the earliest known pearl chest in the Gulf. Numerous others exist in the National Museum of Qatar’s collection and elsewhere, but nearly all date to the early 20th century, with a few from the late 19th century. Its compartmented interior survives, a characteristic feature of the bishtakhta, but it has lost its lid. The iron lock is still in place, with a fragment of the key. Traces of red textile suggest it may have been covered and lined with cloth. We know from later sources that pearl merchants carried not only their pearls and money in these chests, but also the vital tools of their trade, including specialised pearl weights of various types, scales, graded sieves for sorting pearls by size, scoops to pick up batches of pearls, and a book of tables to assist in calculating the value of large pearls. Many contained secret compartments.
The Qatar Peninsula is surrounded by sea except in the south where it connects with its neighbours from the Arabian Peninsula. For hundreds of years people have shared the land, resources and knowledge inherited from their environment. With no fixed lifestyle in terms of time and place, people moved easily and freely between land and sea for trade, livestock, pearl diving, fishing, and hunting at various times throughout the year. This symbiotic relationship between the people and their environment was represented in the unity of their societies, including the exchange of knowledge, stories and the trading of available goods.

A distinctive characteristic of life on the Qatar Peninsula has long been the close association between the coast and the desert – al barr. Some desert tribes spent several months of the year in coastal cities, setting up semi-permanent residences to participate in pearl diving or fishing. Similarly, coastal residents occasionally moved to al barr during the winter to graze their livestock. This exchange of natural resources and the influence of different environments has contributed to the creation of a unique community.
The presence of British, French and Dutch trading companies in the Gulf from the early 1600s brought uncertainty to the region, with unstable alliances and intense competition over trade routes. As trade flourished, however, the strength of the Arab tribes increased. Many Arab tribes moved from the interior of the Arabian Peninsula to Qatar, and by the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the major towns of the Gulf were founded. Several towns flourished on the Qatari coast, including Huwailah, Khor Hassan, Fuwairat, Ruwaida, Freiha, Al Bidda and Doha. The most notable was Al Zubara which became a hub for the Gulf pearl trade.
GILLESPIE, F., AL NAIMI, F., 2013, Hidden in the Sands: Uncovering Qatar's Past, Medina Publishing, p7.

GILLESPIE, F., AL NAIMI, F., 2013, Hidden in the Sands: Uncovering Qatar's Past, Medina Publishing, 47.

SIMONSEN, J. B., 2014, Zubarah, the Gulf and Local and International Trade. World Heritage. 72: 30-35.

TSATSOULI, K., The Pearl Merchant's Chest [Conservation Report Qatar Museums]
Al Zubarah