Ancient settlements detected at Dalma Island and Al Khan

Image technology used at Dalma Islamd and Al Khan maps houses and possible roads and finds life was not dissimilar to modern times.

Matt Brewer, a research scholar from the UK's University of Southampton, maps the underground for possible materials or objects, at the Al Khan archaeological site in Sharjah.
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SHARJAH // Archaeologists have discovered the buried remains of neolithic, medieval and later structures at two sites using sophisticated imaging technology.

The group from the UK's University of Southampton spent the past two weeks examining coastal sites on Dalma Island in Al Gharbia and Al Khan in Sharjah, and said neolithic man was not as different from people today as one might think.

"For thousands of years people were probably just hauling their fishing boats up with their catch and having a barbecue - right the way from the neolithic to, presumably, last week," said Kristian Strutt, a geophysics researcher on the team.

"The project is part of a larger one that is concerned with the UAE's coastal heritage," said Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, director general of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach). "It is aimed mainly at developing public awareness of its conservation and preservation, characterising historic waterfronts and comparing a number of settlements of the Islamic era within the UAE."

On Dalma, evidence of large buildings found around a cemetery may date as far back as the middle Islamic era (1000-1250) and the late Islamic era (1500-1800) - the same periods to which pottery found during previous archaeological surveys was dated.

The team's geophysical survey also identified the remains of buildings beneath farms, some of which formed part of an old souq.

Radiocarbon dating of the Ubaid site at Dalma has shown it was occupied from 5500BC to 4500BC, and the latest survey has noted the presence of pits and postholes, representing a possible extension of the important neolithic site discovered there previously.

Mohammed Amer Al Neyadi, director of the historic environment department at Adach, said: "The information gathered during the survey provides a wider historical and archaeological picture of Dalma Island."

Meanwhile, at the Sharjah site, the team picked up traces of 20 houses and located distinctive lines that may be significant.

Mr Strutt explained: "We've found the remains of houses and courtyards over most of the area in Al Khan, and we're getting strange alignments of features that are suggestive of roads or trackways."

Al Khan is an abandoned fishing village in the south of the emirate, and though some of the old coral stone houses are still standing, many have disappeared since their inhabitants left in the 1960s.

The group used two types of technology - ground penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry - to search for the buried remains of human history.

GPR fires electromagnetic radio waves into the ground and detects them when they are reflected back off objects and structures, allowing the operator to build up images of what lies beneath the surface at different levels.

A magnetometer detects objects underground by sensing the magnetic fields they generate. Unlike GPR, it shows only the first objects or structures it hits, rather than revealing the underlying layers.

"At Al Khan we were trying to see if the different geophysical equipment could give us an idea of previous alignments of buildings and settlements and earlier occupations," said Dr Lucy Blue, a maritime archaeologist from the University of Southampton. "Our aim was to produce a geophysical survey, a map, of the whole area."

Dr Blue said the nature of the area had presented several challenges to the team.

"There has been such a huge amount of disturbance and there are a lot of metal bits hanging around and the magnetometry responds to everything that's metal, so that hasn't produced the perfect plan," she said.

"The GPR we use is a much slower machine but you can get a nuanced sequence, so it's not what the machine hits first, it actually gives you depth."

Further findings are likely to emerge as the researchers analyse the data back in England.

"Earlier structures were made of bulrushes and reeds, and there is potential to pick up more ephemeral features that existed before the more substantial houses made from coral stone and shell stone," added Mr Strutt.

The surveys were organised by the Maritime Archaeology Stewardship Trust, which promotes maritime archaeology across the Arab world. The trust, which is directed by Dr Blue, collaborated with Adach and Sharjah's Directorate of Heritage.