UAE discovers Gulf’s oldest known pearling town

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The discovery of the oldest pearl town in the Gulf was announced on Tuesday. Discovered in the United Arab Emirates on Siniyah Island, it is believed to date back to the pre-Islamic history of the region in the late sixth century AD.

The Umm Al Quwain Department of Tourism and Archeology and its partners in the northern emirate of Umm Al Quwain made the discovery last year, according to the UAE government news agency WAM. The town is located near the ancient Christian Monastery of Siniyah, which was also discovered in 2022.

The chairman of the department, Sheikh Majid bin Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla, said that the discovery is extremely important for the UAE emirate of Umm Al Quwain, where generations of pearlers still live.

“Pearling has been an essential part of livelihood and a fundamental part of heritage for over 7,000 years. In addition, the Neolithic graves in Umm Al Quwain are known as evidence of mating,” he said.

The pearl town found on the island seems to cover about 12 hectares of land and has a large number of recognizable houses that indicate that thousands of residents lived there. The houses were built from beach rocks and other traditional materials from the surrounding environment and the roofs were made from palm trees.

Rania Kannouma, head of Archeology at the Umm Al Quwain Department of Tourism and Archaeology, said her team’s research confirmed that the town of Siniyah Island is one of the largest ancient urban settlements ever found in the country.

A large area covered in open and discarded oyster shells was found near the city.

The researchers concluded that the residents were probably Christian, as the town before the rise of Islam throughout the region, which was introduced in the UAE in about 630 AD, according to the History of the UAE government site.

To date, the earliest Christian site discovered in the UAE was the church and monastery of Sir Bani Yas Island, dating to the seventh and eighth centuries AD, off the coast of Abu Dhabi. First discovered in 1992, reopened in 2019.

Further research and excavation work on Siniya Island will continue in partnership between the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, the UAE University, the Italian archaeological mission in Umm Al Quwain and the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University.

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