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The Past

2,000 - 200 years ago
al-Dur


















The largest pre-Islamic site on the Gulf coast of the UAE, al-Dur is located several kilometres north of Umm al-Qaiwain just east of the main highway running from Sharjah to Ras al-Khaimah. The site is enormous, extending for roughly 4 km northeast to southwest, and about 1 km inland from the highway.

Al-Dur has been known since the early 1970s when an Iraqi expedition first conducted excavations at the site. In the 1980s and 1990s a European expedition (Belgian, British, Danish, French), followed by a strictly Belgian team conducted extensive excavations at al-Dur.

Like Mileiha, al-Dur consists not of a single concentrated area of ruins but is rather a sprawling site in a sandy environment with numerous private houses, some large and some small, scattered over a large area adjacent to the coast. These include small, rectangular, single-room dwellings, as well as large, multi-roomed structures with semi-circular buttresses. Both types of house, as indeed all of architecture at the site, are built of blocks of beach-rock (Arabic farush) which was locally available in the shallow lagoons close to the site.

Thousands of graves are interspersed in between the houses at al-Dur. These range from simple, rectangular cists to large, stone structures much like their mudbrick counteparts at Mileiha. In several cases it is clear that the larger tombs at al-Dur held the remains of more than one individual, perhaps a family. Grave goods included drinking sets, Roman glass, weaponry, pottery, jewellery and ivory objects.

The two largest public monuments on the site are a small square fort, c. 20 m on a side, with round corner towers reminiscent of forts built by the Parthians, and a small, square temple, c. 8 m on a side, in which an inscribed basin with a dedication to the Semitic solar deity Shams was found.

Coinage was abundant at al-Dur and included small numbers of foreign coins as well as hundreds of locally minted pieces bearing the name of Abi'el. Although we are uncertain what the ancient name of al-Dur may have been, it is very likely that it was the site of Omana known to both Pliny and Strabo as an important market town in the lower Gulf region.

The site's heyday was certainly the first century AD, although some occupation in the third/fourth centuries AD is also attested.


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