A Christian monastery, possibly pre-dating Islam, found in UAE
A Christian monastery has been discovered on the island of Siniyah off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), possibly dating back to the years before the spread of Islam to the Arabian Peninsula.
Archaeologists have discovered similar churches and monasteries in Iran and other Persian Gulf countries. Early churches and monasteries are thought to have spread from the Persian Gulf to the coasts of modern-day Oman and all the way to India.
The Siniyah Island monastery, part of the sand-dune sheikhdom of Umm al-Quwain, sheds new light on the history of early Christianity along the Persian Gulf’s shores.
The monastery is located on Siniyah Island, a barrier island protecting the Khor al-Beida marshlands in Umm al-Quwain, an emirate along the Persian Gulf coast about 30 miles northeast of Dubai. Carbon dating of samples found in the monastery’s foundation dates between 534 and 656.
It marks the second such monastery found in the Emirates, dating back as many as 1,400 years — long before its desert expanses gave birth to a thriving oil industry which led to a unified nation home to the high-rise towers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Scholars believe the two monasteries were lost to history as Christians gradually converted to Islam as Islam became more prevalent in the region.
For Timothy Power, an associate professor of archaeology at the United Arab Emirates University who helped investigate the newly discovered monastery, the UAE today is a “melting pot of nations.”
“The fact that something similar was happening here 1,000 years ago is really remarkable, and this is a story that deserves to be told,” he said.
The floor plan of the monastery on Siniyah Island suggests that early Christians may have prayed inside a single-aisle church there. Rooms within appear to hold a baptismal font, as well as an oven for baking bread or wafers for communion rites. Additionally, an altar and a setup for communion wine were probably located in a nave.
Next to the monastery is a second structure with four rooms arranged around a courtyard, which could have been the home of an abbot or a bishop in the early church.
Archaeologists discovered the first Christian monastery in the UAE in the early 1990s on Sir Bani Yas Island, which is now a nature preserve and home to luxury hotels off the coast of Abu Dhabi, near the Saudi border. It dates back to the same period as the new find in Umm al-Quwain.
New Thoughts on the Migration Out of Africa and Into Arabia
An international team of researchers from the Sharjah Archaeology Authority/United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Universities of Tübingen and Freiburg as well as Oxford Brookes/England led by Dr. Knut Bretzke from the University of Tübingen and Prof. Dr. Frank Preusser from the Institute of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Freiburg has uncovered startlingly new results that show Palaeolithic humans repeatedly occupied the rock shelter site of Jebel Faya in Southern Arabia between 210,000 and 120,000 years ago; shattering previously held ideas about when, and how, humans first moved into Arabia from Africa.
The researchers have published their findings in the current issue of Scientific Reports.
Jebel Faya, located in Sharjah, UAE, is one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in Arabia. In 2009 excavations revealed human occupation dating back to 125,000 years ago making it the then oldest known human site in Arabia.
New archaeological data from Jebel Faya, published in Scientific Reports, indicate that human settlement in Southern Arabia occurred under an unexpected range of climatic conditions and significantly earlier than previously thought.
Humans were not dependent on favourable climatic conditions
Previously it has been argued that Arabia was closed to prehistoric humans during dry climate phases and that humans had to wait for periods of more wet climatic conditions in order to expand into the region.
The new results contradict this view and show humans were far more adaptable than previously thought and not reliant on extended periods of favourable climate conditions to thrive.
Using a cutting-edge range of archaeological, palaeoclimatological and dating techniques, the team were able to reconstruct four distinct phases of human occupation between 210-120,000 years ago.
Crucially this demonstrates that humans occupied the site during dry and wetter climate events – challenging previous ideas about when humans could and could not occupy Arabian sites during the Palaeolithic and opening up the possibility that Arabia may yet yield more evidence of the human journey out of Africa during drier phases.
