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Largest ceramic storage jar discovered in UAE sheds light on a bustling trade scene

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The largest Iron Age ceramic jar discovered in the UAE found at Sharjah’s Muwaileh archaeological site sheds light on a bustling trade scene during the first millennia BC.

This fascinating find recently added to displays at Sharjah Archaeology Museum, is part of a series of discoveries that suggests the area was part of the incense trade route between the southern Arabian Peninsula and Persia.

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The jar, whose function is still under deliberation by archaeologists stands at 155 cm in height with a body diameter of 141 cm and a rim diameter of 94 cm.
It was found inside a columned building measuring 10 x12 meters within a large, fortified settlement at Muwaileh. The archaeological site also includes many houses built of mud brick similar to those found in other settlements of the period in the UAE.

Archaeologists believe the large jar was made inside the hall as the jar is larger than the doorways. Another theory suggests that the large pot was created first then the hall was built around it.

Surrounded by a number of annexes or rooms, the hall is the largest roofed building discovered at the archaeological site.

It perhaps served as the settlement’s executive and economic center, a gathering place for the ruling elite or it was used to welcome guests resembling the function of today’s majlis.

Site excavations and analysis revealed that 20 date palm columns seated on stone bases were arranged in rows of four by five to support the large ceiling span.

Two further storage jars were also discovered set into the hall’s floor, in addition to more than 30 small bridge-spouted jars found in an adjacent room, indicating it might have been a service room for the great hall.

Excavation work in the site unearthed many other items made of ceramic and bronze, including a ceramic goblet and a domed incense cover featuring perforations, surmounted by a bull figurine.

The latest findings include a piece of ceramic with three letters in Sabaean, a South Arabian Language that dates to the 7th century BC and is the oldest language discovered in the UAE to date.

Commenting on the latest discovery, Manal Ataya, Director General of Sharjah Museums Authority, said: “I invite everyone to see this one-of-a-kind artefact at our museum as it best demonstrates the beauty of discovery and the remarkable feat undertaken by dedicated archaeologists and conservators that spent years piecing together numerous fragments without initially knowing what the finished vessel would look like.”

She added: “With seasonal expeditions over several years, the pieces were assembled and conserved to unveil the beauty of this enormous jar and its secrets. We greatly thank the work of the archaeological teams operating in Sharjah for their efforts to reveal our ancient history.”

Excavations in the area began in the 1990s, with an Australian expedition among the first to work on the site, followed by an American mission.

Relentless efforts of excavators has led to the discovery of numerous findings that help shed light on the lives of people of the UAE in the Iron Age (between 900 and 600 BC), during which the Falaj irrigation system was developed to water crops helping the establishment of villages near to the mountains.

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