Ancient ‘house for the dead’ unearthed on UAE’s Marawah Island

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ABU DHABI // The skeleton of one of Abu Dhabi’s earliest inhabitants has been uncovered on Marawah Island in what historians believe was a “house for the dead”.

An archaeological dig on the Western Region island, about 100 kilometres west of Abu Dhabi city, has also revealed the first use of stone-built architecture in the Arabian Gulf, dating back 7,500 years, the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA) said on Thursday.

“This partial skeleton was inserted into one of the already semi-collapsed rooms of the house, indicating that the structure had originally been used as a house for the living, and then later as a ‘house for the dead’,” said Mohammed Al Neyadi, director of the TCA historic environment department.

This form of human preservation is typical of other Late Stone Age burials, such as those from Jebel Buhais in Sharjah.

Abdulla Al Kaabi, a coastal heritage archaeologist, was responsible for the initial discovery and excavation of the skeleton.

“I had to clean very carefully around the human bones as they were extremely fragile after being in the ground for more than 7,000 years. We had to treat the bones with Paraloid B72, a special consolidant, to strengthen them before we were able to lift them,” said Mr Al Kaabi.

The skeleton, he said, was found in a crouched position on its side with its head facing east.

Findings from the excavated Stone Age Villages, known as MR I and MR II, gave insight into the lifestyles of ancestral Arabs in the Late Stone Age, at a time when region’s environment was wetter and more conducive to life.

The digs provided a first glimpse into life during the Late Stone Age in the Western Region, said Dr Mark Beech, director of the archaeological project on Marawah Island.

The climate was better then than it is today, Dr Beech said. More rainfall meant a greener landscape and more trees.

“During this time, there were freshwater lakes and more to hunt,” he said.

The civilisation from which these villages were built, he said, were not primitive by any means. The excavations showed signs that they were developed enough to have livestock and a more sedentary lifestyle.

Using the latest technology was key in unearthing findings about the civilisations that occupied the region thousands of years ago, Dr Beech said.

“The latest phase of our work on Marawah Island has concentrated on the investigation of the earliest known settlements in Abu Dhabi, namely the Late Stone Age settlements,” he said.

Perhaps the most interesting tools found include a large flint spear, which archaeologists believed may have been used for hunting dugongs or turtles.

The skeletal remains will be examined by experts to determine more about the people.

Other finds discovered within the house included shell and stone beads, stone tools and more than 200 flint arrowheads.

“There’s still a lot to be discovered. This is probably only about 5 per cent of the whole village,” said Dr Beech.

“This is a spectacular discovery. There is nothing like it in the Gulf region, and it’s been very well preserved.”