Archaeology: excavating a national identity in the UAE

A. Tomb 1 (4 men) and Tomb 2 above (1 man). 7500 years oldThe bodies in the grave unearthed by Sophie Mery’s archaeological team in Umm Al Quwain may be the product of extreme violence, but thanks to the grave’s age and the way that its contents were ritualised, that burial place of four men has become an object of rare beauty and enlightenment.

The grave was discovered in 2013 at an existing archaeological site called Umm Al Quwain 2 (UAQ2), which sits on the edge of a lagoon close to the busy E11 road that now links Dubai with the northern emirates.

The earliest finds uncovered at UAQ2 date to the 6th millennium BC, which make the site the oldest Neolithic coastal settlement to have been discovered on the southern shores of the Arabian Gulf. It was among the oldest layers that Ms Mery’s team made their remarkable discovery.

In a pose reminiscent of an Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic motion study, the bodies in the grave lie united in a chain of death.

Four of the bodies lie carefully arranged on their sides, tucked together as if in sleep, with the right arm of each resting on the body in front of it. A fifth body also lies in the pit, nearby but apart from the others, resting a more foetal position.

Ms Mery believes the young men, who are believed to have been in their early 20s, died as a result of conflict and were buried together in what must have been a purpose-built pit tomb.

“It’s what we call a multiple grave. From the time of the death and interment of the first and fourth persons in the tomb, there was no more than a week,” explains Ms Mery, an archaeologist who is also the director of the French archaeological mission to the UAE.

For more on this story, visit The National


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