All posts by beech

Head of Coastal Heritage and Palaeontology Section, Historic Environment Department, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi)

History of the Emirates Series Broadcasting Nov 24-28 2019

Image Nation Abu Dhabi are pleased to announce that the landmark documentary series History of the Emirates will be airing on all National Broadcasters in the United Arab Emirates from November 24th – 28th every evening from 9pm. 

Please find below details of the series – including broadcasters and episode synopsis. 

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New article published on Marawah excavations

A new article has just been published providing an update on our archaeological excavations at the MR11 site on Marawah Island:

Beech, M.J.,  R.T.H. Cuttler, A.K. Al Kaabi, A.A. El Faki, J. Martin, N. H. Al Hameli, H.M. Roberts, P. Spencer, D. Tomasi, O. Brunet and R. Crassard. 2019. Excavations at MR11 on Marawah Island (Abu Dhabi, UAE): new insight into the architecture and planning of Arabian Neolithic settlements and early evidence for pearling.  Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 2019. Article

In 1992, an archaeological survey of Marawah Island conducted by the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey identified two significant Neolithic settlements known as MR1 and MR11. Both sites are constructed on prominent rocky platforms located towards the western end of the island. In 2000 and 2003, small‐scale excavations took place at MR11, with the first full excavation taking place in 2004. Excavations continued at MR11 between 2014 up to 2019. Radiocarbon dating demonstrates that the site was occupied between the earliest part of the sixth millennium to the mid‐fifth millennium BC. Three areas have been so far examined. Area A—a tripartite house (2004 and 2014–2017 excavation seasons); Area B—a partial structure (in 2003 and 2017–2018); and Area C—a series of at least five rooms (in 2017–2019). The results provide a valuable new insight into the architecture and planning of Arabian Neolithic settlements in the region, as well as the earliest known evidence for pearling.

Neolithic settlement, paved hall, pearls, sixth–fifth millennium BC, stone architecture, tripartite house

The ‘Abu Dhabi Pearl’ was discovered in Room 5 of Area C at the MR11 site on Marawah island.

The Abu Dhabi Pearl: Explore an almost 8,000-year-old treasure, with a Talk, Film and VR Experience (@ Louvre Abu Dhabi, 26 November 2019)

The Abu Dhabi Pearl: Explore an almost 8,000-year-old treasure, with a Talk, Film and VR Experience

With Dr Mark Jonathan Beech, Head of Archaeology – Al Dhafra and Abu Dhabi

Tuesday 26 November 2019 – 6pm – Free admission

While excavating a stone-age village on the island of Marawah in the Western Region of the UAE, archaeologists discovered a nearly 8,000-year-old pearl, believed to be the earliest known evidence for pearling ever discovered.

Dr Mark Beech, Head of Archaeology for Al Dhafra & Abu Dhabi, Department of Culture and Tourism, will discuss the discovery of the pearl and the important history of pearling in the UAE.

To register for the talk please click here

About Dr Mark Jonathan Beech BSc. (Hons), M.A., PhD.

Dr Mark Jonathan Beech has a Bachelor of Sciences honours degree in Archaeology from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (1982-1985), a Master’s degree in Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomy from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield (1986-1987), and a Phd in Archaeology from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York (1998-2001). Dr Beech has been involved in archaeological research in the UAE for the past 25 years, being Senior Resident Archaeologist for the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey from 1994-2006, then Cultural Landscapes Manager at the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage from 2006-2012 and then Head of Coastal Heritage and Palaeontology at the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority from 2012-2017. Since 2018 he is Head of Archaeology for the Al Dhafra and Abu Dhabi Capital Area regions in the Historic Environment Department at the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi).


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


History of the Emirates – due to be broadcast in November 2019

For the first time ever, the ancient history of the United Arab Emirates is depicted in this informative and entertaining five-part documentary series. Stretching back 125,000 years and culminating in the union in 1971, HISTORY OF THE EMIRATES profiles the ancient foundations of the modern country – exploring some of the region’s most historic sites, uncovering innovations that allowed its forefathers to thrive on the land, and revealing the latest archaeological discoveries.

Utilizing state-of-the-art CGI technology, 360-degree camerawork and incredible archeological footage, the series brings to life the UAE’s past unlike anything seen about the region.

HISTORY OF THE EMIRATES will remind local viewers of the enduring ties that exist between the country’s remarkable past and its amazing present, while revealing a completely unseen civilization to viewers new to the region.


53rd Seminar for Arabian Studies – University of Leiden – 11-13 July 2019

The 53rd Seminar for Arabian Studies, organised by the International Association for the Study of Arabia (IASA), will be held at in the Lipsius Building of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands from Thursday 11th to Saturday 13th July 2019.

Click here for details of the programme.

