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​Within the United Arab Emirates, Ras Al Khaimah is blessed with a unique archaeological heritage representing all significant periods of the last 9000 years. One of the main reasons for this continuous settlement was the abundance of sweet water along the mountains and the rich diversity of landscapes. Ras Al Khaimah is the only Emirate where fertile plains, high mountains, the coastal area and desert come together in a distinctive combination. This interaction of different landscapes has produced a rich and diverse cultural background, forming the very special heritage of the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. The following paragraphs will give a short overview of the most important periods represented in Ras Al Khaimah's archaeology and history.

​The Ubaid Period (5000 - 3800 BC) is the oldest period known in Ras Al Khaimah. Large shell middens and surface collections near Jazirat al-Hamra gave the first hint of human activities at these places. The finds of pottery, beads, net sinkers and flint tools represent the former presence of a nomadic population living at the coast during the summer months. Their pottery shows parallels with that of Mesopotamia from the same period and indicates trade contacts as early as this time. Other sites with flint tools were found near to the fertile plain of Khatt.​

​During the Hafit Period (3200 - 2600 BC) burial cairns built on high mountain plateau are the most prominent features in Ras Al Khaimah. Made from local stone, they originally had the appearance of a beehive and consisted of a small chamber for one to two burials. These structures have been located in Khatt, in the mountains above Ras Al Khaimah and in Wadi Al Bih, as well as in Wadi Al Qawr, where two Hafit tombs were excavated by English archaeologists (Carl Phillips).

The middle of the third millennium BC saw the rise of the Umm al-Nar Culture (2600 - 2000 BC), the most important period concerning the development of civilization in the UAE. Evidence suggests that trade in copper with Mesopotamia and the Indus valley made the area of the United Arab Emirates wealthy during that period and Mesopotamian sources mentioned it as the "Land of Magan".

The trade is reflected in various finds from a settlement in Asimah as well as from several tombs of that period. Besides locally produced pottery of very high quality, we find pottery from south-eastern Iran, the Indus valley, Mesopotamia and Bahrain, at that time known as Dilmun. This imported pottery shows very clearly that the Ras Al Khaimah sites have been part of a large network of long distance trade.

The Umm Al Nar Period is well known for its circular tombs. The outer walls were faced with well-shaped and smoothed ashlars (facing-stones), and internally the tombs had been divided into several chambers. They were used for collective burial purposes, not single burials, probably by a group of people, most likely a large family, who used them for several generations. In some cases archaeologists found the remains of more than 100 people buried in one Umm al-Nar tomb.

The two largest graves were found in the area of Shimal. The first one has been excavated by the German Mission from the University of Goettingen. The other tomb, with a diameter of 14.5m is the largest Umm al-Nar tomb known so far on the Oman peninsula. It was discovered in 1997 and excavations will be resumed after the end of Eid. One of its facing stones bears a carved footprint, being the first carved Umm al-Nar facing stones found in the northern part of the United Arab Emirates.

Another tomb was found by the British Mission in Wadi Muna'i in the southern part of Ras al-Khaimah. In 1988 rescue excavations revealed a large stone alignment with tombs of the late Umm al-Nar period in Asimah close to Masafi. An important assemblage of bronze implements was discovered there including a bronze goblet, socketed spear-heads and dagger blades.

The beginning of the second millennium BC is marked in the UAE by a sudden change in settlement pattern, style of pottery and tombs. This period, called the Wadi Suq Period (2000-1600 BC), is represented in Ras Al Khaimah by a large number of graves. More than 150 large Wadi Suq tombs are situated in Shimal forming the largest cemetery of prehistoric graves found in the Oman Peninsula. Several other cemeteries were found near Ghalilah, Qurm, Dhayah, Rams, Qarn al-Harf, Khatt and Idhn. Shimal was discovered by Beatrice de Cardi and the first tombs were excavated by the English archaeologist Peter Donaldson on behalf of the Department of Antiquities and Museums in 1976. Between 1985 and 1990 a German Mission from the University of Goettingen started a large excavation project and several tombs were excavated in Shimal as well as in Dhayah. On behalf of the Department of Antiquities and Museums further Wadi Suq tombs were excavated during 1995/1996 in Idhn and Shimal by a German Mission from the German Archaeological Institute Sanaa, Yemen Republic.

Most of the Wadi Suq tombs are large above ground structures built of local limestone - boulders, consisting of one to two chambers with an average length of 8-10 m. Again these monuments are collective tombs, used over a long period of time. Between 30 to 60 people were found buried in one grave. Smaller tombs, built only for a single person, were excavated in Wadi Muna'i by a team of British archaeologists under the direction of Carl Phillips. All the tombs contained special grave-goods which are typical of the Wadi Suq Period: painted beakers and spouted jars, incised stone bowls and vessels with lids, personal ornaments such as beads, metal tools and weapons.

The second half of the second millennium BC, the late Bronze Age (1600-1250 BC), is known from a settlement in the Shimal area, which has been partly excavated by the German Mission of the University of Goettingen. Built at the foot of the rising mountains it showed traces of a typical 'arish' style housing, typical in the United Arab Emirates until 50 years ago. Large amounts of shells and fish bones showed that the people relied on the Creek area, which was probably not far away. Dates and animal bones proved that farming was common as well.

The Iron Age (1250-300 BC) is best known from finds the southern part of Ras Al Khaimah. The first surveys were carried out by Beatrice de Cardi in the Wadi al-Qawr and Wadi Muna'i area and were later followed by excavations of British archaeologists. Several large subterranean tombs were found. They all belonged to small farming villages on the terraces of the wadis. Again these tombs were built for a large group of people, who buried their dead together.

