Skip to main content Accessibility help

Dating Persistent Short-Term Human Activity in a Complex Depositional Environment: Late Prehistoric Occupation at Saruq al-Hadid, Dubai

  • Lloyd Weeks (a1), Charlotte M Cable (a1), Steven Karacic (a2), Kristina A Franke (a1), David M Price (a3), Claire Newton (a4), James Roberts (a1), Yaaqoub Youssef Al Ali (a5), Mansour Boraik (a5) and Hassan Zein (a5)...


The archaeological site of Saruq al-Hadid, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, presents a long sequence of persistent temporary human occupation on the northern edge of the Rub’ al-Khali desert. The site is located in active dune fields, and evidence for human activity is stratified within a deep sequence of natural dune deposits that reflect complex taphonomic processes of deposition, erosion and reworking. This study presents the results of a program of radiocarbon (14C) and thermoluminescence dating on deposits from Saruq al-Hadid, allied with studies of material remains, which are amalgamated with the results of earlier absolute dating studies provide a robust chronology for the use of the site from the Bronze Age to the Islamic period. The results of the dating program allow the various expressions of human activity at the site—ranging from subsistence activities such as hunting and herding, to multi-community ritual activities and large scale metallurgical extraction—to be better situated chronologically, and thus in relation to current debates regarding the development of late prehistoric and early historic societies in southeastern Arabia.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
Al-Khraysheh, F, An-Nashef, K. 2007. Dubai: Civilization and Progress throughout Three Thousand Years. Five Seasons of Joint Archaeological Excavations between the Emirate of Dubai and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan at Sarouq al-Hadeed. Dubai: Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, Government of Dubai, UAE. In Arabic.
Avanzini, A, Degli, Esposti M, editors. 2018. Husn Salut and the Iron Age of South East Arabia. Excavations of the Italian Mission to Oman 2004–2014. Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider.
Barker, D. 2002. Wadi Suq and Iron Age period ceramics from Sharm, Fujairah (U.A.E.). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 13:194.
Benoist, A. 1999. La Céramique de l’Age du Fer en Péninsule d’Oman [unpublished PhD thesis]. University of Paris I.
Benoist, A. 2010. Authority and Religion in South East Arabia during the Iron Age: a Review of Architecture and Material from Columned Halls and Cultic Sites. In: Avanzini, A, editor. Eastern Arabia in the First Millennium BC, International Conference, Pisa 12th-13th May 2008. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider. Arabia Antica 6. p. 109141.
Benoist, A, Le Carlier, C, Goy, J, Degli, Esposti M, Armbruster, B, Attaelmanan, G. 2015. Snake copper and water in south-eastern Arabian religion during the Iron Age. The Bithnah and Masafi evidence. In: Robin, C, Schiettecatte, J, Charloux, G, editors. Pre-Islamic South Arabia and its neighbors: new developments of research. Oxford: BAR International Series. British Foundation for the Study of Arabia Monographs. p. 2136.
Boraik, M. 2017. Seals from Saruq al-Hadid archaeological site. Dubai: Dubai Municipality. In Arabic.
Boucharlat, R, Lombard, P. 1985. The Oasis of Al Ain in the Iron Age. Excavations at Rumeilah, 1981–1983, survey at Hili 14. Archaeology in the UAE 4:4473.
Bowers, J. 2005. Effects of drought on shrub survival and longevity in the northern Sonoran Desert. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society 132(3):421431.
Bray, HE, Stokes, S. 2003. Chronologies for Late Quaternary barchan dune reactivation in the southeastern Arabian Peninsula. Quaternary Science Reviews 22:10271033.
Bray, HE, Stokes, S. 2004. Temporal patterns of arid-humid transitions in the south-eastern Arabian Peninsula based on optical dating. Geomorphology 59:271280.
Bronk, Ramsey C. 2009. Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Radiocarbon 51(1):337360.
Cable, CM. 2015. Excavation results. In: Weeks, L, editor. Saruq al-Hadid Archaeological Research Project: Interim Report 1. Unpublished report for Dubai Municipality. p. 327398.
Cable, CM. 2016. Excavations. In: Weeks, L, editor. Saruq al-Hadid Archaeological Research Project: Interim Report 2. Unpublished report for Dubai Municipality. p. 138.
