Saruq al-Hadid

Saruq al-Hadid

  • Polish Excavations at Saruq al-Hadid

  • Type of site:

    Metal production center and trade post

    Location:

    Dubai, United Arab Emirates
    Rub al-Khali Desert

    Dating:

    Umm an-Nar / Wadi Suq period (2000–1600 BC)
    Wadi Suq – Late Bronze Age (1600–1300 BC)
    Iron Age I–II (1300–800 BC)
    Pre-Islamic period (approximately 800–300 AD)

Most interesting finds:

– Several thousand perfectly-preserved metal objects: numerous copper arrowheads, daggers, iron swords, jewelry made of copper, gold and semi-precious stones
– Iron slag and remains of copper smelting furnaces
– Copper snakes and fragments of vessels and censers decorated with a snake motif – evidence of ritual activities

History of research:

Dates of PCMA mission’s work:

2016–2018

Type of research:

Excavations

Directors:

Piotr Bieliński (Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw)
Iwona Zych (Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw)

Co-operating institutions:

– Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw
– Dubai Municipality

Additional information:

The site has been excavated by the Dubai Municipality mission since 2002. Other foreign expeditions have worked there as well: SHARP from the University of New England (Australia), Sanisera Archaeological Institute (Spain) and Thomas Urban and Partners (Germany). The excavations of the PCMA mission were continued by another Polish team.

Description of the site and research:

Saruq al-Hadid lies on the northern edge of the Rub al-Khali Desert. For more than half a millennium, it was a metallurgical center where copper smelting took place on an industrial scale, especially between approximately 1100 and 800 BC, i.e., in the Iron Age. Thousands of perfectly-preserved metal objects, mainly of copper and its alloys but also of gold and iron, have been found in an area of more than 1 km2.

The site is presently completely covered by dunes and extensive layers of black slag which is a relic of the last stage of metallurgical activity in this area, dating to the pre-Islamic period (until approximately 300 AD). In antiquity, at least in some periods, the environmental conditions had to be more favorable; there must have been access to water and trees which were used as fuel in copper production.

The PCMA mission, in cooperation with the Dubai Municipality, joined other teams exploring Saruq al-Hadid. The area of the Polish project’s research was chosen on account of the large accumulation of tons of copper slag in the upper layers of the site, dated preliminarily to the turn of the eras or the beginning of our era. Objects found in these layers include also numerous strips of copper (and gold) as well as various fragments of sheet metal and unfinished copper elements.

The site of Saruq al-Hadid was abandoned and seasonally inhabited numerous times during several millennia. The oldest traces of human activity date to the end of the 3rd millennium BC and include hearths, pits and evidence of seasonal settlement in the form of post-holes. During that time, until the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the site was not used for metallurgy. From approximately 1000 BC, however, it became inextricably associated with copper smelting, the production of high-end metal objects as well as the import and distribution of weapons and jewelry.

It is still unclear why this desert site was chosen for a metallurgical and trade center. Its location on the crossing of the land and sea trade routes between Egypt, India, Iran and the interior of the Arabian Peninsula may have played a part. Easy access to fuel must have been another factor since it was deemed worthwhile to import copper ore from the Hajar mountains, located 100 km away, and smelt it on the spot. Most surprisingly, there are no traces in Saruq al-Hadid of buildings or residential structures, despite such long-standing and intensive metallurgical activity, and the objects are just buried in the sand.

Large numbers of metal objects found on the site include different kinds of weapons, tools, ritual equipment, jewelry, including thousands of beads, and pottery, among other things, vessels decorated with a snake motif, presumably of ritual use. The majority was produced locally, but many objects were imported from different parts of the world. A surprising discovery was that in the Early Iron Age, ritual practices accompanied the metallurgical activity. Depictions of snakes, found on different categories of objects, often near the hearths, played a central role in them.

Other resources about the mission:

Museum website dedicated to the site: www.saruqalhadid.ae

Conference presentations:

2019 Conference: 53rd Seminar for Arabian Studies, Leiden
Poster: (Z. Wygnańska, Y.Y. al-Ali, M. al-Saif): “Small but important. Small but important: Bead trade and production in Saruq al-Hadid, UAE”
2018 Conference: 52nd Seminar for Arabian Studies, London
Paper: (I. Zych, P. Bieliński, A. Pieńkowska, A. Reiche, M. Boraik, Y.Y. al-Ali, O. Bagi, S. Rempel, Ł. Zieliński “The Polish sector at Saruq al-Hadid, Dubai UAE. First Season of exploration”
2018 Conference „Polacy na Bliskim Wschodzie, 2018”, Warsaw
Paper (Z. Wygnańska, J. Rądkowska): „Piach, popioły i węże – najnowsze wyniki badań na stanowisku Saruq al-Hadid na pustyni Rub al-Khali, Dubaj”
2017 Conference: 51st Seminar for Arabian Studies, London
Poster: (I. Zych, P. Bieliński, M. Boraik, A. Pieńkowska, A. Reiche, Y. Yusouf Ali, Z. Wygnańska, O. Bagi, S. Rempel, Ł. Zieliński): The Polish sector in Saruq al-Hadid (Dubai, UAE): first season of exploration
2017 Conference: 8th Red Sea Conference, Warsaw
Paper (Z. Wygnańska): Preliminary study on beads from the Iron Age levels of the Polish excavations at Saruq al-Hadid, (Dubai, UAE)

Project bibliography:
Select site bibliography

Weeks, L. et al. (2017). Recent archaeological research at Saruq al-Hadid, Dubai, UAE. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 28, 31-60.

Herrmann, J.T., Casana, J., and Qandil, H. (2012). A sequence of inland desert settlement in the Oman peninsula: 2008-2009 excavations at Saruq el-Hadid, Dubai UAE. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 23, 50-69.

Casana, J., Herrmann, J.T., and Qandil, H.(2009). Settlement history in the eastern Rub el-Khali: Preliminary Report of the Dubai Desert Survey (2006-2007). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 20, 30-45.

Qandil, H. (2003). Survey and excavations at Saruq al Hadeed 2002-2003. In P. Heller, M. Ziolkowski, Proceedings of the First Annual Symposium on Recent Paleontological and Archaeological Discoveries in the Emirates, Al-Ain, Emirates Heritage 1, pp. 121-139.

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