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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.
Arabia covers an area in excess of 2.5 million sq km. It is bounded on the west by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, on the south by the Arabian Sea and on the east by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Arabia’s northern boundary is less clear-cut, its arid landscape merging into the Mesopotamian alluvium and the Syrian Desert. This chapter focuses exclusively upon the prehistory of the Arabian Peninsula, that is, the modern countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Yemen, in the period from the Early Holocene to the 1st millennium bce.
Geography and Climate
The Arabian Peninsula displays significant geographical variability that was fundamental to prehistoric human settlement in the region. The peninsula contains a number of highland areas, including the Western Escarpment or ‘Asir Mountains running parallel to the Red Sea coast of Arabia and their continuation – the Yemen Highlands – which reach elevations in excess of 3600 masl and are cut by valleys draining to the southern and western coasts of Yemen and to the interior desert of the Ramlat as-Sab’atayn. In Southeast Arabia, the 600 km-long arc of the Al-Hajjar Mountains reaches 2980 masl at the Jebel Akhdar. Away from the mountainous highlands, the interior of Arabia is characterised by a series of major deserts which cover roughly one-third of the peninsula, including the stony Harra and the sandy Great Nafud deserts in the north and the great sand sea of the Rub’ al-Khali in the south. The general aridity of the region is reflected in the fact that modern Arabia has no permanent lakes or rivers. Modern rainfall varies substantially with topography and latitude.