UAE Pearling Days Go Back 7,000 Years

Dalma Island Excavation

Dalma Island Excavation

DALMA ISLAND // It is commonly thought that the roots of the UAE’s pearling heritage date back to the 19th century. But archaeologists working on Dalma Island suggest people in this region have been diving for pearls for thousands of years.


Excavations on the island, 42 kilometres off the coast of the emirate of Abu Dhabi and 116km from Doha, have discovered the remains of a house thought to belong to Dalma’s first inhabitants.

The 7,000-year-old site was excavated in 1993 but archaeologists are now looking at a layer of rubbish that contains clues about the people who lived there, including a large amount of pearl oyster shells.

This suggests the shallow banks of pearl beds around the island have been explored by humans for thousands of years, said Dr Mark Beech, head of the coastal heritage and palaeontology section at the Historic Environment Department of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.

“Prior to oil, pearl oysters were the thing that gave people wealth and it shows that this wealth goes back far into pre-history,” said Dr Beech, whose team includes Dr Anjana Reddy, a coastal heritage archaeologist at the authority, and Dr Nurcan Yalman, research fellow at the Centre for International Heritage Activities in Leiden, the Netherlands.

“You are seeing a snapshot in time from 7,000 years ago when someone was sitting just outside the edge of the house, probably in the shade of the roof, opening pearl oysters, looking for pearls.

“Those people would have probably found it funny that we are taking such care excavating their rubbish but this is fantastic evidence,” said Dr Beech.DALMA ISLAND // It is commonly thought that the roots of the UAE’s pearling heritage date back to the 19th century. But archaeologists working on Dalma Island suggest people in this region have been diving for pearls for thousands of years.

Excavations on the island, 42 kilometres off the coast of the emirate of Abu Dhabi and 116km from Doha, have discovered the remains of a house thought to belong to Dalma’s first inhabitants.

The 7,000-year-old site was excavated in 1993 but archaeologists are now looking at a layer of rubbish that contains clues about the people who lived there, including a large amount of pearl oyster shells.

This suggests the shallow banks of pearl beds around the island have been explored by humans for thousands of years, said Dr Mark Beech, head of the coastal heritage and palaeontology section at the Historic Environment Department of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.

“Prior to oil, pearl oysters were the thing that gave people wealth and it shows that this wealth goes back far into pre-history,” said Dr Beech, whose team includes Dr Anjana Reddy, a coastal heritage archaeologist at the authority, and Dr Nurcan Yalman, research fellow at the Centre for International Heritage Activities in Leiden, the Netherlands.

“You are seeing a snapshot in time from 7,000 years ago when someone was sitting just outside the edge of the house, probably in the shade of the roof, opening pearl oysters, looking for pearls.

“Those people would have probably found it funny that we are taking such care excavating their rubbish but this is fantastic evidence,” said Dr Beech.

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