Re-evaluate interactions between humans and the environment
Dr. Knut Bretzke commented: “Most exciting for me personally is that our data provide the first evidence for human occupation of Arabia about 170,000 years ago. This period is traditionally thought to be characterized by extremely dry conditions that must have prevented human presence in Arabia.
We think that the unique interplay of human behavioural flexibility, the mosaic landscapes of South-East Arabia and the occurrence of brief spells of more humid conditions enabled the survival of these early human groups.
To study the details of this interplay and the evolution of the human-environment interdependencies, Jebel Faya and its surroundings are the key area and I am convinced that more surprises will come.”
Prof. Adrian Parker, Oxford Brookes University, who led the reconstruction of the palaeoenvironments, noted that “Our data challenges previous assumptions that human occupation in Arabia was only confined to well-defined wetter climate phases.
Understanding the environmental context is paramount when evaluating human occupation. Well constrained evidence in Arabia is still limited and the complex interrelationships between humans, climate, and environment need careful re-evaluation especially in the light of our findings”.
Luminescence dating elementary for archaeological research
The Freiburg geologist Frank Preusser, who dated the phases of human occupation, said: “The fact that luminescence dating allows determining the time of the last daylight exposure of quartz grains embedded in sediment
layers has revolutionised archaeological research. The study from Jebel Faya is another milestone in enlightening the complex history of our species.”
The rare coins bear the iconography of five caliphs, who were the chief Muslim leaders from the period, including Abu Jaafar Al Mansour, Mohamed Al Mahdi, Haroun Al Rashid, Mohamed Al Amin and Abu Jaafar Abdullah Al Maamoun.
The haul includes a silver dirham-link coin of Lady Zubaida, also known as Umm Jaafar, the wife of Caliph Haroun Al Rashid, as well as a copper Abbasid fils coin was also found.
The coins were minted in several geographical and administrative areas in the late 8th to early 9th century AD, or 154-199 AH of the Hijri period in the Islamic calendar.
The discovery documents a pivotal period in the history of Sharjah and the UAE during the Abbasid dynasty and highlights the commercial activity taking place in the UAE and in Sharjah’s central region.
The coins, which travelled along several important trade routes to the Arabian Gulf and the UAE, confirm that the region was an important trading centre during that period.
This find is one of many made in recent months in the area. In February, archaeologists at Sharjah Archaeology Authority unearthed a treasure trove of 409 coins in Mleiha.
Many discoveries made in the area are now on display in the Mleiha Archaeological Centre, which opened to visitors in 2016 and charts the region’s history back to the Stone Age.
Sharjah Ruler visits Sharjah Archaeology Authority – in pictures
Long Lost Early Colonial Fort Discovered in Maryland
According to a Washington Post report, archaeologist Travis Parno, archaeological geophysicist Tim Horsley, and their colleagues at Historic St. Mary’s City announced the discovery of the undisturbed outline of the palisaded fort at St. Mary’s, which was erected in southern Maryland by English colonists in 1634. Maryland archaeologist Travis Parno was at a board game convention in Philadelphia, sitting at a table surrounded by thousands of other enthusiasts when he got a text message. He was supposed to be on vacation, taking a break from his search for the legendary fort at St. Mary’s, the first permanent English settlement in Maryland and one of the earliest in what would become the United States.
Back at St. Mary’s, archaeological geophysicist Tim Horsley had been scanning a site a half-mile from St. Mary’s River with ground-penetrating radar that could detect the outlines of ancient buildings. The text message interrupting Parno’s vacation was from Horsley. It said: “I think we found it.”
On Monday, Historic St. Mary’s City announced that Parno, director of research for the organization, and Horsley had indeed found the outlines of the palisaded fort that was erected in Southern Maryland by white settlers in 1634. Horsley’s scans had revealed the imprint of post holes that formed a large rectangle with a semicircular bastion at one corner. The scans also showed evidence of what appeared to be dwellings inside the fort, including several that may have been Native American. Excavation later turned up evidence of the brick cellar of a guardhouse or storehouse, the trigger guard for a musket, and a quartzite arrowhead that was 4,500 years old.
