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The Map Room

THE ISLANDS - Balghelam

A low-lying island in a large shallow lagoon north-east of Abu Dhabi, c. 5 kilometres long and 1 kilometre wide. Fringed by mangroves, with extensive sand flats on its southern side. Around 300 mountain gazelles (Gazella gazella) and sand gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa) live on the island, descended from wild stock caught in the desert. Balghelam is an important wintering site for shorebirds migrating from Asia.

Archaeological sites reveal evidence of occupation, probably by fishing communities, over the last 4000 years. Oldest evidence of occupation is pottery from the Barbar civilisation of Bahrain, from around 2,000 BC.

The main period of occupation so far identified dates to the Late Islamic period, (sixteenth century AD onwards), although there are also indications of occupation in the first millennium AD.

Sites include several groups of large stone hearths or fireplaces, a small Islamic graveyard, coastal middens (rubbish dumps), containing bones of shellfish and marine mammals, and camp sites with pottery, both UAE-made and imported (mainly from southern Iran).

Environmental remains from the archaeological sites include shells of pearl oysters (Pinctada radiata) and the edible gastropod Hexaplex kuesterianus as well as bones of dugong (Dugong dugon) and turtles.

Among the island's archaeological sites is a sophisticated system of wells and water catchments, designed to trap winter rainfall. This permitted fishing communities to use the island as a base for much of the year. At least 11 wells have been identified, which were in use from the sixteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Although now disused, the water catchment still works efficiently.