Examining the physical and human properties of any location is crucial in understanding ecosystems [34
]. In this context, the study of climate, geology, soil, geomorphology, history, and archaeological sites for Failaka Island reveals more of the environmental aspects that characterize the island, which in turn contributes to the development of an urban plan based on environmental potential. This potential further contributes to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Officially known as “Transforming Our World”—the 17 goals set by the United Nations Organization 2015-2016—the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are included in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially goals 11, 14, and 15 [35
Soils represent a potential source of considerable information in urban planning studies across scales, from specific archaeological sites to broad regional assessments. Applications of soils in the study of the human past include soil geomorphology, the geoarchaeological principles of site formation processes, and the identification of human impacts [38
]. Soil surveys are a useful tool for interpreting landscapes, but with the caveat that they were designed for modern planning and land-use studies. Soils are also an integral component of stratigraphic studies at archaeological sites. Owing to these complexities, it was necessary to compare the soil types of the island with the designated plan sites [19
]. This endeavor represented one of the most important criteria of our proposed urban plan, as relying on an updated soil map was key to establishing optimum land use planning efforts.
The soil map was prepared based on 34 samples collected in the winter of 2018 covering most parts of the island (Figure 4
). Soil study relied on analyses of such criteria as pH, SAR, electrical conductivity, cation and anion exchanges and ratios, and CaCO3
(calcium carbonate), as well as comparing its results with an earlier study by Abbadi and El-Sheikh [39
]. Soil production capacity was calculated based on soil pH and cation-anion exchange capacity, and these results, displayed as green areas in Figure 4
, were excluded from being urban areas, and instead proposed as agricultural areas within the island plan.
Chemical soil analyses of Failaka Island represent a very important indication of the best arable areas and potential archaeological sites. For example, the detailed role of soil calcium represents an important component of identifying food preparation areas of the past because it is present in the ash of burning charcoal and found in high amounts in teeth and bones. Similarly, middens found in situ represent the source for some of the site’s bone and ash disposal areas and contain significant amounts of calcium [32
]. These factors make soil calcium a crucial soil research component in archaeology. Our soil analyses confirmed previous findings, indicating a rise in calcium in sample points 5, 10, 22, 28, and 29, with value amounts ranging from 75–106 (mEq L−1
During the planning of an urban environment, usually only economic and social parameters are considered [40
]. Yet, geomorphology remains an important and effective tool to aid planners and decision-makers in low-cost environmental planning and environmental sustainability [41
]. For example, the sabkhas on Failaka Island constitute about 50% of the landmass [15
], and therefore building a city or extending a road on the sabkhas areas would cost a significant amount. In this case, understanding the island’s geomorphology (i.e., landforms) becomes an effective tool to choose the most appropriate and cost-effective route through the sabkhas, as well as the best location for the city.
Further, the geomorphic processes of erosion and sedimentation processes can be related to the rates of change in the beaches. For example, 68% of the coastline of New England and the mid-Atlantic region of the United States has undergone erosion in recent decades for a variety of reasons, but often related to anthropogenic influences [42
]. In contrast, Failaka Island’s beaches remain untouched for the past few decades because people have not been allowed to inhabit or visit the island since 1990.
Based on such geomorphic factors then cf., [40
] the island can be divided into two types of geomorphological forms: those related to the coastline and those on the landmass proper (Figure 5
). Indeed, use of the island for touristic purposes cannot be planned without taking the coastline type into account, and thus this study also took into consideration shoreline pattern classification along the island’s 38.75 km total coastline length.
Coastal landforms can be further classified into two types: erosional landforms and sedimentation landforms (Figure 6
). Analysis of satellite images, drone imagery, and field study/ground truthing, reveals five beach types (Figure 5
and Table 3
). The classification of beach types remains an essential pillar of the proposed urban development plan, because the Kuwait government wishes the island to function as a tourist destination. That means limiting the use of sandy beaches for tourism development areas remains an important consideration. As Table 3
demonstrates, half of the island’s coasts are sandy beaches, making these areas suitable for urban development and creation of public beaches.
Geomorphological processes play an important role in balancing the sediment accumulation/loss as well, given that, between 1976 and 2016, the northern beaches accumulated sand at 77 cm/year, while southern beaches eroded by 78 cm/year [43
]. Developing and urbanizing in/near sand dunes or in areas where some other geomorphic danger, such as a foundation being weakened by unstable bedrock, represents potential catastrophe, including loss of life. Due to this, the study sought to understand the geomorphological characteristics of the island, characterized by four anthropogeomorphological units: depressions (sabkhas), flat drylands, previously-built urban areas, and archaeological sites.
