UAE  - Archaeologists on Monday announced the discovery of a settlement nearly 1,300 years old. It is believed to be the oldest pearling town in the Arabian Gulf on Siniya Island in Umm Al Quwain. Artefacts found in this town, likely once home to thousands of people and hundreds of homes, date as far back as the region's pre-Islamic history in the late 6th century.

Announcing the excavation, the Umm Al Quwain Department of Tourism and Archaeology said, "This is a discovery of major significance for the history of Umm Al Quwain, the United Arab Emirates and the Arabian Gulf.

The discovery at Al Siniya island, off the coast of Umm Al Quwain, revealed the thriving pearl traders' settlements. This island reflects the history, civilisation, and ecology of the emirate.

Based on the excavations, pearling appears to be the town's leading trade, as archaeologists found a large area of discarded oyster shells next to the settlement.

Rania Kannouma, head of the archaeology section at the Umm Al Quwain Department of Tourism and Archaeology, said: "The pearling city that was discovered on Siniya Island covers an area of approximately 12 hectares, and it is distinctive because it was discovered during the organised archaeological excavations during the 2023 excavation season,"

Several pearls were found in the excavations at the town, together with a pearl diving weight, which the free divers used to quickly drop down to the seabed while relying only on their held breath. This discovery is the oldest well-dated instance yet found in the Emirates.

Pots and other objects from the site hinted the town existed from the late sixth or early seventh to mid-eighth centuries. It was around a generation before the rise of Islam and lasted for two generations after the arrival of Islam in the Emirates.

Timothy Power, an associate professor of archaeology at the United Arab Emirates University, was part of the discovery team and said that while they were studying the inhabitants of the village, “We thought it was the village of the monks, but with our new findings, we can say that the town belonged to the pearl merchants and divers.”

“The finds and the homes which are constructed compactly indicates that the town had a dense population with the wealthy pearl merchants who had palatial structures and pearl divers with one or two room house,” Power said.

He found many objects that are used in the pearling industry. “We have also discovered pearls and equipment used in the pearling industry."

The site also bears signs of year-round habitation, unlike other pearling operations run in seasonal spots in the region.

The pearling town sits on Siniya island, which shields the Khor Al Beida marshlands in Umm Al Quwain, an emirate some 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Dubai along the coast of the Arabian Gulf.

The island, whose name means “flashing lights” likely due to the effect of the white-hot sun overhead, already has seen archaeologists discover an ancient Christian monastery dating back as many as 1,400 years.

While other pearling towns of this period have been mentioned in historical texts, this is the first time that the site of one has been identified in the Arabian Gulf through archaeological excavations. The Department of Tourism and Archaeology Umm Al Quwain is working towards a scientific publication of the site. It plans to build a visitor’s centre to open it to the public.

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