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6th-Century Ruins Uncovered in UAE Could Be the Lost City of Tuam

6th-Century Ruins Uncovered in UAE Could Be the Lost City of Tu’am

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Excavations in the Umm Al Quwain region of the United Arab Emirates have revealed 6th-century ruins that could correspond to the ancient city of Tu’am. Located on Al Sinniyah Island, the island forms part of a group of small islands on the western side of the Khor Al Bidiyah peninsula.

Previous research on the island revealed a pearling village and monastery, which have been the focus of the latest excavations.

Digging Deep: Insights into Al Sinniyah Island's Past Uncovered

The Umm Al Quwain Department of Tourism and Archaeology, led by its chairman Sheikh Majid bin Saud Al Mualla, conducted the work at the site in collaboration with local and international partners as reported by the Nationalnews. Rania Hussein Kannouma, acting director of the department of archaeology and heritage at the Department of Tourism and Archaeology noted, “This year, excavation has continued at the southern end of the pearl fishing city, with further digging in several rooms within the houses of the pearl fishing city and the Christian monastery area to better understand the layout of the buildings and document the archaeological structures.”

The new excavations at Al Sinniyah Island have uncovered evidence of a larger settlement, with the earliest signs of occupation dating back to the 4th century AD, reaching its highest point in the 5th or 6th century. Archaeologists unearthed large semi-urban tenement buildings, each about 30 square meters (322.91 sqft), packed closely together along narrow walkways. According to the experts, this settlement could be the lost city of Tu’am mentioned in ancient Arab texts.

Part of the large C6th-C7th pearl

Part of the large C6th-C7th pearl fishing and trading town found on Siniyah Island. (Alexandermcnabb/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Discovering Tu’am: Insights into a Lost Gulf Coast Capital

Tu’am was renowned for its pearl fishing industry and trade in precious gems. A regional capital on the Gulf coast, its population declined following regional tensions and the plague known as the Plague of Justinian, which spread across the Mediterranean region. This lead to the city's abandonment. Mass graves in the area, with skeletal remains that show no signs of trauma are evidence of this bubonic pandemic.  

This find also illuminates the pre-Islamic history of the region. The town was known as To'me in Aramaic and Tu’am in Arabic, meaning "twins." Over time, this name was transformed into Greek and English as Thomas, though the original meaning was lost. It is believed the city was named in honor of St. Thomas, who was dispatched to the East to propagate Christianity.

“Our archaeological work has discovered by far the largest settlement ever found on the Gulf coast of the Emirates,” said Professor Tim Power of UAE University.

He noted that the period aligns perfectly with the city described in early Islamic geographical sources. “It’s clearly a really important place. No one has ever found it.”

Professor Power explained that while they have not found definitive evidence, such as an inscription with the town’s name, the absence of other major settlements from this period on the coast strengthens the argument that this is Tu’am. “It’s a process of elimination,” he said.

Dr Michele Degli Esposti, head of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Umm Al Quwain and researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences, expressed that the findings will have a significant impact across the region.  It shows prospective for visitors to experience firsthand the streets of an ancient town.

Top image: New excavations in Al Sinniyah island have revealed an ancient settlement that could be the legendary lost city of Tu’am.Source: Umm Al Quwain Department of Tourism and Archaeology

By Tania Abad

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