Archaeological Sites in the United Arab Emirates

Archaeological Sites in the UAE
Archaeological Sites in the UAE

The largest pre-Islamic site on the Gulf coast of the UAE, al-Dur is located several kilometres north of Umm al-Qaiwain just east of the main highway running from Sharjah to Ras al-Khaimah. The site is enormous, extending for roughly 4 km northeast to southwest, and about 1 km inland from the highway. Al-Dur has been known since the early 1970s when an Iraqi expedition first conducted excavations at the site. In the 1980s and 1990s a European expedition (Belgian, British, Danish, French), followed by a strictly Belgian team conducted extensive excavations at al-Dur.

Like Mileiha, al-Dur consists not of a single concentrated area of ruins but is rather a sprawling site in a sandy environment with numerous private houses, some large and some small, scattered over a large area adjacent to the coast. These include small, rectangular, single-room dwellings, as well as large, multi-roomed structures with semi-circular buttresses. Both types of house, as indeed all of architecture at the site, are built of blocks of beach-rock (Arabic farush) which was locally available in the shallow lagoons close to the site. Thousands of graves are interspersed in between the houses at al-Dur. These range from simple, rectangular cists to large, stone structures much like their mudbrick counteparts at Mileiha. In several cases it is clear that the larger tombs at al-Dur held the remains of more than one individual, perhaps a family. Grave goods included drinking sets, Roman glass, weaponry, pottery, jewellery and ivory objects.

The two largest public monuments on the site are a small square fort, c. 20 m on a side, with round corner towers reminiscent of forts built by the Parthians, and a small, square temple, c. 8 m on a side, in which an inscribed basin with a dedication to the Semitic solar deity Shams was found.

Coinage was abundant at al-Dur and included small numbers of foreign coins as well as hundreds of locally minted pieces bearing the name of Abi’el. Although we are uncertain what the ancient name of al-Dur may have been, it is very likely that it was the site of Omana known to both Pliny and Strabo as an important market town in the lower Gulf region. The site’s heyday was certainly the first century AD, although some occupation in the third/fourth centuries AD is also attested.

Located south of al-Dhaid in the interior of Sharjah, al-Madam is an extensive plain with the remains of a major Iron Age mudbrick settlement, comparable in most respects to those excavated at Rumeilah and nearby al-Thuqaibah. The site has been excavated by a joint French-Spanish team from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris and the Autonomous University of Madrid. Al-Madam is particularly interesting in that it seems to have been supplied by water via a falaj-system running from the foothills of the Hajar mountains to what were once the site’s agricultural fields.

This is the name given to a small site overlooking the palace of the Crown Prince of Umm al-Qaiwain, HH Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla. First discovered by a French archaeological team in the early 1980s, al-Madar was subsequently visited by the European Expedition to Umm al-Qaiwain in 1986, and partially excavated in 1992 by Prof. Hans-Peter Uerpmann and a team from the University of Txbingen (Germany). Al-Madar is a site belonging to the Arabian bifacial tradition which shows evidence of fishing and shellfish collecting. It is one of many similar sites located in the area alongside the lagoon system of Umm al-Qaiwain. In antiquity it may have been located on an island, when sea-levels were different, even though it is today about 1 km from the coast.

Al-Qusais is today a suburb of Dubai but in antiquity it was the site of an important settlement and associated cemetery. Excavations there in the early 1970s and 1980s revealed the existence of a settlement dating to the second and first millennium BC Shaft graves dug straight into the sabkha, of similar date, yielded large numbers of copper or bronze vessels and weaponry, as well as many soft-stone vessels. Much of the material from al-Qusais is on display in the Dubai Museum.

This name has recently been given to a suburb south of Dubai. In the early 1990s a tomb of typical Umm al-Nar-type was found here and subsequently excavated, along with parts of an adjacent settlement, by an Australian team in conjunction with Dubai Municiaplity. The most striking feature of the tomb at al- Sufouh was the fact that, just outside of it, were four pits containing human bone, most of it burnt. It is possible that this bone, which may or may not have come from the main tomb itself (i.e. been re-buried), represents the remains of extensive cremation episodes.

Some pits held the remains of c. 50 individuals, all seemingly cremated at the same time. The high temperatures reached in these cremation episodes (revealed by the calcined nature of the bone and warping of some of the bones and artifacts) suggests that the bodies were cremated while they still contained flesh. In other words, they were not cremated after a period of exposure had removed the flesh. Cremation has also been noted at other sites of this period in the Emirates but it is not certain whether this was standard practice in the UAE during the Umm al-Nar period, or whether it was occasioned by particular circumstances (e.g. a plague) which warranted purification at high temperatures.

This large mudbrick village dates to the Iron Age and is located near al-Madam, south of Dhaid in the interior of Sharjah. In plan it resembles both al-Madam and Rumeilah. The multiplicity of similar villages in the Emirates around 1000-500 BC suggests the existence there of a large, agriculturally-based population which cultivated cereals, raised sheep, goat and cattle, and tapped the rich underground aquifers of the Hajar mountains by means of falaj irrigation technology. The population of the Emirates at this time was probably larger than at any point previously in its history.

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