Mleiha 3 - Umm an-Nar Tomb

Close to the Mleiha Archaeological Centre lies the Umm an-Nar tomb, which is considered to be the most impressive grave building among the many ancient funeral sites in the Mleiha area.  Constructed around 2300 BCE, the burial site was used for approximately 200 years.

Measuring in at a huge 13.85m in diameter, this circular Bronze Age grave is one of the largest from the Umm an-Nar period throughout the whole of the UAE. The grave chamber is separated into an eastern and western half, each then further sub-divided into four units with doorways connecting one chamber to another.

The discovery of a single well-shaped rectangular stone block (typical of the tomb buildings of the Umm an-Nar Early Bronze Age culture) provided the clue to the grave’s discovery. The find prompted further excavation and lead to the entire grave site being uncovered by the team at the Sharjah Directorate of Antiquities. Subsequent discoveries include a well-shaped stone gutter which is thought to be used to drain rainwater. Other original stones from the grave walls were also found in the surrounding palm gardens and were later used to partially reconstruct the grave.

Unfortunately the site has been looted by grave robbers who also caused significant disturbance to the skeletons there.  Despite this, archaeologists have been able to uncover six adult human skeletons as well as a number of personal adornments including necklaces, bracelets, beads, copper pins, rings, tools and weapons.  These remaining findings suggest the people buried at Umm an-Nar had connections to Mesopotamia and the whole Gulf region. Furthermore, these discoveries offer us a wealth of information about the complex funeral rites of people during this period:  For example, showing that the deceased were buried in a flexed position with the hands raised to the face.

Bronze Age Tombs at Jebel Faya

Journey along the main road towards the Jebel Faya site and you will discover a complex of three Bronze Age tombs.  

Named FAY-NE 20, 21 and 22, these sites were excavated in 2005 by the expert team at The Sharjah Directorate of Antiquities.  Each of the three tombs were constructed during different phases of the Bronze Age.

Tomb FAY-NE 20

FAYE-NE 20 is the largest of the three tombs at Jebel Faya measuring 6.9m x 6.2m on the inside. The tomb is entered from the south via a doorway bordered by large, vertical slabs.  This leads to the grave chamber which comprises three narrow compartments separated by stone walls.

Almost square in design, the tomb features thick walls between 1.3m and 1.4m that are constructed from various stones which would have been taken from the nearby slopes of Jebel Faya. 

Unfortunately, the tomb has been heavily looted throughout the ages but there a number of remaining finds have helped to date the tomb.

Archaeologists discovered a small number of highly-fragmented human bones, some shards of ‘Wadi Suq’ pottery, bronze items and personal adornments including a small collection of beads which indicated the grave was used during the first half of the second millennium BCE.

Tomb FAY-NE 21

The second of the tombs at Jebel Faya is Tomb FAY-NE 21, which is located 6m west of FAY-NE 20. Measuring 5.8m in diameter, this circular grave was partly constructed of ashlars but has largely been destroyed by significant looting over the years.  The only remaining construction is the lowest stone ring where a partition wall divides the burial chamber into two equal halves.

No human remains have been preserved at FAY-NE 21, however other finds at the site have allowed archaeologists to date the tomb:  A small amount of pottery was found, including a small jar with squat shoulder, short neck and flared rim.  

Excavations also uncovered a large collection of personal adornments which, combined with the architecture of the tomb, help to date it to the Umm an-Nar period of the Bronze Age (2500 - 2000 BCE).  

Together with the large Umm an-Nar grave, tomb FAY-NE 21 indicates there was an Early Bronze Age settlement in the area.  This is particularly important as up until this discovery there had been no trace of such a settlement.

Tomb FAY-NE 22

The final of the three tombs at Jabel Faya is Tomb FAY-NE 22.  Located 50m to the south of the two other tombs, this small circular semi-subterranean burial chamber measures 3.8m in diameter.  The tomb is accessed via an entrance on the middle of the eastern side with two stone steps leading down to the burial chamber itself. 

Although no human remains were discovered in FAY-NE 22, a number of funerary items were found, including two-socketed spear heads, bronze daggers and a copper razor.

These finds, in particular the bronze items, helped date the burial site to the Wadi-Suq phase of the Bronze Age, during the first half of the second millennium BCE.

