The oldest known natural pearl in the world has been discovered by Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) archaeologists working at a Neolithic site on Marawah Island, just off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Dubbed the ‘Abu Dhabi Pearl’, it was found in layers carbon dated to 5800-5600 BCE, during the Neolithic period. The discovery is proof that pearls and oysters were used in the United Arab Emirates nearly 8,000 years ago, and represents the earliest known evidence for pearling yet discovered anywhere in the world.
Pearls were precious elements during the Neolithic period, certainly falling into the category of luxury and used for adornment. As such, the priceless and historically significant Abu Dhabi Pearl will feature in the upcoming Louvre Abu Dhabi exhibition 10,000 Years of Luxury, where it will be on display to the public for the very first time since its discovery.
HE Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “The Abu Dhabi Pearl is a stunning find, testimony to the ancient origins of our engagement with the sea. The discovery of the oldest pearl in the world in Abu Dhabi makes it clear that so much of our recent economic and cultural history has deep roots that stretch back to the dawn of prehistory. Marawah Island is one of our most valuable archaeological sites, and excavations continue in the hope of discovering even more evidence of how our ancestors lived, worked and thrived.”
Prior to the Abu Dhabi Pearl discovery, the earliest known pearl in the UAE was uncovered at a Neolithic site in Umm al-Quwain. Ancient pearls from the same time have also been found at a Neolithic cemetery close to Jebel Buhais in the emirate of Sharjah. The carbon dating indicates that the Abu Dhabi Pearl is older than both these discoveries.
Marawah was first discovered in 1992 during an archaeological survey of the island, and consists of numerous collapsed Neolithic stone structures, the earliest architecture yet discovered in the UAE. Aside from the priceless Abu Dhabi Pearl, significant finds from the Marawah site have included an imported ceramic vase, beautifully worked flint arrowheads and shell and stone beads. Numerous painted plaster vessel fragments were also discovered and represent the earliest known decorative art yet discovered in the UAE. At the beginning of 2020 a major new excavation will take place at the site to further uncover its secrets.
Experts have suggested that ancient pearls were possibly traded with Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq) in exchange for highly-decorated ceramics and other goods. Pearls were also likely worn as jewellery by the local population, as indicated by the finds at Jebel Buhais in Sharjah.
The art of pearling required an in-depth knowledge of pearl beds and their locations and expert seafaring skills. Once these were mastered by the ancient inhabitants of Marawah, pearling was to remain a mainstay of the UAE’s economy for millennia. The Venetian jewel merchant Gasparo Balbi, who travelled through the region, mentions the islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi as a source of pearls in the 16th century. The industry flourished until the 1930s.
The Abu Dhabi Pearl, on loan from the Zayed National Museum collection, will feature in the special exhibition 10,000 Years of Luxury, taking place at Louvre Abu Dhabi from 30 October 2019 to 18 February 2020.
10,000 Years of Luxury explores the notion of luxury, its changing meaning through the centuries and what it signifies today through 350 extraordinary objects – fashion, jewellery, art, furniture, design and more. Spanning thousands of years, it examines the ways in which luxury has been interpreted and defined by diverse cultures, and assesses the impact of excess on the evolution of society. Drawing on the collections of Musée des Arts Décoratifs and other French museums, including Musée du Louvre and Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, this exhibition offers a rare chance to glimpse, revel in and evaluate true luxury.