“This is our moment,” Parno said. “This is the earliest colonial archaeological site in Maryland. This is it.”
William M. Kelso, the archaeologist who in 1994 discovered the lost fort at Jamestown, Va., said the discovery is “extremely significant because St. Mary’s is sort of a sister colony … [and] it’s another page to the story, to chapter one.”
Archaeologists had been seeking the St. Mary’s fort since the 1930s. The site today is in an empty meadow where the wind blows off the river and the shadows of soaring turkey buzzards drift over the landscape. It is owned by Historic St. Mary’s City and is about the size of a football field. Much like the famous Jamestown fort, which marked the first permanent English settlement in what would become the United States, its exact location had been lost. The original 150 colonists, including many English Catholics fleeing Protestant persecution back home, had arrived at St. Mary’s on two ships, the Ark and the Dove, in late March 1634, Parno said.
They were preceded by the English settlers at such places as Jamestown in 1607, Plymouth in 1620, and Massachusetts Bay in 1630. The Maryland group included a Jesuit priest, Father Andrew White; the colony’s first governor, Leonard Calvert; and Mathias de Sousa, an indentured servant of African and Portuguese descent who later served in the legislative assembly of freemen.
“I found a most convenient harbor, and the pleasant country lying on each side of it,” Calvert wrote to his business partner, Richard Lechford, on May 30, 1634.
“On the east side of it we have seated ourselves, within one-half mile of the river,” he wrote. They had erected “a pallizado of one hundred and twenty yards square” with four bastions equipped with small artillery pieces.
The palisade was probably 12- to 14-feet high.
White reported: “Our Towne we call St. Maries … [It] abounds not alone with profit but also with pleasure.”
But like Jamestown, the settlement at St. Mary’s was later abandoned. The capital moved to Annapolis in the 1690s, and the site was left undisturbed and ripe for archaeology. St. Mary’s has produced stunning archaeological finds in the past. It was Maryland’s first capital and home to the first State House. In 1990, experts exhumed three lead-lined coffins containing the remains of Maryland colonial governor Philip Calvert, who died in 1683, his first wife, Anne, and Calvert’s 6-month-old son. Anne’s coffin contained sprigs of the memorial herb rosemary, bits of a silk ribbon that may have been used to bind her wrists for burial — and much of her hair. The baby had suffered from the childhood disease rickets and probably scurvy.
The search for the fort had continued through the 1980s and ’90s with inconclusive results. The quest was put on hold for many years as St. Mary’s focused on other projects. Parno resumed the hunt in 2017, and his find was deemed conclusive in late 2019. The plan had been to announce the discovery last year, but the coronavirus pandemic brought that to a halt. Last summer, though, using coronavirus safety protocols, Parno was able to return to the site and uncover the top of what may be the cellar of a building inside the fort.
Parno noted that the site marks not only a turning point in Maryland’s colonial history. It also marked a massive moment of change for the native peoples of this region,” he said.
“Archaeology in this area shows us people have been here for at least 10,000 years. White wrote that the colonists, “to avoid all occasion of dislike, and colour of wrong,” purchased from the local Yaocomaco Indians the land for 30 miles around, paying with axes, hoes, cloth, and hatchets. The Yaocomaco Indians tolerated the newcomers, he wrote, because the Indians had enemies: The “Sasquasahannockes … [who] come sometimes upon them, and waste and spoile them and their country.”
And the archaeology hinted that the fort may have been built around several existing native dwellings, Parno said.
The Yaocomaco people lived on both sides of the St. Mary’s River. The arrangement was that they would be allowed to stay on the east side with the colonists until the Indians’ crops there were harvested. Then they would move to the west side.
“Some few Indians are here to stay by us till next yeare,” Father White wrote. “Then the land is wholy to be ours alone.”
