UAE: 4,000-year-old human remains studied to get clues about effects of climate change

Archaeologists are analysing remains of people who lived in Ras Al Khaimah during a time of extreme drought


A Staff Reporter

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Published: Tue 2 May 2023, 3:23 PM

Last updated: Tue 2 May 2023, 3:33 PM

In collaboration with US universities, archaeologists in Ras Al Khaimah are analysing 4,000-year-old human remains to see if a dramatic climate event at that time can help to study how human biology would be affected by a similar event in the future. The human remains are from a severe climate change characterised by drought.

A professor and student team of bio-anthropologists from Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, US, led by Professor Jaime Ullinger, visited archaeologists at Ras Al Khaimah’s Department of Antiquities & Museums to study human skeletons from the 2nd millennium BC. The study is conducted to analyse their potential in bio-archaeological studies. The goal is to research the effects of climate change on human biology between the Umm Al Nar and Wadi Suq periods in Ras Al Khaimah.

In 2017, the university teams worked on human remains to study the diet, health, and behaviour of the Umm Al Nar people and their funeral practices. The human bones studied were found in Ras Al Khaimah’s Shimal - a prominent archaeological site dating back to the Umm Al Nar period (2,600 to 2,000 BC) - where archaeologists previously discovered evidence of prehistoric tombs, settlements, and a medieval fortress.

The recent visit to Ras Al Khaimah was a preliminary trip to assess the human remains. They may be taken to the United States for further analysis, and for informative workshops to be conducted with the community in Ras Al Khaimah.

Ahmed Obaid Al Teneiji, Director General of Ras Al Khaimah Department of Antiquities and Museums, said that the partnership with Quinnipiac University and the University of South Alabama ties with the strategic vision of the Ras Al Khaimah Government to highlight the long and rich history of the emirate and the UAE, to the local population and to the world at large.

“This is a great opportunity for us to examine the human remains found at the multiple ancient tombs across Ras Al Khaimah to understand more about the lives of the people who lived here thousands of years ago and how climate change affected them, which carries real-world implications in modern times,” said Al Teneiji.

Christian Velde, chief archaeologist at Ras Al Khaimah Department of Antiquities and Museums, said that the emirate is quite unique because of a number of tombs and other archaeological sites dating from a time when there is little remaining evidence of human civilization in other parts of the region. “From these sites, we have unearthed many remains that the Quinnipiac team wants to study and feel can provide great insights into human development at this time,” said Velde.

“This partnership is exciting as it will hopefully allow us to understand more about the people who lived here 4,000 years ago and see how a period of extreme drought, lasting for over 100 years, affected their lives,” added Velde.

Velde hopes that this will be a long-standing relationship and look forward to welcoming more professors and students to Ras Al Khaimah.

Jaime Ullinger, professor of anthropology, and co-director of the Bioanthropology Research Institute at Quinnipiac University, said that the emirate has a rich archaeological history and interesting communal tombs, which are ideal for this type of study. “We have seen bones from the smallest babies to older individuals and we will be analysing them to check for changes in health whether is there more disease or infant mortality, for instance, due to the climactic changes, though we need to collect a lot more data before we can conclude,”

The visit is part of an ongoing collaboration, ‘The Bio-Archaeology of Bronze Age Social Systems,’ between Ras Al Khaimah Department of Antiquities & Museums, Quinnipiac, and the University of South Alabama, with professors and students from both universities expected to return to Ras Al Khaimah before the end of the year.


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