The Stone-Age sites at Jebel Faya

Jebel Faya is also home to a number of Stone-Age sites, including FAY-NE 1, 9, 11, 10 and 15.

FAY-NE15

This Neolithic site is located at the entrance to the first large wadi which comes down near the northern end of Jebel Faya. Originally discovered in the 1980s by a group of French archaeologists, the site was previously called P15.  However, in 2005, heavy rains caused flooding of the area which revealed Neolithic burials at the northern edge of the site.  The archaeological team of the Sharjah Directorate of Antiquities spotted these and subsequently began excavating the area.  Their investigations have since shown the site comprised both a graveyard and a settlement area.  

Unfortunately, flooding similar to that which lead to the discovery of the site, has damaged FAY-NE15 in the past, particularly the graveyard.  However the site still provided many interesting finds:  It showed that people tended to be buried in single or multiple pits and were richly adorned with necklaces, bracelets, anklets and belts, particularly at the skull and pelvis.  Beads made of marine snails were the most common adornments, but pearls and pendants made of soft-stone and Dugong ivory were also found.  

Luckily the living area was better preserved and also contained many finds from the Neolithic period. Radiocarbon dating pinpointed the site to having been formed between 4800 and 4200 BCE.  FAY-NE15 is similar to other Neolithic sites from the fifth millennium BCE in that its graveyard is located close to the living area. 

FAY-NE15 also offers up much information about how early Stone Age people came to settle in this specific area and their way of life:  White calcareous crusts indicate traces of limescale, revealing there was once a spring at the site (thanks to the Neolithic period’s more humid climate) and it is an area with excellent raw materials for making stone tools. 

The north-eastern slope of Jebel Faya is an important source of flint and even today is still a flint knapping area. It is likely that the FAY-NE15 site was abandoned when the climate became drier towards the end of the fifth millennium BCE, when it would have become difficult for settlers there to find water and pasture.  Life in Neolithic times was heavily dependent upon animal husbandry so when excavations at FAY-NE15 revealed animal bones from cattle, sheep and dogs, it provided further evidence to date the site to this era.  Excavation of the settlement area revealed many fireplaces.  This is to be expected as the FAY-NE15 people did not use pottery for cooking but instead barbecued meat. 

People did not cultivate plants in Neolithic times so instead supplemented their diet with wild plants.  It is therefore exciting to note that many palm phytoliths were found in the Neolithic layers of FAY-NE15. Phytoliths are mineral inclusions in the leaves of some plants which are preserved in the soil when the plant has decayed.  Their discovery in FAY-NE15 is proof that there were palm trees near the site. Although it is unclear if these would have been from the Date palm or the Mazari palm, both have edible fruits and would have been important for the subsistence of the Neolithic inhabitants of the area.

FAY-NE10

A small cave located 200m above sea level on the north-eastern slope of Jebel Faya, around 300m south-west of FAY-NE15. Initial exploration of the site uncovered around 1m of sediment which contained Iron and Bronze Age finds, including a human skeleton.  Later excavation revealed that FAY-NE10 was also used by Neolithic people from the early seventh into the fifth millennium BCE.

The area surrounding FAY-NE10 is a rich source of good flint which would have been used heavily by Stone Age inhabitants.  There are a large number of waste flakes, providing evidence that flint tools were manufactured in the cave between 5300 and 4700 BCE.  

Numerous small white fragments of burnt human bone were also found at FAY-NE10.  These are the oldest human remains found in south-east Arabia to date and represent a phase of the Middle Neolithic Age for which no other types of burial have yet been documented.

Given there were no traces of fire in the same layers of the cave in which the bone fragments were found, it is likely that the deceased were cremated elsewhere and their ashes later brought to the small cave. 

 

Detailed examination of the bone splinters revealed they were from people older than 40 but less than 60 years old at the time of death.  

FAY-NE10 has also provided the earliest evidence of an animal-herding economy in South East Arabia, showing that animal husbandry was already practiced around 6000 BCE.  These finds include flint artefacts such as a trihedral arrowhead and beads made from marine snail shells as well as a fragment of a sheep tooth and a larger broken bone, probably from cattle.  

In the lowermost part of the cave, evidence of flint industry was discovered, charaterized by large and crude artefacts.  Radiocarbon dating shows these were from around 7300 years BCE, thus representing a previously unknown part of the Neolithic period in South East Arabia.