 The Seminar for Arabian Studies is the only international forum that meets annually for the presentation of the latest academic research in the humanities on the Arabian Peninsula from the earliest times to the present day or, in the case of political and social history, to the end of the Ottoman Empire (1922). The Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies are published the following year in time for the next Seminar.

A Special Session on the Stone Tools of Prehistoric Arabia will be held at the Seminar for Arabian Studies on Friday 12th July. Focusing on patterns and changes in stone tool assemblages from Arabian prehistory, this special session will bring together lithic experts working on the Arabian Palaeolithic to provide insights from deep-time evolution and experts working on Holocene lithic assemblages providing insights from high resolution records with more details available about palaeo-environmental and chronological contexts. In doing so, the session aims at compiling an overview of spatio-temporal patterns in lithic typo-technology in Arabia. From this foundation we hope to grasp and discuss the evolution of stone tools in Arabia, possible factors behind this process and their potential implications.

I will be co-presenting a paper in this Special Session on Stone Tools of Prehistoric Arabia with Heiko Kallweit entitled:

Lithics from Delma Island excavations – remarks on the lithic assemblage from a coastal Ubaid-related settlement site, 1992-2016


An important Neolithic Ubaid-related coastal settlement site (known by the site codes DA11, DA12 or DLM0019) was first discovered on Dalma Island, Abu Dhabi emirate, UAE, in 1992 by the former Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS). The site is located at what was originally the southern tip of the island. The site was first investigated between 1992-1994 (when surface collections and limited excavations were undertaken), and then in 1998 and 2015-2016 (when more substantial excavations took place). During the course of these field campaigns a total of about 35.000 lithics were retrieved from the site which are now catalogued and archived by the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi).

The Delma Neolithic site, now re-named by the DCT site code DLM0019, comprises stratified layers of occupational remains, which have been radiocarbon dated to the late 6th millennium to mid-5th millennium BC. A natural flint source has been identified on the north-west coast of the island during the early stages of investigation in the 1990s. This provides a comparably low quality, mostly nodular flint with inclusions, fractures and mostly a thick bright coloured cortex. Unfortunately, this source has now been consumed by modern construction activities on the island.

The bulk of the lithic production on Delma appears to be of local origin, as seen by the final products and rejects or production waste recorded at the site. There only appears to be a small number of imported final products.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan visits the Sir Bani Yas Church and Monastery

On the afternoon of Monday 17th June 2019 we had the honour of a visit to the Sir Bani Yas Church and Monastery from His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Rulers’s Representative in Al Dhafra, and his two sons, HH Sheikh Hazza bin Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Sheikh Yas bin Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan. They were accompanied by Sultan Khalfan Al Rumaithi, Undersecretary of the Ruler’s Court in Al Dhafra, Ahmed Matar Al Dhaheri, Director of the Ruler’s Representative Office in Dhafrah Region and HE Mohammed Ali Al Shadi Al Mansouri, Director General of the Al Dhafra Municipality.  This visit was following the completion of conservation and enhancement work carried out at the site by the Department of Culture and Tourism.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan re-opens the Sir Bani Yas Church and Monastery

WAM Emirates News Agency – 13 June 2019

The Church and Monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island, the only early Christian site yet discovered in the UAE, has reopened its doors to visitors following the implementation of conservation measures and site enhancements by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi).

The inauguration ceremony for the site was conducted by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the Minister of Tolerance. The event was attended by Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, and Saif Saeed Ghobash, Undersecretary of DCT Abu Dhabi, as well as conservators, archaeologists, heritage experts and clerics.

The Sir Bani Yas Church and Monastery dates to the 7th and 8th centuries CE. It continued flourish well after Islam spread throughout the region.

The site was first discovered in 1992, during a survey undertaken with the permission of the late President Sheikh Zayed, when the remains of several buildings, along with pottery and plaster fragments, were found on the east of the island.

The next year, excavations were started by the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, Adias, established on the instructions of Sheikh Zayed and under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Excavation of the site took place over several seasons, unveiling the eastern and northern quarters used by the monks, the surrounding wall, as well as the central building, shown by the discovery of fine plaster crosses to be a church.

Several courtyard-type houses were also excavated nearby, as well as a water cistern, all part of the monastic settlement.

Artefacts found at the site show how the inhabitants of the settlement used the sea, in addition to cattle, sheep and goats, as food sources, while glass vessels and pottery indicate that they traded widely across the Arabian Gulf and beyond.

“The Sir Bani Yas Church and Monastery site received special attention from the founding father of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, due to the great significance and value it holds as a historic part of the UAE’s cultural heritage,” Sheikh Nahyan said.

