Remains of oldest inhabitant of Abu Dhabi found

(By a staff reporter)
Filed on June 30, 2004

ABU DHABI - Remains of the earliest-known inhabitant of Abu Dhabi have been found on the western island of Marawah by the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, ADIAS, as part of their spring excavation season, it was announced on Tuesday.

Marawah is part of the Marawah Marine Protected Area, MPA, which is managed by Abu Dhabi's Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA).

The excavations were carried out at the site of a 7,000 year old village which has the best-preserved and most-sophisticated stone buildings of Neolithic date that are known anywhere in Eastern Arabia. Radiocarbon dates from the building, analysed last year, suggests that the upper layers inside date to between 6,500 to 7.000 years ago, indicating that the original construction may have been earlier.

Commenting on the fruitful collaboration between ERWDA and ADIAS, ADIAS Executive Director, Peter Hellyer, praised the Agency for its support.

"The results of this year's excavations underline the importance of the Marawah MPA as an area of importance both for the marine life of the UAE and for the way in which Man has made use of the marine resources over thousands of years. Thanks to the help provided to us by ERWDA, we have been able to continue our investigations of this important island, which is now clearly established as one of the most important sites both for environmental conservation and for archaeology anywhere in the lower Arabian Gulf."

Directed by Dr Mark Beech, ADIAS Senior Resident Archaeologist, and with team members from Birmingham Archaeology Unit in Britain and UAE archaeologist Mohammed Hassan, the excavations took place over a five-week period in March and early April.

The work on the site, named MR-11, focused on the detailed excavation of a building that was first identified during earlier ADIAS fieldwork. This building was built in at least three phases, and contains at least four rooms, one of which has now been completely excavated. Around 4.6 metres long and 1.8 metres wide, the room had well-built walls that were constructed using a double-skin method, large stones first being placed as inner and outer layers, and smaller stones then being used to fill the cavity. Although known from the Bronze Age, which began a couple of thousand years later, this method had not previously been identified on Neolithic sites in Eastern Arabia.

Adjacent are at least three more rooms, yet to be fully examined.

The human skeleton, whose sex is yet to be determined, was laid on a stone platform that had been built just inside the room, next to the southern doorway. This indicates that it must have been placed there after the original domestic use of the building had ended, since anyone entering from the room to the south would have trod on it.

The skeleton had been disturbed, perhaps because of the collapse of the stonewalls and roof of the structure, with its feet being found some 2.5 metres away from most of the rest of the body.

Close by were fragments of a decorated pot, of which sufficient remained for the ADIAS team to reconstruct its complete shape. It resembles pottery from the Neolithic Ubaid civilisation in southern Mesopotamia, but the decorations are of a type not previously found in Eastern Arabia. The pot, which is the most complete of its type and age ever found in the UAE, is also probably 6,500-7,000 years old, and provides evidence that the Neolithic inhabitants of Marawah were trading by sea with southern Mesopotamia.

A sample of the pot has now been sent to France's Centre Nationale pour les Recherches Scientifiques, in Paris, to see whether it is possible to identify its place of manufacture.

Also found during the excavation were fragments of plaster vessels, some of which were painted.

Such vessels have also been discovered on another Neolithic site on Dalma, but are otherwise unknown anywhere else in the Arabian Gulf.

A small collection of flint tools was also found, as well as over 100 beads, fish, dugong and turtle bones and bones of sheep or goat.

Of particular interest were two beautiful and delicate buttons made from pearl oyster shells.

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