Archaeologists have discovered the existence of the oldest pearl-fishing city in the Arabian Gulf on the island of Al-Siniyah off the coast of Umm Al Quwain in the United Arab Emirates.
The excavations and research showed the 12-acre fishing city, about 30 miles northeast of Dubai, likely had thousands of residents and was active year-round between the late sixth century and the middle of the eight century, before Islam came to the area.
While settlements like this were mentioned in ancient literature, this is the first time archaeological evidence has confirmed their existence.
Sheikh Majid bin Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla, chairman of the Department of Tourism and Antiquities, told the Emirates News Agency the discovery was of great importance to the Gulf federation and the greater Arabian Gulf due to pearl hunting’s significance in economy and heritage over more than seven thousands years.
The discovery was made several years after the world’s oldest pearl was found off the coast of Abu Dhabi on Marawah Island. The approximately 8,000-year-old organic gem represented the region’s history of pearl trading dating back to the Neolithic period.
The pearl-fishing city is also located near an ancient Christian monastery that was discovered last year.
“This is the oldest example of that kind of very specifically Khaleeji pearling town,” United Arab Emirates University archaeologist Timothy Power told the Associated Press, using a word that means “Gulf” in Arabic. “It’s the spiritual ancestor of towns like Dubai.”
“This is a different order of settlements; this is a proper town,” Power told CNN.
Archaeologists also discovered a range of homes built next to the site’s pearl fishing settlement, as well as a large open area filled with oyster waste, excavated pearls, a 1,300-year-old bath, and diving weights. The homes were built from local beach rocks with roofs made from the trunks of palm trees, with layouts that suggest different socioeconomic groups. Small and cramped living quarters may have housed poorer divers compared to wealthier homes with airy courtyards for the pearl-selling merchants.
Research and excavation work is scheduled to continue at the site on Al-Siniyah Island in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Youth, the United Arab Emirates University, the Italian Archaeological Mission, as well as the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University.