It’s not clear if, for a time, the colonists and the Yaocomaco lived together in the fort, according to the Historic St. Mary’s City website. “But it is likely that their residences were … in relative proximity to one another.” And an Indian dwelling that had been vacated would have provided good shelter for weary colonists.
“You come off this ship after months, and you need a place to lay your head, and you want something that’s covered and warm,” Parno said.
One day this month, tiny pink flags marking the outline of the fort fluttered in the breeze as Parno’s team methodically scraped away soil at the site. After Horsley’s scan found the fort’s outline in 2018, Parno said he verified it with excavation in 2019. He found that there had been a three-foot-deep trench where the colonists had stood the timbers for the palisade. Inside the trench, the wood had left telltale stains in the soil. “It was clear as day,” Parno said.
But he had been surprised when the work revealed that the outline of the fort didn’t match Calvert’s 1634 description of it. Instead of the large square palisade with bastions at the four corners that Calvert described, the team found a smaller, rectangular fort with one bastion. The discrepancy may be because Calvert was describing plans for the fort before it was completed, according to Historic St. Mary’s.
As Parno walked the site this month, fellow archaeologist Stephanie Stevens paused with her shovel. She had done archaeology at the site in 2017. “We had always heard about: ‘There’s this fort somewhere, but we don’t know where it is.’ All these different things,” she said.
Then one-day Parno summoned the team, showed the scan of the fort’s outline, and said, “We found it.”
8,000-Year-Old Pearl, Found In Abu Dhabi, Is World’s Oldest.
An 8,000-year-old pearl that archaeologists say is the worlds oldest will be displayed in Abu Dhabi, according to authorities who said Sunday it is proof the objects have been traded since Neolithic times.
Dubbed the ‘Abu Dhabi Pearl’, it was found in layers carbon-dated to 5800-5600 BCE, during the Neolithic period.
This finding proves that pearls and oysters have been used in the UAE nearly 8,000 years ago and is the first confirmed evidence of pearling discovered anywhere in the world.
The Abu Dhabi Pearl, on loan from the Zayed National Museum collection, will feature in the special exhibition 10,000 Years of Luxury, taking place at Louvre Abu Dhabi from October 30, 2019, to February 18, 2020.
Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “The Abu Dhabi Pearl is a stunning find, testimony to the ancient origins of our engagement with the sea.
The discovery of the oldest pearl in the world in Abu Dhabi makes it clear that so much of our recent economic and cultural history has deep roots that stretch back to the dawn of prehistory.
Marawah Island is one of our most valuable archaeological sites, and excavations continue in the hope of discovering even more evidence of how our ancestors lived, worked and thrived.”
Prior to the Abu Dhabi Pearl discovery, the earliest known pearl in the UAE was uncovered at a Neolithic site in Umm al-Quwain.
Ancient pearls from the same time have also been found at a Neolithic cemetery close to Jebel Buhais in the emirate of Sharjah. The carbon dating indicates that Abu Dhabi Pearl is older than both these discoveries.
Aside from the priceless Abu Dhabi Pearl, significant finds from the Marawah site have included an imported ceramic vase, beautifully worked flint arrowheads and shell and stone beads.
Numerous painted plaster vessel fragments were also discovered and represent the earliest known decorative art yet discovered in the UAE. At the beginning of 2020, a major new excavation will take place at the site to further uncover its secrets.
Experts have suggested that ancient pearls were possibly traded with Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq) in exchange for highly-decorated ceramics and other goods. Pearls were also likely worn as jewellery by the local population, as indicated by the finds at Jebel Buhais in Sharjah.
The art of pearling required in-depth knowledge of pearl beds and their locations and expert seafaring skills.
Once these were mastered by the ancient inhabitants of Marawah, pearling was to remain a mainstay of the UAE’s economy for millennia.
The Venetian jewel merchant Gasparo Balbi, who travelled through the region, mentions the islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi as a source of pearls in the 16th century. The industry flourished until the 1930s.