Dubai: If you think Dubai became a centre of trade in the region only after the development of the Dubai Creek, you are mistaken. There is now evidence that the emirate had strong trade links with Egypt to the Indian subcontinent even 4000 years ago.

The findings from the Saruq Al Hadid archeological site, which tell the oldest history of Dubai discovered so far, have helped archeologists map the trading links that existed between Dubai and other countries in the region during the Iron Age.

The ancient trade map displayed at the temporary museum in Shindagha Heritage Village showcases almost 900 objects discovered from the Saruq Al Hadid archeological site.

The ancient trade map is displayed at the newly opened temporary museum in Shindagha Heritage Village that showcases almost 900 objects discovered from the site.

Saruq Al Hadid lies in the middle of Rub Al Khali desert, some 70km south of Dubai towards the border with Abu Dhabi. But it was well placed to access the major trade routes of the ancient Middle East because it sat at a crossroads on the sea and land routes between Egypt, India, Mesopotamia and Oman.

Rashad Bukhash, the director of Architectural Heritage Department at Dubai Municipality which supervises the archeological site and the museum, told Gulf News that the discoveries from Saruq Al Hadid have so far showed Dubai’s long-distance trade links with Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Oman, Bahrain, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Many objects excavated from the site have features that are seen in objects made far from Saruq Al Hadid. This suggests that Saruq Al Hadid must have had some kind of trading connection with these distant cultures, cementing the proof for Dubai’s role as a centre of trade and civilisation in the Arabian Peninsula during that era.

Incense burners found at the site. Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News

“It was a central city which traded in different metals, precious stones and pottery,” said Bukhash.

“Many things were brought from outside while many things were manufactured here and exported from Dubai to different parts of the world.”

Bukhash said Saruq Al Hadid was a place “where all different things were coming and going through…”

“It shows the age-old tradition of Dubai being a hub for trade even in those days.”

A storage jar with snake decorations. Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News

What are the discoveries that lead us to believe this?

In olden times, Bukhash noted, people used seals/stamps for making impressions in stones, clay or wax to show the country of origin of goods when they were traded with other countries. Such seals from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Dilmun in modern Bahrain have been recovered from Saruq Al Hadid.

Archeologists have a catalogue showing stamps used during the times of different pharaohs in Egypt. “Each pharaoh had his own stamp … The ones which we found from Saruq Al Hadid are from the pharaoh called Thutmose III [the sixth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty] who lived in the same period of Saruq Al Hadid civilisation.”

An incense burner with feet in the shape of bull hooves shows links between the Arabian Peninsula and Mesopotamia at that time since it is an ancient artistic tradition that originated over 4000 years ago in northern Mesopotamia.

This delicately decorated shell disc may have been used as a form of jewellery. Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News

The decorative styles and shapes of pottery vessels have provided clues about the site’s trading links and outside cultural influences. The designs of some of the vessels show influences from Mesopotamia, Dilmun and other regions that were important when Saruq Al Hadid civilisation was at its peak.

Precious stones and beads that were prevalent in ancient India, Afghanistan, Iran, and Yemen have also been found at the site.

The objects made from olive wood, it is believed, might have been imported from the eastern Mediterranean region. “They could have been imported from Syria,” said Bukhash.

The presence of gold threads from the site indicates that gold ornaments and artefacts were manufactured in Saruq Al Hadid and probably exported to different places. Archeologists working in Sharjah’s Maliha site have found gold ornaments similar to those manufactured at this site.

“But from where did they bring the gold threads found on the site … from Oman, Saudi Arabia or Yemen? It is not exactly clear,” said Bukhash.

Shatha Al Mulla, project engineer of the Saruq Al Hadid museum, said the source of raw materials for many metals is believed to be Al Hajar Mountains in Oman.

“They (people of Saruq Al Hadid) also could be linked to agricultural land from these mountains of Oman. That is where you could find a lot of soil suitable for cultivation,” said Al Mulla, an architect with the department.

However, what exactly were the means of their transportation is not yet clear.

“The camel bones are evidence that domesticated camels were present at the site and they were probably used for trade as well,” said Al Mulla.

She said the presence of fish bones shows that fish were brought from the coast, proving that this place had links with the sea. “But we have not yet got any evidence for their use of boats or dhows. It is still a mystery.”

Further excavations and research at the site are likely to throw more light on these aspects.


Top 15 mysteries about Iron Age Dubai

While the Saruq Al Hadid archeological site has shed light on the Iron Age civilisation in Dubai, there are many mysteries surrounding the discoveries from the site which may or may not be answered with further research. Here are the top 15.


1. Who were these people? What were there tribe, language and religion?


2. Why did they live in the middle of the desert, not very close to the sea or mountains like in many ancient civilisations?


3. How was their daily life? What did they use to eat and wear?


4. Where were they living and where were they buried?


5. From where and how were they getting metals like bronze, iron and gold?


6. What exactly were their modes of long-distance transportation? Apart from camels, did they use boats or anything else?


7. What is the mystery of the snakes? Were they worshipping the snakes? Was it holy for them? Why are they seen in many objects?


8. What is the secret of six-headed stars in decorated shells and other objects?


9. What were the huge metal anklets used for? Were they used for camels as ornaments or for restricting their movement during long-distance journeys?


10. Why did they use two metals in making some daggers with handle from bronze and body from iron?


11. Where did the objects made of olive wood come from? Were they imported from Syria or were they growing olive trees here?


12. What were the gold rings that inspired the new Dubai Expo 2020 logo used for? Were they part of any ornaments or were they buttons in the clothes of any rich or ruling person?


13. What were the small metal human figurines used for? Were they toys for children, or as charms? Or were they simply objects made by metalworkers in an idle moment?


14. What was inside the huge pots? Were they used as decorative pieces or for storing water or oil?


15. How did the civilisation end? When was the last time they were there? Why did they disappear from the site?