x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The glory of Julfar, uncovered by accident

It stared with digging for a desalination plant and turned into the excavation of a mud-brick and ancient coral city that stretched five kilometres along the RAK coast.

Construction workers started out with a desalination plant and ended up by a fluke with the fabled port city of Julfar in present-day Ras Al Khaimah, birthplace of the great medieval navigator and poet Ahmad ibn Majid.

As detailed in yesterday's report, archaeologists discovered a mud-brick and ancient coral city that stretched five kilometres along the coast. Julfar was home to 50,000 to 70,000 inhabitants who thrived on a busy trade between Mesopotamia, Persia, India and China. Arab and Portuguese geographers described Julfar as a great centre for the pearl trade. Its glory days were between the 14th and 16th centuries before the port was abandoned when its creek silted over from coastal currents and the residue of three major wadis.

Coins from all over Asia, Damascene glass, Chinese and Burmese ceramics, bottles, bangles and sticks for applying kohl were uncovered during an "emergency excavation". Archaeologists are hoping to be allowed another season's dig before work on the desalination plant goes forward.

Many of the greatest archaeological sites have been uncovered by chance, proving the perennial wisdom of understanding your foundations before building upon them.