One of my favorite parts of being a writer is doing research. To write confidently and to fully inhabit the world you are creating for your characters, you have to do the groundwork which can mean reading books, interviewing people, eating certain foods, listening to certain music, anything and everything that might help to paint a fully realized fictional world.
Let’s be honest, even if this wasn’t pertinent research to the novel that I’m writing, I would have gone anyway because…ancient temple at one of the world’s largest prehistoric burial sites!
But the fact that both the ancient Dilmun civilization and the summer solstice play key roles in my book made it feel even more magical, like I was stepping into a chapter from my novel. It was surreal and extremely special.
Archeologist Nabiel Sheik first led the visiting group through the housing settlement, describing details of the homes and village life. The houses had two rooms, people ate fish and other sea life, and they had a deep well from which to draw water.
Then we headed into the temple. The temple is around 4,000 years old and has an altar that took my breath away.
And then it was time for the main event – the setting solstice sun which shines directly into a corner of the temple. Sheik first spotted this phenomenon when excavations on the temple were underway in the ‘90s. Since then he has put forward a theory that the Dilmun civilization used a solar calendar and that the summer solstice would have marked the beginning of their new year.
At the corner of the temple is a small, awkwardly placed room on a building that is otherwise very regularly shaped. It does make you wonder – why place the room at such an odd angle and position it so strangely if not for the purpose of catching the rays of the solstice sun?
We entered the room and watched as the sun slipped toward the horizon…
And then the sun sank behind the horizon and it was time to celebrate. As it is Ramadan, dishes of sweet dates and steaming hot coffee were passed around so those fasting could have their first meal of the day.
Then we all gathered on faded carpets strewn across the desert floor and began to chat and get to know one another. The scene had all the typical Bahraini magic that I love so much – a group of people who had come from all over the world, chatting and laughing across the language barrier (at one point we used google translate to translate ‘cheese’ from English to Japanese!) and celebrating the beauty of the desert and the inspiring history that lay all around us. I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend the summer solstice.