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A group of archeologists in the United Arab Emirates said Monday that they’ve found what they believe to be the oldest pearling town in the Persian Gulf on Sinniyah Island, just east of the Umm al-Quwain emirate.
The 12-hectare (30-acre) town functioned between the late 6th and mid-8th centuries, predating the Islamic civilization, according to the Umm al-Quwain Department of Tourism and Archeology.
The researchers’ findings reveal the town to be one of the “largest surviving urbanized settlements ever found” in what is today the UAE, and it is believed to have housed thousands of residents, many of whom relied on the pearling industry. The community’s houses were built from local beach rocks and materials from the surrounding environment, and their roofs were made of palm trunks.
While other pearling settlements are known to have existed in the region, this one is particularly unique, said Timothy Power, associate professor of archaeology at the United Arab Emirates University. Not only because of the community’s age and size, but also because it was not seasonal — it operated year-round, he said.
“This is a different order of settlements, this is a proper town,” Power, who was part of the team that made the discovery, told CNN, adding that the community was densely populated with a range of housing types, and included various socioeconomic groups.
Residents of the town were likely Christian, as the settlement is located near an ancient Christian monastery that was discovered just last year, Power said.
The practice of pearling, which involves divers recovering pearls from oysters or mussels found in seas and lakes, has been part of the region’s heritage for more than 7,000 years, according to the Umm al-Quwain Department of Tourism.
“We know from historical clauses that there were other important pearling markets in this period,” Power said, but it was clear that pearling was a key industry for the newly discovered town.
At peak times for the pearling market, huge numbers of people were involved in the industry, Power said. In neighboring Abu Dhabi, he added, almost two-thirds of the male population was involved in pearling in the 19th century.
Top image: Sinniyah Island in the emirate of Umm al-Quwain in the United Arab Emirates is where archeologists say they’ve found the oldest pearling town in the Persian Gulf.