4.5. Historic and Archaeological Sites
Failaka Island hosted several factors that made it ideal for the establishment of ancient civilizations, including being a strategic location along trade routes, suitability as a natural port, and mediation of other ancient civilizations [30
]. According to Bibby [44
], the island represents one of the oldest settlements (3000 BC) within marine range of the Arabian Gulf. Bibby [44
] also asserts that the island had a distinctive pattern of civilization due to its close contact with neighboring civilizations. Nevertheless, the human settlement of Failaka was not stable throughout history, as it witnessed influxes and exoduses depending on trade activities in the Arabian Gulf [18
], as well as periodic epidemics, each of which adversely affected continual habitation on the island. Based on available documents, Failaka civilization can be categorized into three ages: (1) ancient civilization, including the archaeological sites of the Bronze and Iron Age, (2) middle civilizations, represented by the Hellenistic civilization in the southwest of the island, and (3) modern civilizations, including Islamic and Christian civilizations [18
The archaeological sites on Failaka Island extend along the shoreline and through the middle of the island (Figure 7
). Most archaeological missions have focused on the southwestern and northwestern parts of the island, and those records support the island’s occupation from the late Islamic to the Modern Eras. The Danish archaeological excavations have been operating since 1958, making them the first archaeological excavation in the history of Kuwait [15
]. Yet, several archaeological sites—such as Al-Dasht, Al-Sabahiyah, Al-Sa’id, Al-Ali, Al-Awazim, and Matitah—have been only surveyed and not studied in any detail. The following sites represent the most important archaeological sites located on the island to date, and would therefore make the most interesting tourism sites.
Al-Khidr: A Bronze Age site, known as the Dilmun-Culture port, located in the northwest of Failaka Island. It was fully excavated in 2004. The survey indicated the presence of numerous sherds, stone structures, metal objects, faunal and floral remains, pearls and fishing hooks, and over 600 Dilmun stamp seals. The site is located directly below a modern Islamic cemetery that stretches along the western shore of the shallow Al-Khidr bay (Figure 8
c), which served as a port in the past [46
]. Today, the Al-Khidr site consists of three visible and two less visible mounds.
The KH-1 mound is a low mound roughly 3 to 3.5 m above the contemporary seabed of Al-Khidr bay, stretching 150 m in a north-south direction. It is a sandy dune with shrubby vegetation. Due to high tides, water erosion (2–4 m) has influenced/damaged the growth of its vegetation [46
F3 mound, a Bronze Age mound referenced by the Danish mission in 1958, and sometimes also known as Tell Sa’ad. It is roughly 9 m above sea level and contains a residential settlement that likely hosted domestic activities, including archaeological evidence of an elite or temple-like structure, the skeletons of gazelles and goats, 170 round stamp seals, and some kilns for an unknown purpose [45
]. On the top of this mound, the summerhouse of Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the sheikh of Kuwait, was built during the 1920s [47
F5 mound, also known as Tell Sa’id, is an Iron Age mound that represents the Seleucid culture, post-Alexander the Great. The site was a subject of the first archaeological mission by the Danes (Figure 7
and Figure 8
b). It is now understood to be a Hellenistic fortress that consisted of multiple residential units, two temples, multiple storage areas, two gates, and a trench. A French archaeological mission has been working at the site since the 1980s [45
F6 mound, also known as “the palace”, represents a Bronze age mound located near Tell Sa’ad and Tell Sa’id. It is the oldest archaeological site on the island associated with the third Ur dynasty and the Dilmun occupation (~2200 BC). The site consists of a palace-like structure and a Dilmun temple at 4.20 m above sea level [45
Al-Qusur: Situated in the middle of the island with elevations ranging from roughly two- to five-meters above sea level and surrounded by sabkhas, Al-Qusur represents the largest archaeological site on Failaka Island, covering roughly 2 × 2.6 km [15
]. Over one hundred structures have been found by Italian, Slovakian, and French archaeological missions, and include structural foundations of courtyard houses, church buildings, a central building, and an oval building of unknown purpose. The archaeological records support the presence of a Christian community and a monarchy sometime between the 7th to 9th century AD [15
The Al-Quraniya mound, located in the west-central part of Failaka Island along the north shore, is roughly 550 m long and 250 m wide. With an elevation of roughly 6–8 m above sea level, Al-Quranyia is one of the highest architectural sites on the island, and it contains an old village with 30 structures, mixed grasses and shrubs, and a deserted modern farm [49
]. The old village dates to roughly 200–440 years ago, according to the features of the Arabic corner tower, the square courtyard with buildings, the plain and incised pottery, and the glazed ware.