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The Past

2,000 - 200 years ago

The Gulf coast of the UAE has long been famed for its pearls. Graves dating to the 'Ubaid period (fifth millennium BC) in Umm al-Qaiwain have yielded pearls, while pearl shells were found in abundance at al-Dur, in some cases stacked just outside the entrance to a monumental tomb. The earliest pearl diver's weight, made of lead with an iron ring for attachment, was excavated by a Danish team at al-Dur. Pearls from the Gulf were mentioned in The Sophists at Dinner by the second century writer Athenaeus and in the Life of Apollonius of Tyana by the third century writer Philostratus.

The twelfth century geographer al-Idrisi mentioned Julfar as a place associated with pearls, and in 1517 the Portuguese writer Duarte Barbosa wrote that the merchants of Hormuz came to Julfar to buy pearls. The existence of a fleet of pearling vessels during the Portuguese era was confirmed by Pedro Teixeira who wrote that every year 50 terradas sailed to the pearl beds from Julfar. Further, he noted that the name Julfar had been given to a particular type of seed pearl produced in its waters.

The association of Julfar with pearls is perhaps surprising since by far the largest pearl beds are those located off the coast of Abu Dhabi in the so-called Great Pearl Bank, an area marked on many nineteenth century maps of the area. Yet as records of pearling in the nineteenth century attest, this region was not claimed exclusively by any one tribe and many ports in the UAE, including Ras al-Khaimah, Hamriyah, Hirah, Khan, Khor Khor Fakkan, Kalba, Dubai, Umm al-Qaiwain and Ajman sent vessels to the region each summer.

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