New archaeological discovery in West of Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, Mar. 1st, 2009: An ancient stone cylinder seal dating back to the beginning of the Bronze Age, around 5,000 years ago, has been found in the deserts of the Al Gharbia area (Western Region) of Abu Dhabi, by a team working for the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD). It is the first finding of its type ever found in Arabia.

, Secretary General of EAD, praised this discovery. “This is an important finding not only for Abu Dhabi but for the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. It emphasises the long history of human civilization in this region and cross-cultural communication and trade with the region between the two rivers,” he said.

The discovery was made by a team from GRM International that is currently undertaking the Abu Dhabi Emirate Soil Survey, which is managed by EAD. The seal was lying in an area where samples were being collected during the Survey.

“We are collecting information on soils throughout the Emirate in order to better understand our present and past environments. It is also helping us to understand what use Man made of the environment in the past and how we can make sustainable use of it today. Finds like this cylinder seal will help us to achieve that objective,” Al Mansouri noted.

The seal is in the Jemdat Nasr style, from Mesopotamia (Iraq), and was unquestionably imported from Mesopotamia, according to a leading expert in Arabian archaeology, Professor Dan Potts of Australia’s University of Sydney.

Decorated with tiny carvings of women with their hair tied back in a plait, a stylised couch and a spider, the seal can be dated to between 3,100 BC to 2,900 BC, according to Professor Potts. Similar seals have also been found at Susa, in Iran, and at Khafajah and Uruk in Mesopotamia.

While other cylinder seals from the Early Bronze Age have also been found in the UAE, at Hili, near Al Ain, and at Al Sufouh, in Dubai, for example, these are from the slightly later Umm al-Nar period, which lasted from around 2,500 BC to 2,000 BC, making the Medinat Zayed find of special importance. Moreover, according to Professor Potts, the seal is the first of its type found anywhere in the whole of the Arabian Peninsula.

Pottery from the Jemdat Nasr period has, however, been found in tombs of the Hafit type, best known from Jebel Hafit, near Al Ain, proving the existence of contact between Mesopotamia and the UAE and Oman at this early period in the country’s history.

According to Professor Potts, it provides further evidence of contact between Mesopotamia and the UAE and Oman during the Jemdat Nasr period, which is also known from pottery found in the Hafit-type tombs, best known from Jebel Hafit, near Al Ain, indicating the existence of trade, probably by sea, between the UAE and the Northern Gulf.

What makes the Medinat Zayed discovery of even greater interest is the fact that no archaeological sites or finds from the Bronze Age, which lasted from around 3,100 BC to 1,300 BC, have ever been published from the desert areas of Abu Dhabi’s Al Gharbia (Western Region).

“Sites from the Bronze Age are known from the coast and islands of Al Gharbia, but nothing from this period has ever been reported from the central and southern deserts of the area,” according to Peter Hellyer, who has been studying the archaeology of Al Gharbia for over fifteen years. “Virtually all of the published sites from the inland deserts of Al Gharbia date either to the Late Stone Age, over a thousand years earlier than this find from Medinat Zayed, or to the Late Islamic period, covering the last few hundred years. There has long been a gap in our knowledge of this period in Al Gharbia’s history, and this amazing find begins, finally, to shed some light on what was previously an unknown part of the heritage of Abu Dhabi.”