All the tombs were cut into the gravel of the wadi bank, the chambers were lined with stones, had an entrance and showed a broad variety of shapes. A horse-shoe shaped tomb was found in Fashqa, a large circular structure in Naslah and a rectangular tomb with four chambers in Wa'ab. Beside the typical pottery vessels of that period, such as painted and undecorated bowls, a vast number of carved and decorated stone vessels were found. Their large number and size (several hundred vessels and lids are now in the museum collection) led to the assumption that the source of the stone material called "chlorite" must have been somewhere in that area. A special find was a stone vessel incised with a griffin, very similar to the large carved griffins found on stone-slabs in Neo-Assyrian palaces in Northern Iraq.

Beside the tombs a fortification on a high ridge near Rafaq in the Wadi al-Qawr was excavated. During the Iron Age it had protected the dense settled area of the Wadi.

In the northern part of Ras Al Khaimah two important settlements in the shape of a huge mound (Tell) could be found. One Tell situated near Khatt called Nud Ziba was discovered in 1968 by Beatrice de Cardi, the other was recently discovered by the Department of Antiquities and Museums in the Shimal area. These settlements demonstrate a presence and occupation of the northern part of Ras Al Khaimah during the Iron Age.

The later pre-Islamic times, the Hellenistic and Parthian Period (300 BC to 300 AD), are evident in the northern part of Ras Al Khaimah. Several sites were found during surveys conducted by the Department of Antiquities and Museums, as well as the remains of burials, found in Shimal, Asimah and in Wa'ab / Wadi Muna'i. These were single burials that very often re-used older tombs.​

A Sassanian occupation (300-632 AD) on Ras Al Khaimah territory is becoming increasingly evident. The archaeologist J. Hansman excavated a small site on the island of Hulaylah, that has been occupied during the Sassanian Period. Recently two sites were found at Khatt, where small excavations were conducted. The most interesting find of recent years was made by the ongoing excavations at Kush, excavated by a British team. After three seasons of excavations it seems certain that the site was founded as a Sassanian fortress, built to control the fertile plains around the northern part of the Emirate. It was probably abandoned at the time Islam came to the area of the United Arab Emirates.  For the early, as well as the later, Islamic Periods Ras Al Khaimah is the most important emirate concerning its archaeological heritage. The early centuries of Islam are well presented at the Tell of Kush and the area of the island of Hulaylah.​

The Abbasid period (750-1250 AD) saw the largest extent of a unified Islamic empire and a huge increase in trade with eastern Asia. It is represented by only a few sites in the whole Gulf area. This makes the two sites in Ras Al Khaimah even more important in order to understand the trade routes and the trade goods in the early centuries of Islam.

In Kush it seems that after the Sassanians abandoned their fortress, settlers were re-using the older structures and lived in that area for the next 700 years.  While mud-brick buildings were found in Kush, the island of Hulaylah was probably settled with 'Arish' style buildings, leaving less visible but nonetheless very important remains. Both sites are only a few kilometers apart and can probably be identified with the area of ancient Julfar, an important town, known from Islamic geographers like al-Muqdasi in the 10th century and al-Idrisi in the 12th century. Finds of Chinese porcelain at both sites, as well as Abbasid pottery imported from Iraq and other areas show that the people living in Julfar were heavily involved in trade.  Of particular interest was the recovery of seeds from the settlements and probably the oldest coffee bean in the world was found in a 12th-century living area at Kush. This is already two centuries earlier, than historical sources tell us about the use and trade of coffee.

By the middle of the 14th century Kush and Jazirat al-Hulayla were abandoned and the people settled on a sandbar, at that time in front of the coast. This settlement took the name Julfar as well and is still called that.

This place was also identified by Beatrice de Cardi in 1968 and up to now several excavations have taken place at Julfar. The first one was conducted by an Iraqi team, followed by John Hansman in 1976/77. A trial trench dug by the Department of Antiquities and Museums in 1988 was followed by large-scale excavations undertaken on an international basis between 1989 and 1994. Involved were Archaeological Missions from France (Claire Hardy-Gilbert), Britain (Geoffrey King) Japan (Tatsui Sasaki) and Germany (Michael Janssen). They all proved that Julfar was a large settlement used between the 14th and the 17th century. The city was built of mudbrick houses and the remains of a mosque and a fortress were found. Julfar was defended by a large mudbrick wall, about 2,5 m thick and about 4 m high, being the major trading centre in the lower part of the Gulf.  Well known from Arabic and European sources, Julfar was of importance far beyond the Gulf area and more or less the equivalent of modern Dubai. Large amounts of imported Chinese porcelain as well as other pottery showed the long-range trade involved. The home of merchants and seafarers, with the most famous of all Arabic seafarers Bin Majid, coming from Julfar.

The large town was supported by a number of villages situated in the fertile plain along the mountains and it seems that in this period the numerous small settlements with terraced fields in the Hajjar Mountains were founded.

At the same time the area of Shimal and Wadi Haqil was a major production centre of a special pottery, which was distributed to all parts of the United Arab Emirates. For more than 500 years production went on and the last kilns in Wadi Haqil were abandoned only one generation ago. The ethnographic section of the Museum shows the broad range of vessels from coffee pots to large storage jars, which were produced in the last centuries.

The more Recent History (19th & 20th Century) is well presented in the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah. In the last years the Department of Antiquities and Museums has conducted several surveys to collect the data for traditional buildings. 75 standing towers built of mud-brick or stone and mortar were registered during a survey carried out few years ago.  Recently a survey concerning the existence of old mosques located more than 20 examples, which were older than 30 years. They have been recorded, planned and photographed by a Belgian team and reflect the unique and important architectural tradition of religious buildings in the United Arab Emirates in general and the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in particular.

The Department of Antiquities and Museums will do further work to throw light on the rich history of Ras Al Khaimah and to provide a better understanding of the past.