Cable, CM. 2017. Excavations. In: Weeks, L, editor. Saruq al-Hadid Archaeological Research Project: Interim Report 3. Unpublished report for Dubai Municipality. p. 1118.
Carter, R. 1997. The Wadi Suq Period in South-East Arabia: a reappraisal in the light of excavations at Kalba, UAE. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 27:8798.
Casana, J, Herrmann, J, Qandil, HS. 2009. Settlement history in the eastern Rub al-Khali: Preliminary report of the Dubai Desert Survey (2006–2007). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 20:3045.
Cleuziou, S. 1989. Excavations at Hili 8: a preliminary report on the 4th–7th campaigns. Archaeology in the United Arab Emirates 5:6187.
Condoluci, C, Degli Esposti, M, Phillips, CA. 2018. A complete stratigraphic sequence for the Early Iron Age of Central Oman. Excavations in the Basement and in the Burnt Building. In: Avanzini, A, Degli Esposti, M, editors. Husn Salut and the Iron Age of South East Arabia. Excavations of the Italian Mission to Oman 2004-2014. Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider. p. 93180.
Contreras, F, Carcacer, N, Thomas, J, Koljic, D, Murray, M, Bukhash, RM, Al Abbar, SO, Boraik, M, Zein, HM. 2016. Al-Ashoosh: a third-millennium BC desert settlement in the United Arab Emirates. Antiquity 90(354). doi: 10.15184/aqy.2016.219.
Contreras, Rodrigo F, Vila, B, Albarracín, P, Bukhash, RM, Al Abbar, SO, Radwan, Karim MB, Zein, HM. 2017. Excavations in Area 2A at Sarūq al-Hadīd: Iron Age II evidence of copper production and ceremonial activities. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 47:5766.
de Vreeze, M. 2016. The social significance of ceramic change at the start of the Wadi Suq period. Rethinking ceramic continuity and change based on recent evidence from the tombs at Qarn al-Harf. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 46:6380.
Degli, Esposti M, Benoist, A. 2015. More on Masafi ancestors: the Late Bronze Age site of Masafi-5. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 45:5774.
Degli-Esposti, M, Coldoluci, C, Phillips, C, Tagliamnote, E, Sasso, M. 2018. The Early Iron Age chronology of South East Arabia: a reassessment on the basis of Husn Salut excavations. In: Avanzini, A, Degli, Esposti M, editors. Husn Salut and the Iron Age of South East Arabia. Excavations of the Italian Mission to Oman 2004–2014. Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider. p. 371382.
Delrue, P. 2008. Archaeometallurgical analyses of pre-Islamic artefacts from ed-Dur (Emirate of Umm al-Qaiwain, U.A.E.) [unpublished PhD dissertation]. University of Ghent.
During, BS, Olijdam, E, Botan, SA. 2017. New Iron Age funerary data from collective graves in Wādī Fizh., northern Oman. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 47:7592.
Eddisford, D, Phillips, CA. 2009. Kalba in the third millennium (Emirate of Sharjah, UAE). Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 39:111124.
Farrant, AR, Duller, GAT, Parker, AG, Roberts, HM, Parton, A, Knox, RWO, Bide, T. 2015. Developing a framework of Quaternary dune accumulation in the northern Rub’ al-Khali, Arabia. Quaternary International 382:132144.
Fink, D, Hotchkis, M, Hua, Q, Jacobsen, G, Smith, AM, Zoppi, U, Child, D, Mifsud, C, van der Gaast, H, Williams, A, Williams, M. 2004. The ANTARES AMS facility at ANSTO. Nuclear Instruments & Methods B 223–224:109115.
Franke, KA. 2016. Copper metallurgy. In: Weeks, L, editor. Saruq al-Hadid Archaeological Research Project (SHARP): Interim Report 2. Unpublished report submitted to Dubai Municipality. p. 175256.
Gernez, G, Jean, M, Benoist, A. 2017a. The Discovery of a New Iron Age ritual complex in central Oman: recent excavations near Ādam. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 47:101116.
Gernez, G, Jean, M, Benoist, A. 2017b. The Iron Age in Adam. The Discovery of a ritual complex near Jabal Mudhmar. In: Gernez, G, Giraud, J, editors. Taming the Great Desert: Adam in the prehistory of Oman. Muscat: Ministry of Culture and Heritage, Sultanate of Oman. p. 81101.
