Their world was the oyster: Oldest pearl city present in UAE Lalrp


SINIYAH ISLAND, United Arab Emirates — Archaeologists stated Monday they’ve discovered the oldest pearling city within the Persian Gulf on an island off one of many northern sheikhdoms of the United Arab Emirates.

Artifacts discovered on this city on Siniyah Island in Umm al-Quwain, seemingly as soon as house to hundreds of individuals and a whole lot of houses, date way back to the area’s pre-Islamic historical past within the late sixth century. Whereas older pearling cities have been talked about in historic texts, this represents the primary time archaeologists say they’ve bodily discovered one from this historical period throughout the nations of the Persian Gulf.

“That is the oldest instance of that type of very particularly Khaleeji pearling city,” stated Timothy Energy, an affiliate professor of archaeology on the United Arab Emirates College, utilizing a phrase meaning “Gulf” in Arabic. “It’s the religious ancestor of cities like Dubai.”

The pearling city sits on Siniyah Island, which shields the Khor al-Beida marshlands in Umm al-Quwain, an emirate some 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Dubai alongside the coast of the Persian Gulf. The island, whose identify means “flashing lights” seemingly as a result of impact of the white-hot solar overhead, already has seen archaeologists discover an ancient Christian monastery dating back as many as 1,400 years.

The city sits instantly south of that monastery on one of many curling fingers of the island and stretches throughout some 12 hectares (143,500 sq. yards). There, archaeologists discovered a wide range of houses product of seashore rock and lime mortar, starting from cramped quarters to extra sprawling houses with courtyards, suggesting a social stratification, Energy stated. The location additionally bears indicators of year-round habitation, in contrast to different pearling operations run in seasonal spots within the area.

“The homes are crammed in there, cheek by jowl,” he added. “The important thing factor there’s permanence. Persons are dwelling there all 12 months round.”

Within the houses, archaeologists have found unfastened pearls and diving weights, which the free divers used to rapidly drop right down to the seabed whereas relying solely on their held breath.

The city predates the rise of Islam throughout the Arabian Peninsula, making its residents seemingly Christians. Islam’s Prophet Muhammad was born round 570 and died in 632 after conquering Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia.

Umm al-Quwain’s Division of Tourism and Archaeology, UAE College, the Italian Archaeological Mission within the emirate and the Institute for the Examine of the Historical World at New York College all took half within the excavation. Umm al-Quwain, the least-populated emirate within the UAE, plans to construct a customer’s middle on the web site.

Right this moment, the realm close to the marshland is extra identified for the low-cost liquor retailer on the emirate’s Barracuda Seaside Resort. In latest months, authorities have demolished a hulking, Soviet-era cargo plane linked to a Russian gunrunner known as the “Merchant of Death” because it builds a bridge to Siniyah Island for a $675 million actual property growth. Authorities hope that growth, in addition to different constructing, will develop the emirate’s economic system.

Nonetheless, even this historical web site bears classes for the Emirates.

The story of pearling, which quickly collapsed after World Battle I with the introduction of synthetic pearls and the Nice Despair, holds explicit significance within the historical past of the UAE — notably because it faces a looming reckoning with one other extractive trade. Whereas crude oil gross sales constructed the nation after its formation in 1971, the Emirates must confront its fossil gas legacy and probably plan for a carbon-neutral future as it hosts the United Nations COP28 climate talks later this year.

These looking out the location discovered a dumpsite close by stuffed with the detritus of discarded oyster shells. Folks strolling throughout the island can really feel these stays crunching underneath their toes in areas as properly.

“You solely discover one pearl in each 10,000 oyster shells. It’s a must to discover and discard hundreds and hundreds of oyster shells to seek out one,” Energy stated. ”The waste, the commercial waste of the pearling trade, was colossal. You’re coping with hundreds of thousands, hundreds of thousands of oyster shells discarded.”

Observe Jon Gambrell on Twitter at