Pearls and the Making of the Arabian Gulf

Pearls and the Making of the Arabian Gulf

Dr Carter, an archaeologist who has worked in Gulf countries for over 20 years and is a senior lecturer at UCL Qatar, is about to publish a book on the history of Gulf pearling, sponsored by leading Qatari businessman Hussein Alfardan.

The speaker traced the history of pearling and its important part in the economy of regions bordering on the Arabian Gulf spanning more than 7,000 years. Excavation of a Neolithic burial site in Sharjah, UAE has yielded over 60 pearls, and the oldest pearl yet discovered is from a site in Kuwait, where pierced plaques of mother-of-pearl were also found.

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The first written description of diving with weights, said Carter, is found in the famous Epic of Gilgamesh from Mesopotamia, one of the oldest pieces of literature in the world and dating to the 7th century BC. It tells the story of the hero Gilgamesh who dives to find a magical flower at the bottom of the sea which will grant immortality. Pearl ornaments, made with pearls almost certainly exported from the Gulf, were extremely popular with both Greeks and Romans, and the 1st century AD writer Pliny the Elder mentions pearl jewellery in some detail, along with his strong disapproval of men wearing such frivolous ornaments!

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