Umm Al Quwain: In a fascinating revelation on Monday, the emirate of Umm al Quwain Emirate announced that it has a history that dates back to at least 700 years.
New archaeological research on the island of Al Sinniyah has identified two coastal settlements on Al Sinniyah, opposite the twon that stands today. The oldest of these settlements dates back to the 13th or 14th Century.
The research has been led by Sheikh Majid bin Saud Al Mualla, Head of the Tourism and Archaeology Department at Umm Al-Quwain, which was previously thought to have developed around the fort established by Sheikh Rashid bin Majid Al Mualla in 1768.
The new discoveries, therefore, push back the history of settlement by as many as 500 years.
“I am delighted by these discoveries,” Sheikh Majid said. “We knew that the Al Mualla family first established itself in the area of the present-day Umm Al Quwain around 250 years ago. These new findings on Al Sinniyah add another 500 years to the history of our emirate.”
Al Sinniyah Island is situated between the peninsula of Umm Al-Quwain and the Gulf Coast of the emirates, protecting the Khor Al Beida lagoon. This mangrove-fringed lagoon is the best surviving example of its type in the northern emirates. Around its shores is evidence of occupation over a period of at least 6,000 years, including sites from the Neolithic and Bronze Age, as well as the major site of Ed-Dur, a port settlement that traded with the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago.
Sheikh Majid has assembled a team from leading institutions to ensure that the work conforms to international best practices. These include the UAE University, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University and a specially-created Italian Archaeological Mission.
The work is supported by the Ministry of Culture and Youth, a reflection both of the outstanding cultural significance of the archaeology of Al Sinniyah island, and the commitment of the UAE to protect and promote its heritage.
Two historic settlements
The recent archaeological work on Al Sinniyah island has identified two neighbouring historic settlements. They are characterised by low mounds covered by pot sherds, representing the remains of collapsed stone buildings or oyster shell middens (rubbish heaps).
The first town flourished between the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. It can be dated by the presence of green-glazed pottery exported from China under the late Yuan and early Ming dynasties. This settlement is contemporary with the peak of Julfar in Ras Al Khaimah, the leading pearling centre of the Lower Gulf during the later Middle Ages.
This first settlement is the larger of the two recently identified on Al Sinniyah island. It seems to have had an urbanised core of stone buildings surrounded by suburbs of palm-frond houses. A large oyster shell midden was found to the west of the settlement, pointing to the importance of the pre-modern pearling industry.
Occupation subsequently shifted to another area nearby, with this new second settlement then flourishing from the early 17th to early 19th century. The occupation was marked by the presence of blue-and-white porcelain exported from China during the late Ming and early Ching dynasties. This included possible Kraak and Batavian ware. This settlement was probably established around the time Julfar declined, as part of a decentralisation of the early modern pearling industry.
Interestingly, the oyster shell middens next to the second settlement are much larger than those of the first. This may reflect the progressive erosion of the earlier middens. But it might alternatively reflect the tremendous growth of the pearling industry that began in the 18th century. This pearling boom was fundamentally important to the emergence of the emirates.
This second town was destroyed on January 18, 1820 by a naval squadron despatched to the Arabian Gulf by the British East India Company to deal with the issue of “piracy”. A rare coin of Sheikh Sultan Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, ruler of Ras Al Khaimah and the great grandfather of Sheikh Majid Bin Saud Al Mualla, Chairman of the Department of Tourism and Archaeology, has been discovered on the site. He signed the General Maritime Treaty of 1820 that brought hostilities to a close and laid the foundation for the modern United Arab Emirates.
The ruins of the second town were described by a British naval survey in 1822, that noted that it had been abandoned in favour of the present site of Umm Al Quwain town, situated on the mainland immediately opposite Al Sinniyah island. This constitutes the third town, which prospered between the 19th and mid-20th century, before the focus of settlement once more shifted, this time to the extensive suburbs of the modern city.
The three historic towns of Umm Al Quwain can now be shown to belong to a single occupational sequence lasting from the 13th or 14th century to the present day. This sequence is exceptional, since the archaeological remains of the historic towns of the Gulf Coast of the emirates have been obscured by massive modern development.
Archaeological excavation of the first and second towns of Umm Al Quwain will continue over the winter months under the leadership of Sheikh Majid bin Saud Al Mualla. The work will focus on finding the public buildings - forts and mosques - at the heart of the historic community. These will ultimately be opened to the public, who will be invited to explore the remarkable history of Umm Al Quwain that is now emerging.
The leadership seeks to build a system of new projects in Al Sinniyah Island in order to preserve what the ancestors left behind, which will contribute to achieving ambitions and to create a promising future for the coming generations, and to achieve significant growth in tourism, as well as economic and social development in the emirate.