New Dubai museum points to Iron Age mysteries
Dubai - Dubai has unveiled dramatic archaeological findings that point to thousands of years of human activity at Saruq al-Hadid, a remote site in the Empty Quarter desert, 70km south of Dubai, resetting the beginnings of history in the emirate.
The findings, dating to 3,000- 4,000 years ago, are the earliest signs of occupation. The site was discovered in 2002 by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum during a helicopter ride when he noticed the unusual shapes of the dunes and the colour of the sands.
“We began formal digging in 2002 and started finding pieces of iron and various objects like swords, pottery and even gold at only 8 metres below,” said Rashad Mohammed Bukhash, director of Architectural Heritage Department at Dubai Municipality.
“Surprisingly, many of these items are found at the surface level. During Ramadan this year, we did not carry out any excavation. When we went there later, the team found around 60 items on the surface.”
Bukhash said he thinks what was found is a tiny part of what is yet to be discovered. “Over 14 years, our team dug up an area of 2×2 km and what we have excavated so far is less than 5%. We have already found 13,000 pieces at the rate of 20 to 30 new pieces a day, which means that around 100,000 pieces are still down there,” he said.
Some 900 items from the site are displayed at Saruq al-Hadid Museum in Dubai’s Shindagha Heritage Village.
Bukhash said that only the “industrial part” of a big city has been excavated. “Next to the initial site, there is a UAE Army base where we started some digging work and found more items related to daily living,” he said. “We believe the living quarters may be in that adjoining spot and hope to confirm this by October this year.”
One of the mysteries surrounding Saruq al-Hadid is the identity of its inhabitants, their language, religious customs and burial grounds, mode of transport, clothing and eating habits. “Those are the secrets we are looking for and hoping to find out,” Bukhash said.
Items displayed at Saruq al- Hadid Museum include carnelian beads (semi-precious gemstone from the Indus Valley), heavy anklets (probably used on domesticated camels), finely decorated shells, bronze incense burners with feet in the shape of the hooves of a bull (in the Mesopotamian style), daggers and swords with handle decoration of pouncing lion (a motif from Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean), many bronze snakes and a gold snake in addition to a gold gazelle that was probably part of a necklace.
Also on display are Stone Age tools, including hand axes and scrapes that reveal the earliest evidence of human activity at Saruq al-Hadid.
The presence of olive wood objects points to possible links with Syria. The distinct design features on objects found at the site could signal that inhabitants were in contact with civilisation centres as far away as the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Dilmun in modern day Bahrain, and Oman.
The research team has come up with several theories, including that it was a secret military manufacturing facility. Other possibilities are that it was a community with savannah-like conditions and that it was a major trading centre, linking the ancient trade routes to Oman, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Afghanistan and India.
“We have evidence of burning for more than 1,000 years for which enormous amounts of wood should have been available,” Bukhash said. “We are doing a lot of research and piecing together the evidence. Between 1,300BC and 800BC, large numbers of metal objects, including tools and weapons were produced at Saruq al-Hadid on an industrial scale — leaving huge quantities of slag — now visible on the surface of the desert area. We have also found 4,500 arrowheads here.”
Archaeologists from Australia, Spain and Germany, along with the Dubai team, are involved in the excavation and research.
There are up to 45 people, including 35 labourers, at the site. Bukhash said authorities decided to double that number by next year and employ teams from Italy, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.