World’s oldest natural pearl found in Abu Dhabi

Read the story of how the World’s oldest natural pearl was found in Abu Dhabi in this article in The National newspaper, 20 October 2019.

See this video interview with Abdulla Khalfan Al Kaabi about the discovery of the Abu Dhabi Pearl on Marawah Island

The 8,000-year-old pearl was found on Marawah Island, and using radiocarbon dating, archaeologists from the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi)  deduced that the pearl dates from 5,800 to 5,600 BCE.

Archaeologists believe the discovery proves pearls were used in the UAE nearly 8,000 years ago and it represents the earliest known evidence for pearling yet discovered anywhere in the world.

It follows a string of discoveries on Marawah over the past few years that have revealed evidence of a sophisticated Stone Age settlement.

The pearl will now go on display at Louvre Abu Dhabi as part of the ‘10,000 Years of Luxury’ exhibition that opens on October 30. The pearl will eventually be housed at Zayed National Museum, which is being built on Saadiyat Island.

“The Abu Dhabi pearl is a stunning find, testimony to the ancient origins of our engagement with the sea,” said Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi.

“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.”

Before this discovery, the earliest known pearl in the UAE was uncovered at a Neolithic site in Umm Al Quwain and was believed to be 7,500 years old. Ancient pearls from the same time have also been found at a Neolithic cemetery close to Jebel Buhais in Sharjah. Radiocarbon dating indicates however that the Abu Dhabi pearl is older than both these.

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.

Evidence for ancient settlements on Marawah was first discovered in 1992. But archaeological excavations undertaken by DCT over the past few years have shown how a vibrant and sophisticated settlement thrived there about 8,000 years ago. Significant finds have included an imported ceramic vase, flint arrowheads and shell beads. Painted plaster vessel fragments were also discovered and represent the earliest known decorative art yet discovered in the UAE.

A major new season of archaeological excavations on Marawah Island is planned for 2020.


New article published on Neolithic fishing on Marawah Island

I have just co-authored a new publication on the Neolithic fisheries of Marawah Island. Please go ahead and read:

Lidour, K. and M.J. Beech. 2019. At the dawn of Arabian fisheries. Fishing activities of the inhabitants of the Neolithic tripartite house of Marawah Island, Abu Dhabi Emirate (United Arab Emirates). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 2019:00:1-11. Article doi: 10.1111/aae.12134


This paper presents the results of a study of nearly 8000 fish bones from MR11 Area A, a Neolithic stone‐built house located on Marawah Island, United Arab Emirates. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the site was inhabited from the first half of the 6th to the mid‐5th millennium BC, making it one of the oldest Neolithic occupation sites in the whole of the Arabian Gulf. Initial excavations between 2003 and 2004 revealed a single room and then more recent excavations in 2016–2017 uncovered two adjacent structures which proved to be a tripartite house. Examination of the fish remains from this particular site allows both a spatial and diachronic analysis. Archaeo‐ichthyological studies can determine the role of fisheries within the subsistence strategies of past societies and the fishing techniques they adopted. This study provides important evidence regarding coastal and island lifestyle during the Neolithic. It outlines the predominance of small coastal fish such as grunts, emperors, and seabreams in the faunal assemblage. It thus suggests that fishing was essentially carried out in the surrounding shallow waters where soft‐bottoms and seagrass meadows predominate. Non‐selective fishing techniques probably involved the use of small‐mesh devices such as beach seines and coastal barrier traps.

Keywords:  Ancient fishing, Arabian Gulf, archaeo‐ichthyology, Eastern Arabia, Marawah, Neolithic