FAY-NE10 is closed to the public because there is a danger of it collapsing but a viewing platform provides a good view of the site. 

Unfortunately FAY-NE9 and FAY-NE11 cannot be entered by guests as there is a high danger of getting stuck or being injured by sharp rocks.  However, a viewing platform provides a good view of both sites.

FAY-NE1

A hugely important archaeological site as it provides valuable information on the early history of mankind.  At present it is the earliest site outside of Africa where stone tools produced by ‘Anatomically Modern Humans’ (AMH) have been found.  The tools found at FAY-NE1 were made 130,000 years ago, indicating that AMH had left East Africa earlier than previously thought.  

Findings from FAY-NE1 suggest early humans crossed the southern Red Sea where, at that time, the distance between East Africa and South Arabia was narrow enough to be covered in a simple boat or raft.  From modern-day Yemen, AMH spread through the Arabian coastlands of the Indian Ocean, including north and eastern parts of Oman and coastal and mountainous areas of the Emirates.  It is thought settlers would have been attracted to Jebel Faya because of its rich flint resources, from which the Stone Age people made their tools.  

It appears that Neolithic people did not live at the FAY-NE1 site continuously.  Instead it is thought that the site’s overhanging rock would have been used by early humans as shelter, allowing families to stay here for some time while they produced new spearheads, knives and other tools.  We know this as remnants of such activities were found in the layers of earth just in front of the rock shelter.

 

Apart from the exciting information FAY-NE1 gives us about AMH, the site also suggests human settlers came here even earlier thanks to the discovery of a number of stone artefacts.  These findings have not yet been studied and so we cannot say for certain which humans produced these objects.  This does not however stop us from being certain that human history started many thousands of years ago.  

Sporadic finds of Bronze and Iron Age pot-shards indicate that the site was visited by people during these periods as well, however it is not thought that it was inhabited permanently during this time. There is also evidence of a blacksmith workshop which can be dated to the Late Pre-Islamic period.  

FAY-NE1 is located around 500m south of FAY-NE15.  The site is fenced off and surrounded by a stone wall, built from materials unearthed during excavations.  Guests cannot enter the walled area due to the deep excavation trenches at the site.  

MLH-CW 

The archaeological abbreviation given to the Mleiha Fort, the landmark of the ancient city which is visible from the Mleiha-Madam road.  The site was first discovered in 1990 during digging to create trenches for a water pipeline installation.  Before excavation the fort had been hidden under a road’s embankments.  

His Highness Skeikh Dr Sultan Bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, ordered a detour of the road so that the building could be completely excavated.  In 2004 the walls of the fort were restored and then protected with layers of new sun-baked mud bricks made of local clay to prevent further decay.  A roof has also been added to the site, providing shade and protecting the area from erosion that could be caused by torrential rain.  

The original fort was constructed during the last phase of the ancient city of Mleiha, sometime between the mid-2nd century and the end of the 3rd century CE.  It was probably the residence of an important leader or ruler given its architectural layout.  This theory is further supported by many of the site’s excavated finds which suggest its inhabitants enjoyed significant power and wealth, accumulated through long-distance trade and local production.  Similar to the Palace (MLH-8), which was occupied around the same time, it looks as though the people living at the fort were forced to leave following a violent and/or dramatic event which led them to abandon the site in a hurry.       

Nearly square, the fort measures around 56.11m x 51.77m and is built of mud-brick, with thick fortification walls.  Archaeologists think the building may have had an upper storey where the living quarters would have been.  There are towers at each corner and in the middle of each side of the fort, with the central tower on the eastern side forming the entrance to the building.   

Interior rooms along the western, southern and eastern sides were probably used for storage and for crafts.  We know this because excavation revealed storage jars of different types and sizes as well as evidence of iron and bronze metal work, giving an important indication as to the fort’s economic function.  Workshops for ivory, bone, mother of pearl, bitumen and rope could also be identified.  Rooms were built against the fortification wall with space left for a large courtyard, onto which they all opened.  

