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The Past

20,000 - 2,000 years ago

The first people to inhabit the area of what is now the UAE used the bow and arrow, as well as the knife. Their weapons were made of flint or chert, often honey-coloured, red, or almost purple. Sources for this stone are presumed to exist in the Hajar mountains although no actual quarry sites have been located yet. By about 3000 BC stone weaponry was supplanted by weaponry made of copper or bronze. Indeed, copper and bronze continued to be used in the Emirates long after iron had been adopted in other parts of the ancient world. Iron only became common in the region after the time of Christ.

When we think of weapons in antiquity we tend to think of warriors armed with daggers at their waists; swords hanging from leather scabbards; and perhaps spears slung over their shoulders. But our images of warriors are heavily influenced by what we know of peoples such as the Assyrians and Persians, peoples whose armament represents a high point in the evolution of weaponry. There is no justification for assuming that all three categories of personal weaponry - daggers, swords and spears - appeared simultaneously, and indeed the archaeological evidence from excavations in the Emirates suggests that daggers appeared first, in the early third millennium BC, followed by spears in the late third millennium, and finally swords in the early to mid-second millennium BC Each category of weaponry underwent some degree of technological evolution over time, which we can see in changing shapes and sizes, but no new weapons of note were introduced until the advent of firearms much later in history.

Daggers were often made of a single piece of metal. In other words, the blade and tang - that part of the weapon which was inserted into the handle or wrapped with something to provide a grip - consisted of one piece of copper or bronze. Generally the tang had a hole through it. Through this hole ran a rivet which attached some sort of perishable material - wood, horn, bone, ivory, etc - which formed the dagger’s grip. Spear heads were, for the most part, socketed. In other words, the butt end was not formed of a solid tang, but was rather a bit of metal wrapped around to form a hollow socket into which the wooden spear shaft could be inserted. Swords ranged from short, thrusting weapons no more than c. 30 cms long, to much longer slashing and cutting weapons, often 1 m long. Changes in sword length reflect changes in sword use and fighting tactics. Long swords are often reserved for mounted soldiers, fighting from horseback, whereas short, thrusting swords, used in conjunction with a shield, are usually the favoured weapon of foot soldiers. At Persepolis, the capital of the Persian empire, and at Naqsh-i Rustam, the site of burial for several Persian emperors, sculptured reliefs depict inhabitants of Maka, as our region was known, wearing a short sword slung over the shoulder on a belt, rather than being hung at the waist in a scabbard.

Weapons are most often found in graves, and hundreds of daggers, spearheads and swords have been recovered at sites in the UAE. Does this mean that the ancient society of the UAE was a warlike one? Examples abound elsewhere in the world of societies in which weapons were only deposited in graves during times of peace (when they were not actually needed for defence).When people are busy fighting they need their weapons too much to take them out of circulation by putting them into a burial. Perhaps, then, the ancient land of the Emirates was more peaceful than the large number of weapons found might at first glance suggest?

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