Settlement and Cementery of Umm an-Nar Island
The National Council of Tourism and Antiquities
Emirate of Abu Dhabi
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The present size and shape of the island is different from what it used to be, as it has been enlarged by land reclamation and dredging. Despite extensive land reclamation the archaeological sites are well protected and preserved. The site is fenced off by a sound concrete wall with a total length of about 1760 metres. Access to the island at the time of preparing this document is through this bridge, but still restricted to pass holders only. The archaeological area comprises a settlement and a cemetery.
The settlement which is located to the east and northeast of the cemetery in an area a few metres lower than the plateau, was divided into three main areas. Area A is the largest which seems to have been the nuclear part of the settlement and probably the earliest. Excavations at this mound revealed a well preserved house but without defining the exterior walls. Limited excavations were carried out later uncovering one large room which may well have been used as a sanctuary in addition at least ten rooms were encountered and only partly excavated.
Area B, located to the northwest of Area A, is separated by a narrow flat sabkha and only limited excavations were carried out here, uncovering the exterior walls of a house.
Area C, located at the extreme southern margin of the settlement revealed a very important building which has several large rooms and the discovery of lids for large storage jars described a ‘Ware House'. The size and regularity would also lead to think that this building must have had special importance. Perhaps it had an administrative function as well.
The structures of Umm an-Nar Island settlement were built of unshaped stones mined from the limestone plateau and the near-by areas. Indeed, the majority of the stones used in the buildings are marine rocks which must have been mined from the surrounding beaches. Walls usually consisted of two parallel rows of stones with a core, filled with smaller stones. The houses excavated on the island yielded a large collection of animal bones including marine and terrestrials. Dugong and camel bones as well as different species of fish and cormorants were common. Bones of the extinct ‘Bennu' bird which is in the classical periods known as the Bird of Phoenix were also identified among the large collection of bird bones discovered.
The excavations at the cemetery revealed multi-room circular monuments with exterior walls built of well shaped stones. Fifty stone cairns of different size have been identified on the Umm an-Nar island. These cairns contained burials of the local inhabitants of the island, the largest known community that had lived during the Bronze Age on the southern coast of the Arabian Gulf so far. The tombs are usually described as circular structures with ring walls built of carefully dressed stones (sometimes described as ‘ashlars' or ‘sugar-lump stones'), and interior walls constructed of un-worked stones. The tombs are divided into three categories of different types. The difference lies in the architecture and not in the finds discovered in them or the burial customs practiced.
Type A is the most sophisticated and considered a representative of the typical Umm an-Nar tombs. Well cut-shaped rocks and accurately curved horizontally and vertically were used to produce circular structures with original height of 2.50 - 3.50 m. These, range in diameter between 6 and 12 meters with small entrances usually with trapezoidal shapes leading to a number of chambers created by parallel and crossed walls built of unshaped stones.
Some of the stones used in the exterior walls bare animals carved in relief. These animals rendered in a realistic manner are Oryx, an indigenous animal to the region, the camel and an ox. A stone decorated with a snake may have been used as a gutter.
Types B is less sophisticated than type A, as graves belonging to this category were built of rough stones. These are much smaller in size and like Type A they are multi-chamber burials as well.
Type C tombs are different to the others, as the graves excavated of this type are single chamber burials with a ringwall made of rough stones.
According to the available evidence and the similarities in the objects discovered in the three different type of graves, the Umm an-Nar cemetery should be considered as one unit, belonging to a single period.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
Umm an-Nar is the largest site on the southern shores of the Arabian Gulf contemporary with the Sumerian and Akadian cities in Mesopotamia. It is a universally important coastal site because it is a type site with the distinctive funeral architecture and the first to have been discovered and excavated in the United Arab Emirates. Copper, diorite and perhaps a wetter climate were among other factors that led to the upsurge of the Umm an-Nar Culture and its prosperity. The necessity for copper by the ancient Mesopotamians and diorite to make statues for their kings made them trade with Dilmun and Magan.
While copper is considered the main item traded in the third millennium BC for the exchange with other items, it is worth noting that the interaction between the local cultures in the Gulf and Mesopotamia goes back at least to the fifth millennium BC.
(ii) The site of Umm an-Nar represents a unique fishing and trade post link along the southern shores of the Arabian Gulf. It is an exceptional testimony to now disappeared cultural traditions and civilization. The site must have acted as an ancient capital and harbour linking Abu Dhabi with the interior and the outside world when the copper of Magan was exported some 4000 years ago to neighbouring lands. Today, the site represents a forgotten culture that proceeded the discovery of oil several thousands of years.
(iii) Umm an-Nar shows important development of the funeral architecture and its construction technology. The development of the Hafit single chamber graves of the Early Bronze Age to sophisticated multi-chamber burials illustrates significant stage in the human history in the region. Describing it as an ancient capital of Abu Dhabi is based on its large prehistoric community, the large monumental cemeteries and the architectural remains of its settlement. The artefacts discovered, show evidence of trading networks between Arabia, Mesopotamia, Baluchistan, and the Indus Valley and beyond. The foreign elements which demonstrate the nature of trading links are of international significance as well.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The excavations carried out at the settlement of Umm an-Nar by various expeditions covers less than 20% of the site. The houses have been partly restored with little intervention, aiming at protecting draining the rain water and preserving the values of the site.
Further restorations were carried out at the settlement for the first time between 1994 and 1995. These included putting back the fallen stones on the walls of the House Complex, as well as the ware House and stabilizing them. Three tombs built of ashler stones were partly reconstructed using the same original stones, just before the foundation of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage in 2005, a team from the former department of Antiquities and Tourism had to mitigate the disturbance that happened to the interior walls of these tombs. Stones were put back on these walls without using mortar, which was the way the Iraqis reconstructed them.
The whole archaeological area of the island is fenced off with a brick wall and very well protected and monitored by two guards, resident at the site.
Comparison with other similar properties
The archaeological sites on the island of Umm an-Nar are distinctive as they represent a culture that thrived along the coast of Abu Dhabi between 2600 and 2000 BC. Umm an-Nar, indeed, remains not just a type site but a unique one. Fifty years after its principle excavations, and despite much work on other sites, notably at Tell Abraq in Sharjah-Umm al-Quwain, and kalba on the east coast south of Fujairah, Umm an-Nar remains an outstanding place of world significance for its distinctive funeral architecture and interaction with other civilizations beyond the Arabian Gulf. T is the largest site on the southern shores of the Arabian Gulf contemporary with the Sumerian and Akadian cities in Mesopotamia.
Comparison can be made in the interior of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi with the contemporaneous sites at Hili, as well as with Bat in Oman.