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Abdulla Al Kaabi, who discovered the human remains, at work on site on Marawah.

8,000-Year-Old House for the Dead in Ancient Village Found in United Arab Emirates

An archaeological dig on Marawah Island, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of the city of Abu Dhabi, has revealed the oldest use of stone-built architecture in the Arabian Gulf to date. The remains of one of Abu Dhabi’s first residents were found within the structure, which archaeologists believe was first used as a house for the living then one for the dead. They also uncovered the remains of an entire Neolithic village, the oldest in the region.

The house containing the skeleton has been radiocarbon dated back 8,000 years, according to the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA). Speaking to Dubai 92 Radio , Dr. Mark Beech, Head of Coastal Heritage and Paleontology at the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, explained why the findings are significant. He describes the house as very well-made, saying that the architecture used on the stone house is the first of its kind to be found in the Gulf region. He also called the building “special” and told the radio station that it consists of three interconnecting rooms.

Mohammed Al Neyadi, director of the TCA historic environment department told The National that the “partial skeleton was inserted into one of the already semi-collapsed rooms of the house, indicating that the structure had originally been used as a house for the living, and then later as a ‘house for the dead’.”

A human skeleton that was found in 2004 was placed on a stone platform at the southern end of a room. (Top) Detail of the skeleton. (Bottom)

A human skeleton that was found in 2004 was placed on a stone platform at the southern end of a room. (Top) Detail of the skeleton. (Bottom) ( Abu Dhabi Archaeological Survey )

Speaking on his discovery of the skeleton, Abdulla Al Kaabi, a coastal heritage archaeologist,  said that it was found in on its side in a crouched position with its head facing the east. “I had to clean very carefully around the human bones as they were extremely fragile after being in the ground for more than 7,000 years. We had to treat the bones with Paraloid B72, a special consolidant, to strengthen them before we were able to lift them.”

This form of human burial is said to be typical of other Late Stone Age burials, with some examples having been found previously in the Necropolis of Jebel Buhais in Sharjah .

Overview of a couple of the graves at Jebel Buhais in Sharjah during excavations.

Overview of a couple of the graves at Jebel Buhais in Sharjah during excavations. ( Uerpmann, Uerpmann, and Jasim )

Emirates Business reports that the discoveries were made as part of archaeological surveys that have been carried out by the TCA since 2012. Over the years, the researchers have identified more than 20 major sites on the island, “ranging in date from the Late Stone Age period (around 8,000 years ago) to the recent historical period, with two Late Stone Age villages discovered at the western end of Marawah Island, comprising a series of occupation mounds.”

Excavations in progress at the sites on Marawah Island.

Excavations in progress at the sites on Marawah Island. ( Khaleej Times )

Dr. Beech explained some of the past work to Emirates Business, saying:

“In 2014 we carried out geophysical surveys of both sites, both magnetometry and ground penetrating radar being used to assess the sub-surface remains. These surveys help us to target potentially interesting structures at the site. Excavations at the MR11 site began in earnest in 2015 and were completed in February 2016 as we concluded our latest field season of work.”

Apart from the stone building and human remains within, more than two hundred flint arrowheads have been collected from the surface of the two sites - which are known as MR1 and MR11. Shell and stone beads and stone tools have also been unearthed. The building was found during excavations at MR11. A large flint spear was also found during the course of the excavations, which the experts say may have been used for hunting dugongs or turtles.

A total of ten houses have been unearthed in the village, consisting of living rooms and an outdoor area, probably used for food preparation and keeping animals. They are in a good state of preservation.

The discovery is significant as it means that Marawah Island is the first known place that people appear to have abandoned a nomadic lifestyle in favor of a more settled life where they kept sheep and goats, and made use the surrounding resources. It is believed the site was inhabited for at least a few hundred years.

An artifact found during excavations at the Marawah Island sites.

An artifact found during excavations at the Marawah Island sites. ( Emirates Business )

According to Dr. Beech , the climate of the site during the Stone Age was better then than it is now, with more rainfall, a greener landscape, and more trees. “During this time, there were freshwater lakes and more to hunt,” he said.

Beech also stressed that the people who built the settlements were not primitive. Excavations at MR1 and MR11 showed that they kept livestock and had a sedentary lifestyle. Dr. Beech told The National “There’s still a lot to be discovered. This is probably only about 5 per cent of the whole village. This is a spectacular discovery. There is nothing like it in the Gulf region, and it’s been very well preserved.”

Enough of the village has been uncovered that now allows experts to create a digital reconstruction, which is currently underway. 

Featured Image: Abdulla Al Kaabi, who discovered the human remains, at work on site on Marawah. Images courtesy. Source: Abu Dhabi TCA

By Alicia McDermott

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