“The late Sheikh Zayed played a key role in supporting archaeological excavations, studies and research related to history and heritage. He welcomed archaeological expeditions in the emirate and established the Al Ain Museum to display the archaeological discoveries and artefacts from these missions and provide insight into the lifestyle of those communities residing in the region before us.”

He added: “The Sir Bani Yas Church and Monastery sheds light on our cultural history, one that we can be proud of; its existence is proof of the longstanding values of tolerance and acceptance in our lands. This further emphasises the importance of cross-cultural dialogue and collaboration, as the site provides evidence of the UAE’s openness to other cultures. It is perfect timing that the inauguration of this landmark comes during the Year of Tolerance, which was marked this year by the historic visit of His Holiness Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church, to the UAE.”

Due to the great significance of the Sir Bani Yas Church and Monastery, plans to conserve the site were carried out with care soon after the first excavation ended, and in 2010 a shelter was installed over the church, while most of the monastery was reburied. Between 2015 and 2016, DCT Abu Dhabi completed its conservation programme for the site as part of a larger plan to manage the entire island. This plan provided a chance to gather data on the site and monitor its condition, as well as set policies to regulate any future excavations and research, restoration, management and conservation activities.

In 2018, DCT Abu Dhabi began the design and implementation of a new sheltering solution that would ensure optimum protection of the site’s archaeological remains from current environmental threats, minimise visual and physical impact on the archaeological remains, and enhance the visitor experience.

Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “Sheltering archaeological sites is a complex undertaking that has great implications for their conservation, presentation, interpretation, and overall management. The new shelter over the Sir Bani Yas Church and Monastery is a state-of-the-art protective measure that demonstrates DCT Abu Dhabi’s expertise in the field of heritage conservation and its commitment to the long-term protection of archaeological sites.”

The shelter design is highly specialised and meant to be flexible and reversible, while effectively protecting against rain, heat, windblown sand and nesting birds. The structure integrates a water drainage system and an elevated pathway with interpretation points to enhance visitors’ appreciation and understanding of the site. The dynamic and modular shading structure was designed so that it can be expanded in the future if new discoveries are made, while minimising visual intrusion for visitors. The roofing membrane is made of PTFE, a highly durable and breathable material that provides natural lighting and air circulation. Artificial lighting was also installed to allow night tours of the site. Other site enhancements include a new access road made of environmentally-friendly stabilised soil and a new fence designed in harmony with the site’s context to prevent roaming wildlife and windblown sand.

With the inauguration of this new shelter, sections of the monastery never seen before will now be visible to the public. These remains, mostly of the northern dormitory, provide an understanding of daily life in the monastery. All the exposed archaeological remains were stabilised, repaired, and consolidated and an ongoing programme of monitoring has been initiated.

WAM Emirates News Agency – 13 June 2019

Archaeozoology of Southwest Asia and Adjacent Areas (ASWA) – Barcelona, Spain – 3-7 June 2019

Archaeozoology of Southwest Asia and Adjacent Areas (ASWA) – Barcelona, Spain – 3-7 June 2019.

The Archaeozoology of Southwest Asia and Adjacent Areas (ASWA[AA]) Working Group was formed during the 1990 ICAZ International Conference in Washington D.C. Its purpose is to promote communication between individuals working on faunal remains from sites in western Asia and adjacent areas (e.g., northeast Africa, eastern Europe, central Asia, and south Asia). It carries out its mandate by sponsoring biennial international conferences.

The 14th ASWA Working Group meeting will be held in Barcelona, Spain, from 3-7 June 2019. I will be co-authoring and presenting the following paper

Fishing strategies and adaptation to maritime environments during the Neolithic on Marawah Island, United Arab Emirates.

Kevin Lidour & Mark Jonathan Beech

Recent excavations conducted on Marawah Island (Abu Dhabi Emirate, UAE) have revealed a unique stone-built architectural complex (site MR11) which has been radiocarbon dated to between the early 6th millennium to mid-5th millennium BC. A preliminary study of the faunal assemblage has outlined an economy principally focused toward the exploitation of marine life, including the food consumption of seashells, fish, marine turtles and marine mammals such as dugongs and dolphins. The recent discovery of stone sinkers confirms the use of fishing nets by the ancient inhabitants of the site. The assemblage consists mostly of small coastal fish such as grunts (Haemulidae), seabreams (Sparidae), emperors (Lethrinidae), silversides (Atherinidae), anchovies (Engraulidae), as well as small sharks. These are all commonly associated with shallow seagrass bed environments which are suitable for the use of non-selective fishing techniques and small-mesh devices like barrier traps and beach seines. This paper discusses the fishing strategies and techniques during the Neolithic within the Arabian Gulf, both from an archaeo-ichthyological perspective, as well as the study of fishing equipment from sites located between Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Arabian Gulf, Neolithic Archaeology, Maritime economy, Ancient Fisheries, Fishing strategies