Gifford-Gonzalez, DP, Damrosch, DB, Damrosch, DR, Pryor, J, Thunen, RL. 1985. The third dimension in site structure: An experiment in trampling and vertical dispersal. American Antiquity 50:803818.
Goy, J, Le Carlier de Veslud, C, Degli, Esposti M, and Attaelmanan, AG. 2013. Archaeometallurgical survey in the Area of Masafi (Fujairah, UAE): Preliminary Data from an Integrated Programme of survey, excavation, and physicochemical analyses. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 43:127144.
Hauptmann, A. 1985. 5000 Jahre Kupfer in Oman. Band 1: Die Entwicklung der Kupfermetallurgie vom 3. Jahrtausend bis zur Neuzeit. Bochum: Der Anschnitt Beiheft. p. 4.
Herrmann, JT. 2013. Three-dimensional mapping of archaeological and sedimentary deposits with ground-penetrating radar at Saruq al-Hadid, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Archaeological Prospection 20(3):189203.
Herrmann, JT, Casana, J, Qandil, HS. 2012. A sequence of inland desert settlement in the Oman peninsula: 2008-2009 excavations at Saruq al-Hadid, Dubai, UAE. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 23:5069.
Ihde, CA. 2017. Sarouq Al-Hadid 2016/17 Final Report. German Mission. November 1st 2016–April 30th 2017. Dubai: Unpublished report submitted to Dubai Municipality.
Jongbloed, M. 2003. The Comprehensive Guide to the Wild Flowers of the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi: ERWDA.
Karacic, S, Weeks, L, Cable, C, Méry, S, al-Ali, Y, Boraik, M, Zein, H, Glascock, MD, MacDonald, BL. 2018. Integrating a complex late prehistoric settlement system: neutron activation analysis of pottery use and exchange at Saruq al-Hadid, United Arab Emirates. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 22:2131. doi: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2018.09.007.
Karacic, S, Boraik, M, Qandil, H, David-Cuny, H. 2017. Snake decorations on the Iron Age pottery from Saruq al-Hadid: a possible ritual centre? Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 47:139150.
Kennet, D. 2004. Sasanian and Islamic pottery from Ras al-Khaimah: classification, chronology and analysis of trade in the Western Indian Ocean. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Kennet, D, Velde, CA. 1995. Third and early second-millennium occupation at Nud Ziba, Khatt (U.A.E.). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 6:8199.
Lancaster, J. 1986. Wind action on stone artifacts: an experiment in site modification. Journal of Field Archaeology 13:359363.
Leigh, DS. 2001. Buried artefacts in sandy soils: techniques for evaluating pedoturbation versus sedimentation. In: Goldberg, P, Holliday, VT, Ferring, CR, editors. Earth Sciences and Archaeology. New York: Springer. p. 269293.
Macklin, S, Ellison, R, Manning, J, Farrant, A, Lorenti, L. 2012. The engineering geological characterisation of the Barzaman formation, with reference to coastal Dubai, UAE. Bulletin of Engineering Geology and the Environment 71:119. doi: 10.1007/s10064-011-0369-4.
Magee, P. 1996. The chronology of the southeast Arabian Iron Age. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 7:240252.
Magee, P. 2011. Ceramic production and exchange and the impact of domesticated Camelus dromedarius in Southeastern Arabia. In: Conard, NJ, et al., editors. Between sand and sea: the archaeology and human ecology of southwestern Asia—Festschrift in honor of Hans-Peter Uerpmann. Tübingen: Kerns Verlag. p. 213227.
Magee, P. 2014. The Archaeology of Prehistoric Arabia: Adaptation and Social Formation from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Magee, P, Carter, R. 1999. Agglomeration and regionalism: southeastern Arabia between 1400 and 1100 BCA. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 10:161179.
Magee, P, Händel, M, Karacic, S, Uerpmann, M, Uerpmann, H-P. 2017. Tell Abraq during the second and first millennia BC: site layout, spatial organisation, and economy. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 28:209237.
Mayer, JH. 2002. Evaluating natural site formation processes in Eolian dune sands: a case study from the Krmpotich Folsom site, Killpecker Dunes, Wyoming. Journal of Archaeological Science 29:11991211.
