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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 August 2007, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Alexander's Gulf outpost uncovered
By Neil Arun
BBC News

Alexander the Great's awe-inspiring conquest of Asia is drawing archaeologists to a desert island off the shores of Iraq.

Failaka ruins (pic: Greek Ministry of Culture)
The Greek and Kuwaiti governments are co-operating at the site

Greek government experts are going to Failaka - a Gulf outpost of Alexander's army, now governed by Kuwait.

The island's bullet-holed buildings tell of a conflict still fresh in people's memories - Saddam Hussein's brief occupation of Kuwait in the early 1990s.

Beneath the sun-baked sands of Failaka, archaeologists hope to unearth the secrets of an earlier conquest - a settlement established by Alexander's general, Nearchus, in the 4th Century BC.

The excavations will focus on the ruins of an ancient citadel and cemetery, the general secretary of the Greek culture ministry, Christos Zahopoulos, told the BBC News website.

Earlier work by French archaeologists has uncovered the remnants of a temple to Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, as well as several Greek coins and idols.

'The first globalisation'

According to Michael Wood, the author of a book on Alexander, the period after the conqueror's death saw Hellenistic culture take root across a broad swathe of land, from India to Egypt.

Kuwait map

He cites the example of Uruk, a site near Basra in southern Iraq, where inscriptions have been found bearing the names of the local ruling class.

The names, Wood says, are a hybrid of ancient Babylonian and Greek titles - and they date to several hundred years after Alexander's death.

Alexander's conquest of Asia also accelerated commerce in his colonies, giving rise to what Wood describes as "the first globalisation".

Failaka's position, at the point where the Tigris and Euphrates pour into the Gulf, means it would have been ideally placed to exploit this economic boom.

Mr Wood says the Greek team's findings may reveal more of how the ancient civilisations of the Gulf thrived on trade with their contemporaries in Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.

Bust from Failaka (pic: Greek Ministry of Culture)
Ruins from Failaka reveal the influence of Hellenistic artists
The Greek archaeologists will begin their excavations in November, Greece's culture ministry says.

Much of the work will be centred around the site of the ancient town of Icarea.

According to Mr Zahopoulos, the team will also carry out restoration on artefacts and ruins that have already been unearthed.

Civilian flight

Alexander was born in 356BC to the king of Macedon, in northern Greece.

By his early thirties, he had conquered much of the ancient world, from Egypt to India.

He died at the age of 33 of a high fever in Babylon, in what is now Iraq.

Failaka's name is thought to descend from the Greek word for outpost - "fylakio".

Before the Greeks arrived, the island had been inhabited by the Bronze Age Dilmun civilisation.

By the time Saddam Hussein's troops invaded in 1990, the island had become the longest continually-inhabited site in Kuwait.

Most of the civilian population fled for the mainland during the Iraqi occupation. Few have returned.

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