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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

The stone circles that tell 8,000 stories

Discovery of an ancient Neolithic village in Abu Dhabi speaks of a rich trading past

Computer reconstruction of the village of Marawah 8,000 years ago / Image Nation Abu Dhabi
Computer reconstruction of the village of Marawah 8,000 years ago / Image Nation Abu Dhabi

Thousands of years ago, the now arid desert plains of the UAE were verdant and filled with an abundance of grassland with lakes dotted about.

Little wonder, then, that the region’s Neolithic ancestors 8,000 years ago decided to settle on the island of Marawah just off the coast of Abu Dhabi, leaving traces that have led to the most exciting archaeological discovery for years.

For instead of wandering as nomads, the remnants they left behind are thought to be the oldest signs of civilisation discovered in what is now the UAE.

The foundations on Marawah suggest up to 10 surprisingly sophisticated houses forming a village, which have been painstakingly reconstructed digitally to show what life must have been like eight millennia ago.

Each of the houses contained several rooms and yards outside to keep sheep and goats and work is underway to piece together how they lived and survived to add a vital and intriguing piece to the jigsaw, which, piece by piece, is giving a vivid picture of a history that pre-dates what most might have thought existed here.

Crucially, it connects the dots in a narrative of civilisations over centuries and thousands of miles, one which stretches all the way from India via Middle Eastern silk and spice routes to the West.

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The discovery shows Abu Dhabi formed part of a rich superhighway for goods, an essential stop-off on the route to prosperity.

Archaeologists will now feed their findings into a wider story – one which also takes in the 1,400-year-old pre-Islamic monastery and church discovered on Sir Bani Yas island, the 7,000-year-old Mesopotamian-style pottery previously found on Marawah and the mud and clay homes from the Abbasid period uncovered in Al Ain.

They speak to thousands of years of global trade and civilisation in the Arabian Gulf, a meandering route that brings us all the way, today, to the portals of Louvre Abu Dhabi, which currently holds a delicate ceramic jar, the oldest known evidence of porcelain trade in the UAE.

It is incredible that the team of archaeologists at the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi are still making these discoveries but they tell us what many might not realise – that the story of the emirate as a flourishing global port is not one of overnight success but a trail which goes back millennia.