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How and where the bodies were buried: an ancient UAE mystery revealed

The bodies in the grave unearthed by Sophie Mery’s archaeological team in Umm Al Quwain may be the product of extreme violence, but thanks to the grave’s age and the way that its contents were ritualised, that burial place of four men has become an object of rare beauty and enlightenment.

How and where the bodies were buried: an ancient UAE mystery revealed
Four bodies were found neatly arranged side by side, along with an individual burial discovered 
at the inland Umm Al Quwain 2 site south-west of Jazirat Al Hamra [Credit: F. Borgi]
The grave was discovered in 2013 at an existing archaeological site called Umm Al Quwain 2 (UAQ2), which sits on the edge of a lagoon close to the busy E11 road that now links Dubai with the northern emirates.

The earliest finds uncovered at UAQ2 date to the 6th millennium BC, which make the site the oldest Neolithic coastal settlement to have been discovered on the southern shores of the Arabian Gulf. It was among the oldest layers that Ms Mery’s team made their remarkable discovery.

In a pose reminiscent of an Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic motion study, the bodies in the grave lie united in a chain of death.

Four of the bodies lie carefully arranged on their sides, tucked together as if in sleep, with the right arm of each resting on the body in front of it. A fifth body also lies in the pit, nearby but apart from the others, resting a more foetal position.

Ms Mery believes the young men, who are believed to have been in their early 20s, died as a result of conflict and were buried together in what must have been a purpose-built pit tomb.

"It’s what we call a multiple grave. From the time of the death and interment of the first and fourth persons in the tomb, there was no more than a week," explains Ms Mery, an archaeologist who is also the director of the French archaeological mission to the UAE.

"The size of the pit indicates that it was made for the bodies at one time, and the very careful arrangement of those bodies in a chain of death must have been very symbolic," Ms Mery says.

"In the chest of the first man we found a flint arrowhead, which at the point of impact had destroyed his ribs, while two of the other men, who were interred later, had pearls placed at the level of their hips.

"The fact that we found these pearls grouped together, two pearls with one of the men and three pearls with the other, means that they were probably wrapped in a piece of textile or in a small bag."

For Ms Mery, the fate of the men in the grave sheds important light on the life of the communities who inhabited the coast up to 7,500 years ago.

"This Neolithic tomb is totally different from the early Bronze Age, or Umm an Nar tombs in the region which were collective graves," the archaeologist explains.

"Those were monuments that could be opened and reopened and in some cases had as many as 700 bodies deposited in them over a period of 200 years."

Thanks to the discovery of later finds and subtle details that distinguish these from material discovered at nearby sites, Ms Mery believes that the UAQ2 grave is evidence of inter-group violence.

"At one point at least four young men were killed but the group was sufficiently large to survive and the site continued to be occupied by the same community," she says.

"We know this because they used the same objects and the style of their jewellery is distinctive from that found at other Neolithic sites at Akab and Buhais.

"Buhais is a well-known cemetery from the 5th millennium BC and if you study the jewellery there its style is sufficiently different to tell us that the people at UAQ2 or Akab did not belong to the same group."

Author: Nick Leech | Source: The National [May 15, 2016]

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