Along the northern wall lie four groups of smaller rooms in two rows.  Ovens, fireplaces, ashes, organic remains, animal bones and large amounts of pottery suggest these rooms were used as kitchens and for other domestic activities.  Also found here were luxury goods which it is thought fell from the upper floor when the building collapsed.  These finds included glass and soft-stone vessels, alabaster vases, bronze bowls, beads, fragments of ivory, coins and figurines.  The discovery of three fragments of coin moulds was particularly significant:  It indicates the high political ranking of the ruler who lived at the Mleiha Fort as only a sovereign over an economically-powerful realm would have had the right to mint and issue coins.

The famous Horse with the Golden Disks was discovered in the corridor to this grave site.  To date, this has been the most valuable finds from the entire Mleiha site as it was one of the first to display traits of the famous breed of Arabian horse.  The camels buried at this site were a hybrid between a dromedary and a two-humped camel, known for their superior strength.   

MLH-4

A large complex, built of mud-brick walls, situated 250m south-east of the Mleiha fort. The site was partially reconstructed and covers a total area of 35m x 25m.  At first glance it appears to be a single large building but in fact MLH-4 comprises five residential units with separate entrances. Each of the five units at MLH-4 contains a number of different sized rooms.  

Building Unit No.1
This unit lies on the north-eastern side of the complex and houses six rooms. The entrance leads to a large rectangular shaped room with two oven structures dug into the floor. Excavation of the unit revealed evidence of pottery shards and grinding stones.  

Building Unit No.2
This unit lies on the north-western side of the complex and contains six rooms. An entrance on the western side gives access to a large room.  A small grave was found in one of the unit’s rooms although this was empty and appears to belong to a later period. 

Building Unit No.3
This unit is located immediately adjacent to the south and west of units No.1 and No.2 respectively and comprises four rooms in total. Access is provided via an entrance on the western side.  One of the large rectangular rooms contains a large oval basin and the skeleton of a small child.  Another room is thought to have served as a kitchen as it contains evidence of two ovens.

Building Unit No.4
This unit is located at the southern side of the complex and comprises four large and five small rooms. Access is provided via an entrance on the northern wall.  

An infant skeleton was found in a good state of preservation in a shallow pit grave in the upper fill of room 28 of this unit. The infant was adorned with a necklace made of various stone beads including etched carnelian. The grave was able to be dated to 27-78 CE thanks to a piece of charcoal from the grave fill.  On the whole, excavated tombs at Mleiha have not contained human skeletal remains, which is why the infant skeleton found here is so interesting.

Building Unit No.5
This unit is located on the south-western corner of the complex and comprises eight rooms of various shapes and dimensions. The largest room was found to contain a large number of pottery shards and grinding stones.  

Objects found in these units suggest the whole building was used for domestic purposes.  Excavation uncovered a large number of pottery shards as well as some jars but perhaps most interesting were the personal adornments discovered. These included a small pendant made of a rectangular piece of dark soft-stone and wrapped with two bands of gold foil, another pendant made of bronze in the shape of a human hand and a pendant made of frit in the shape of a standing human.  

MLH-5

A large graveyard located south of the fort, with a large number of people buried here.  Over 120 graves of various types have been excavated at this site, including large monumental tombs, less sophisticated graves and simple pit graves.  The types of tombs and the findings which have been unearthed at MLH-5 suggest the site was in use from the 2nd Century BCE to the 1st Century CE.

Monumental Tombs:
Six monumental tombs were discovered; three in the central part of the graveyard and the other three around 25m to the south.  Some of these tombs have been reconstructed.  

All of the tombs share a distinct architectural design with a large square or rectangular shaped pit dug 2m to 3m deep forming the burial chamber.  Evidence from excavation suggests the burial chamber was traditionally roofed with wooden beams, covered with mats and sealed with a layer of clay plaster before two layers of mud bricks being laid to form a platform on top of which a tower would be erected.  Tomb towers were usually around 2.5m - 3m tall and constructed from square or rectangular gypsum bricks, then topped with a crenulated frieze and coated with gypsum plaster.  

Subterranean Tombs:
There were a handful of common tomb designs, with the type used depending on the social status of the deceased.  One common type of subterranean tomb was a rectangular pit (varying in size and depth) surrounded by two or three rows of mud bricks over which stone slabs were placed.  Apart from the stone slabs, no other evidence of roofing was found, suggesting the bodies were simply covered with soil.  