McRae, IK. 2017. Soft stone vessels. In: Weeks, L, editor. Saruq al-Hadid Archaeological Research Project: Interim Report 3. Unpublished report for Dubai Municipality. p. 633656.
McSweeney, K, Méry, S, Macchiarelli, R. 2008. Rewriting the end of the early Bronze Age in the United Arab Emirates through the anthropological and artefactual evaluation of two collective Umm an-Nar graves at Hili (eastern region of Abu Dhabi). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 19:114.
Méry, S. 2000. Les Céramiques d’Oman et l’Asie Moyenne. Paris: CNRS.
Moore, MW, Grant, K. 2017. Stone artefacts from Horizon IV at Saruq al-Hadid. In: Weeks, L, editor. Saruq al-Hadid Archaeological Research Project: Interim Report 3. Unpublished report for Dubai Municipality. p. 235251.
Mouton, M, Benoist, A, Cordoba, JM. 2011. The snake figuration in Iron Age society. Liwa 3(5):325.
Nashef, K. 2010. Sārūq al-Hadīd: an industrial complex of the Iron Age II period. In: Avanzini, A, editor. Eastern Arabia in the First Millennium BCA. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider. Arabia Antiqua 6. p. 213226.
Newton, CA. 2017. Archaeobotanical Studies. In: Weeks, L, editor. Saruq al-Hadid Archaeological Research Project: Interim Report 3. Unpublished report for Dubai Municipality. p. 173202.
Phillips, CS. 2010. Iron Age chronology in South East Arabia and new data from Salut, Sultanate of Oman. In: Avanzini, A, editor. Eastern Arabia in the first millennium BCA. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider. Arabia Antiqua 6. p. 7180.
Ploquin, A, Orzechowsky, S, Briand, B. 1999. Paléometallurgie à Mleiha: une première approche. In: Mouton, M, editor. Mleiha I: environnement, stratégies de subsistence et artisanats. Lyon: Travaux de la Maison de l’Orient Mediterraneen 29. p. 171190.
Potts, DT. 1990. A Prehistoric Mound in the Emirate of Umm al-Qaiwain, U.A.E.: Excavations at Tell Abraq in 1989. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
Potts, DT. 1991. Further Excavations at Tell Abraq. The 1990 Season. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
Preston, GW, Parker, AG, Walkington, H, et al. 2012. From nomadic herder-hunters to sedentary farmers: the relationship between climate change and ancient subsistence strategies in South-Eastern Arabia. Journal of Arid Environments 86:122130.
Preston, GW, Thomas, DSG, Goudie, AS, et al. 2015. A multi-proxy analysis of the Holocene humid phase from the United Arab Emirates and its implications for Southeast Arabia’s Neolithic populations. Quaternary International 382:277292.
Qandil, HS. 2005. Survey and Excavations at Saruq al-Hadeed 2002–2003. In: Hellyer, P, Ziolkowski, MC, editors. Emirates Heritage. Vol. 1. Proceedings of the first Annual Symposium on Recent Palaeontological and Archaeological Discoveries in the Emirates, Al Ain 2003. Al Ain: Zayed Centre for Heritage and History. p. 120138.
Reimer, PJ, Bard, E, Bayliss, A, Beck, J, Blackwell, PG, Ramsey, CB, Buck, CE, Cheng, H, Edwards, RL, Friedrich, M, Grootes, PM, Guilderson, TP, Haflidason, H, Hajdas, I, Hatte, C, Heaton, TJ, Hoffmann, DL, Hogg, AG, Hughen, KA, Kaiser, KF, Kromer, B, Manning, SW, Niu, M, Reimer, RW, Richards, DA, Scott, EM, Southon, JR, Staff, RA, Turney, CSM, van der Plicht, J. 2013. IntCal13 and Marine13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50, 000 years cal BP. Radiocarbon 55(4):18691887.
Righetti, S. 2015. Les cultures du Wadi Suq et de Shimal dans la péninsule omanaise au deuxième millénaire avant notre ère. Evolution des sociétés du Bronze moyen et du Bronze recent [unpublished PhD dissertation]. University of Paris I. Vol. 3.
Righetti, S, Cleuziou, S. 2010. The Wādī Sūq pottery: a typological study of the pottery assemblage at Hili 8 (UAE). Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 40:283291.
