4000-Year-Old Mass Burials Unearthed in Ras Al Khaimah
An ambitious joint project, between Ras Al Khaimah’s Department of Antiquities and Museums and two US universities, is studying 4,000-year-old human bones unearthed at two prehistoric tombs in the United Arab Emirates.
The ancient bones were found at the Shimal archaeological complex situated approximately 800 kilometers northeast of RAK city, near the modern-day village of Shimal. Having been occupied for at least 4,500 years, this is the largest pre-Islamic archaeological site in Ras Al Khaimah, associated with the Shihuh tribe of the Northern UAE and Oman.
Modern day Ras Al Khaimah. (KingmaPhotos / Adobe stock)
An Ancient Culture With International Reach
Dating back to the “Umm Al Nar” culture, meaning “Mother of Fire,” after an Abu Dhabi island where the first tombs of this type were excavated in the 1950s, this expansive site was occupied between 2,600 to 2,000 BC. Archaeologists have since discovered a medieval fortress and several prehistoric settlements including a large cemetery. 250 prehistoric graves have been excavated that were found to contain over 300 burials and pottery, soft-stone vessels, beads and weapons made out of bronze and copper.
The ancient settlers buried their dead in multiple chambered tombs, both of the round “Umm Al Nar” type from a Bronze Age culture that existed around 2600-2000 BC and in barrow tombs of the ‘Wadi Suq’ era (2,000 to 1,300 BC). The bodies were eventually taken out of the tombs, cremated, and reburied meaning that the burial chambers could be reused for many years. Among the hoards of pottery, beads and artifacts, objects from the Harappan Indus Valley civilization have been found proving distant trading links existed.
400kg Of Ancient Emirates Bones Flown To US
A press release by Emirates News Agency informs that this new research project aims to complete the picture of life in the region during the Bronze Age. Archaeological researchers Christian Velde and Imke Moellering from Ras Al Khaimah’s Department of Antiquities and Museums, which is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, collaborated with Lesley Gregoricka from the University of South Alabama and Professor Jaime Ullinger from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, to study 4,000-year-old human bones unearthed at two ancient tombs.
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Work began in 2019 and is scheduled to continue until 2021 under the title, ‘ The Bioarcheology of Bronze Age Social Systems’, which aims to study many of the 1,000 kilograms of bone fragments that include several intact craniums. According to Archaeology News Network, in an agreement between H.H. Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, 400kg of bones will undergo further scientific study in the US.
The National Science Foundation (US government agency) offered financial assistance to help fund the new bone analysis allowing the application of advanced scientific techniques such as “isotope analysis” of teeth, before the bones are eventually returned to the Emirates.
4,000-year-old human bones found in Ras Al Khaimah shed light on sophisticated Bronze Age life https://t.co/I3Jm0Vj6lQ
— Gulf News (@gulf_news) March 11, 2020
Ancient Links With Chinese, Indus, Mesopotamian and Iranian Cultures
Ahmed Obeid Al Teneiji, Director-General of the RAK Department of Antiquities and Museums said this “fascinating project.” Analyzing 4,000-year-old human remains highlights the depth of history Ras Al Khaimah possesses and he hopes the expert analysis in the US will shed further light on the early civilizations of the region and in particular, the people’s health, food and life expectancy.
This joint RAK-US project is but one of several collaborative initiatives studying the Emirates’ archaeological history. While restoration work continues at the Al Jazirah Al Hamra pearling village, in 2017 the Department of Antiquities and Museums and Palace Museum in Beijing discovered “thousands of pottery fragments in the emirate” dating from the Chinese Yuan Dynasty (AD 1271 to 1368), which illustrates how trade flourished between Julfar (predecessor of modern-day Ras Al Khaimah) and China.
The Department of Antiquities and Museums is working to create an electronic archive detailing more than 2,000 archaeological sites in Ras Al Khaimah. In addition, it plans to host public events this year displaying the emirate’s archaeological riches, which include imported goods from as far away as Mesopotamia, Iran, Bahrain and the Indus Valley showing the extensive maritime trade of the 3rd millennium BC.
Top image: The Ras Al Khaimah excavation site where the ancient remains were found. Source: Ras Al Khaimah Government Media Office
By Ashley Cowie