Oldest natural pearl found in Arabia
|The oldest pearl in the world [Credit: Ken Walton/CNRS]|
The presence of natural pearls at many Neolithic sites in the Arabian Peninsula confirms that they were collected not only in the Persian Gulf but also on the shores of the Indian Ocean (Sea of Oman and Arabian Sea off the coast of Oman). No ancient natural pearls have been found in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India or China, although some have been unearthed in Mesopotamia dating from 3200-3000 BC.
In the Arabian Peninsula, all the Neolithic pearls discovered (101 in total) come from the large pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera and from Pinctada radiata, which is much smaller, easier to collect, and provides higher quality pearls. Diving for them was difficult and dangerous. Once collected, they were sorted, giving priority to the spherically shaped pearls. Although they are often white, opaque and dull due to alteration, some are remarkably well preserved, displaying white, pink, orange or brownish shades, and they have kept their original luster. Mother-of-pearl was also an important resource in the economy of local Neolithic societies, since the large valves of P. margaritifera's were used to make fish hooks for the capture of a wide range of fish, some as large as tuna and sharks.
Natural pearls played a special role in funeral rites. Thus, the Umm al Quwain pearl, which was not drilled, had been placed in a grave at the site's necropolis. In other necropolises, the pearls were placed on the deceased's face, often above the upper lip. Recent work has shown that in the fifth millennium BC, half-drilled natural pearls were associated with men, and full-drilled pearls with women.
Source: CNRS [June 07, 2012]