Roberts, J, Weeks, L, Cable, C, Fillios, M, Al Ali, YY, Boraik, M, Zein, H. 2018. The role of wild terrestrial animals in late prehistoric societies of southeastern Arabia: new insights from Saruq al-Hadid. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 42:115135. doi: 10.1111/aae.12112.
Sabtu, SN, Mahat, RH, Amin, YM, Price, DM, Bradley, DA, Maah, MJ. 2015. Thermoluminescence dating analysis at the site of an ancient brick structure at Pengkalan Bujang, Malaysia. Applied Radiation and Isotopes 105:182187.
Sage, RF, Monson, RK. 1999. C4 plant biology. San Diego: Academic Press.
Stepanov, I, Weeks, L, Franke, K, Salvemini, F, Cable, C, Al Ali, Y, Boraik, Radwan M, Zein, H, Grave, P. 2019. Scrapping ritual: Iron Age metal recycling at the site of Saruq al-Hadid (U.A.E.). Journal of Archaeological Science 101:7288. doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2018.11.003.
Taha, M. 2009. The discovery of the Iron Age in the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi: Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development.
United Arab Emirates Ministry of Energy. 2012. Al Lisaili Geological Map. 1:100, 000 Series Sheet 100–6. Abu Dhabi: Department of Geology and Mineral Resources, Ministry of Energy.
Velde, CA. 2009. The landscape of the Middle Bronze Age in the UAE—Where did people live? In: Proceedings of the International History Conference on New Perspectives on Recording UAE History. Abu Dhabi: National Center for Documentation and Research. p. 6174.
Velde, CA. 2003. Wadi Suq and Late Bronze Age in the Oman Peninsula. In: Potts, DT, Naboodah, HA, Hellyer, P, editors. Archaeology of the United Arab Emirates. London: Trident. p. 101114.
Wagner, G, Yule, P. 2015. Thermoluminescence dating of ceramics from Oman. In: Yule, P, editor. Archaeological research in the Sultanate of Oman: Bronze and Iron Age graveyards. Bochum: Deutschen Bergbau-Museum. Der Anschnitt Beiheft 28. p. 173178.
Weeks, LR. 2003. Early Metallurgy of the Persian Gulf: Technology, Trade, and the Bronze Age World. Boston: American School of Prehistoric Research and Brill Academic Publishers.
Weeks, LR. 2004. An analysis of Late Pre-Islamic copper-base artefacts from Ed Dur, U.A.E. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 15:240252. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0471.2004.00249.x.
Weeks, LR, Cable, CM, Franke, KA, Newton, C, Karacic, S, Roberts, J, Stepanov, I, David-Cuny, H, Price, D, Bukhash, RM, Radwan, MB, Zein, HM. 2017. Recent archaeological research at Saruq al-Hadid, Dubai, UAE. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 28:3160.
Weeks, L, Cable, CM, Franke, KA, Karacic, S, Newton, C, Roberts, J, Stepanov, I, McRae, IK, Moore, MW, David-Cuny, H, Al Aali, YY, Boraik, M, Zein, HM. 2018. Saruq al-Hadid: a persistent temporary place in late prehistoric Arabia. World Archaeology. doi: 10.1080/00438243.2018.1491324.
Weisgerber, G. 1980. “…und Kupfer in Oman” - Das Oman-Projekt des Deutschen Bergbau-Museums. Der Anschnitt 32:62110.
Weisgerber, G. 1981. Mehr als Kupfer in Oman ‒ Ergebnisse der expedition 1981. Der Anschnitt 33:174263.
Weisgerber, G. 2007. Sites of multi-period copper production in the Sultanate of Oman. In: Proceedings of the International Symposium: Archaeology of the Arabian Peninsula through the Ages (7th–9th May 2006). Muscat: Ministry of Heritage. p. 191209.
Wilkinson, JCA. 1977. Water and tribal settlement in south-east Arabia: a study of the Aflaj of Oman. Oxford: Clarendon.
Yule, PA, Gernez, G, editors. 2018. Early Iron Age metal-working workshop in the Empty Quarter, al-Zahira Province, Sultanate of Oman. Bonn: Habelt-Verlag.
Yule, PA, Weisgerber, G. 2001. The Metal Hoard from ‘Ibrī/Selme, Sultanate of Oman. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner. Prähistorische Bronzefunde Abteilung XX, 7. Band.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed