UAE’s 2,300-year-old Mleiha Coin Hoard Reveals International Trade
It was a relatively normal ancient clay jar, until the team of United Arab Emirates (UAE) archaeologists weighed it. There was only one thing that could possibly have weighed 9 kilograms (19.8 pounds): metal treasure! The jar and its silver coin hoard, dated to 300 BC, were found in the ancient town of Mleiha in the Emirate of Sharjah, which is the third largest emirate in the UAE with land on both the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Mleiha was an ancient center of trade and economics that influenced events across the Arabian Peninsula, and as far away as Persia and Mesopotamia.
Sharjah24 recently announced that researchers at the Sharjah Archaeology Authority discovered a 2,300-year-old jar filled with ancient silver coins. Minted and in circulation in Mleiha from approximately the 3rd century BC, this collection is extra special because many of these ancient coins were “inspired by the coins of Alexander and his Seleucid successors.”
The many kinds of silver coins that made up the 409 Mleiha coin hoard recently discovered in the UAE. (Sharjah Archaeology Authority)
Ancient Mleiha And Its Connections To Iron Age Civilizations
Dr. Sabah Aboud Jasim, Director-General of Sharjah Archaeology Authority, noted that the coin hoard was discovered by a local archaeological team in February 2021. The researchers happened upon a pottery jar which at first looked like every other clay vessel of its type, but this one weighed in at 9 kilograms (18.4 pounds), revealing it contained seriously heavy metal.
Scientists at the Sharjah Archaeology Authority laboratory scanned the vessel and determined it was filled with “409 silver coins.” Each coin weighed between 16 to 17 grams (0.56 to 0.6 ounces).
The coins were all classed as tetradrachm, an Ancient Greek silver coin type that was in wide circulation all over the Mediterranean from about 510 BC to 38 BC. Of the total 409 coins, 387 were single-sided mold coins, while 22 were double-sided mold coins.
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According to a report in Archaeology News Network the earliest coins depict the head of Hercules represented by Alexander the Great and the god Zeus sitting on his throne. Furthermore, “Alexander” is engraved in Greek script, but on the later coins it is replaced with the name “Abel” written in Aramaic.
To get a better perspective, let’s begin with an overview of ancient Mleiha, where the unique silver coin hoard was discovered.
A closeup of three of the silver coins in Mleiha coin hoard. (Sharjah Archaeology Authority)
Ancient Mleiha: 130,000 Years Of Human Occupation!
The impressive Mleiha Archaeological Centre is constructed around a 4,500-year-old Umm Al Nar era tomb. However, archaeological evidence has been found around Mleiha dating as far back as the Paleolithic period, about 130,000 years ago. This isn’t long after the first waves of modern humans began migrating north from Africa.
About 11,000 years ago the first signs of farming appeared in the Mleiha region. The so-called Neolithic “Ubaid” or “Arabian Bifacial” tradition thrived between 5,000 and 3,100 BC.
The Mleiha coins were minted in the pre-Islamic period, and it can be confidently assumed the pot of cash was in some way involved in the trade of vegetables or cereals. Why? Archaeologically, this region is known for the development and widespread application of the “ falaj” underground irrigation system for agriculture. With this ingenious water distribution system the inhabitants of Mleiha cultivated so much produce that they sold it far and wide.
The Mleiha Archaeological Centre, built around a 4,500-year-old Umm Al Nar tomb. (Alexandermcnabb / CC BY-SA 4.0)
Putting Mleiha Firmly On The Ancient World Trade Map
The discovery of these 3rd-century-BC coins further establishes the city of Mleiha as a major commercial center in ancient times. It is thought that trading convoys going between the north and south of the Arabian Peninsula must have valued the city’s strategic location and its resource rich oasis in the center of the Emirate of Sharjah.
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Dr. Sabah Aboud Jasim said that while researching the coins in the Mleiha hoard it was discovered that some coin designs were like others found in the Arabian Gulf region. However, while individual coins can be compared with earlier similar discoveries, as a whole, this hoard is considered to be “more extensive” than any others found in the region, said Aboud Jasim.
Top image: The 300-BC Mleiha silver coin hoard and the ancient jar it was found in. Source: Sharjah Archaeology Authority
By Ashley Cowie