These tombs were entered via an opening at the northern end and then blocked with mud bricks.  Gypsum bricks were also used in many of the graves to build small compartments, presumably to keep the deceased’s personal belongings.

Although most tombs were similar in design, there were a number of distinctive ones:  No. 64 has an L-shape design with an entrance on the east side providing access to the burial chamber via five steps and some flat stone slabs providing a roof.  No. 55 is also an interesting tomb because it is lined with gypsum bricks on the inside and contained a short iron sword measuring 47cm.  Skeletal remains of camels were also found in four of the tombs.

Finds:
There were no human remains found in MLH-5 however, despite many tombs being looted or destroyed over the years, a number of interesting funerary objects were still discovered.  Finds included a large amount of pottery, the most interesting of which are green glazed amphoras with ornamental handles.  Also discovered during excavation was a good collection of marble and steatite (soap stone) vessels, iron swords, daggers, arrow heads, socketed spear heads, personal adornments, stamp seals and figurines.  Of particular interest are some bronze spouts in the shape of horse and bull heads.  

MLH-6

Large building complex located 130m east of the MLH-5 graveyard.  The site features 16 rooms, three of which (rooms 01, 02, 03) are set 2m apart to the south of the building.  There is also a circular structure which lies 30m north-east of the main building.

The main building comprises 12 rooms and a courtyard with a south-facing entrance on the eastern side.  The courtyard measures 7.20m x 6.95m and gives access to most of the other parts of the building.  In the centre of the courtyard are eight large irregular blocks of white stone in a circular arrangement with a black stone in the middle.  It is thought the white stones provided seating for people using the black stone for food preparation or other domestic activities.

There have been several interesting finds in the rooms of the main building, including:

  • A broken jar (Room 07)
  • A stone mortar and a large piece of shell (Room 08 on the south-eastern side of the courtyard)
  • A door with a stone socket (giving access to Room 16)
  • A small ‘tanoor’ oven (attached to the outside courtyard wall of Room 16)
  • A ‘tanoor’ oven with a large white flat piece of stone and grinding stones nearby (Room 15)
  • Grinding stones (Rooms 10, 12, 13, 14)
  • A collection of various pot-shards and broken storage jars (Room 06)
  • A large quantity of pot shards (Room 04)

MLH-8

The large MLH-8 compound occupies a total area of 5,068m2 and is situated 500m east of the Mleiha fort and 950m north of the large MLH-5 cemetery. Evidence suggests it can be dated to between the 1st and the mid-3rd centuries CE.    

This exceptionally large complex comprises a fortified central building named the ‘Palace’ which is built around an inner courtyard. The Palace measures 31m x 31m and is surrounded by an outer courtyard and a rectangular curtain wall measuring 81m east to west and 78m north to south.  MLH-8 also has outward-facing towers at its corners and in the centre of each wall, which can all be accessed from the central court.  

The central building was fortified with 44 buttresses along its outer wall which would have created a very impressive sight. MLH-8 appears to have been a very important building and, given the scale of its architecture, could have been the palace of a ruler or chief.  

There are the remains of two small building complexes in the courtyard between the inner and outer structures. The floors of one of these buildings was heavily covered with a large amount of pottery fragments, suggesting it was used as a kitchen or storage place.  

Given the outer walls are not parallel to the central building, it is thought they were built at a later date to expand defences as the site increased in importance and significance. The outer wall may have been constructed quickly as a response to a potential threat; a theory which is supported by archaeological evidence showing the inner building came under attack and was burnt in the middle of the 3rd Century CE. 

A number of valuables and personal effects found in and around the corner entrance could indicate people fleeing quickly and dropping some of their possessions as they tried to escape.    

The Palace at MLH-8 produced a wide variety of interesting finds including:

  • A large collection of pottery ware (glazed Mesopotamian vessels, Indian cooking pots and painted beakers of Iranian fine ware)
  • Ivory
  • Bone
  • Glass vessels
  • Local bronze coins
  • Imported gold coins
  • Local pottery
  • A bronze bull’s head
  • An ornamental silver handle
  • A copper flask
  • Remains of cloth and basketry
  • Charcoal and other organic remains

In 2014 The Sharjah Directorate of Antiquities began to reconstruct and protect the ruins by erecting layers of new sun-baked mud bricks over the remaining original walls.