Bulletin 32 - July 1987: Ras al Khaimah Museum, The Collections

Ras al Khaimah Museum

The Collections

by Mary Attewell
Curator, Ras al Khaimah Museum


The Museum is housed in the fort in the old part of the town. It ceased to be a prison at the end of May 1984 and since that time the building has been completely restored using traditional methods. Archaeological excavations revealed that the foundations of the fort date to the middle of the 18th century, during the time of the Persian occupation of 1736 to 1749. Most of the present building, apart from the original square tower on the left side of the entrance, was erected during the past century during which the fort also served as a family home for the Quwasim Sheikhs. It was Sheikh Saqr's residence until the early 1960's.

The fort is a two-storey rectangular building surrounding a courtyard with a wind tower on the northern elevation. The ground floor rooms and one room on the upper floor are being used the exhibitions. The building's new function as a Museum meant that the courtyard could not be kept in its original sandy state; it was important to protect the exhibits from dust as far as possible. A solution to the problem came in the form of pebbles from a wadi not far from the town. These were brought down by the truckload and set in concrete. The immediate effect was to soften the glare of the sun in the middle of the day, and an added bonus was discovered when many of the slabs were found to contain fossils. There are various small bivalves, among them Protocardium (a type of cockle) which was identified by the British Museum and dates from the late Triassic or early Jurassic, about 190 million years ago.

Natural History

In this section there is a large shell collection which ahs been donated by Mershall Schenkel. These shells are the result of more than seven years' collecting in the UAE, mainly from the beaches of Ras al Khaimah.

The fossil display was donated by the Ecology Group, based in Dubai. The fossils were collected from Jurassic/Cretaceous and Eocene deposits in the Emirates of Ras al Khaimah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, and have been identified by Dr. Noel Morris of the British Museum (Natural History).


This gallery is a series of connected rooms surrounding a small courtyard in the southwest corner of the fort. In the center of the courtyard is a reconstruction of a pottery kiln similar to those seen in the Wadi Haqil today. The archaeological exhibits are arranged in chronological order starting with the earliest evidence of human activity in Ras al Khaimah emirate in the third millennium BC. A settlement in Shimal, a few kilometers north of the town of Rams, was inhabited during the third and second millennia BC. Most of the second millennium exhibits date from the tomb sites at Shimal where there is large cemetery extending for more than a kilometer along the foot of the mountain.

Of special interest is a large Harappan jar painted with groups of black bands found in tomb 6. Beside it was a cube weight made of chert, and of the type used in the Indus Valley cities between 2300 and 1600 BC. These finds point to trading links with the Indus civilizations.

The Iron Age period of the mid first millennium BC is represented by debris from shell mounds which are the 'refuse heaps' of people living along the coast who threw away their shells and bones of the fish they ate, together with pieces of broken domestic pottery. The Iron Age tomb in Wadi al Qawr, excavated in the spring of 1986, has produced funeral ware of this period. A small Pilgrim flask was found at site 2 in Ghalilah. This has been dated to the Parthian period, second century BC to second century AD.

From Sassanian into early Islamic times (seventh to eighth centuries AD) there was a small fishing community at Jazirat al Hulaylah, immediately north of Rams on the coast. Many of the potsherds and decorative glass pieces on this site come from originals imported from India and Iran.

There are four coin collections on display in the Early Islamic room. The first, a hoard discovered near the town of Ras al Khaimah in 1965, is of tenth century silver dirhams, mainly Samanid with a few Buwayhid and other Persian examples. The collection of eleventh century silver dirhams was found in 1985 near Wadi al Qawr by a farmer who was extending his date garden. These coins were all struck at Sohar on the Oman coast in the names of Buwayhid emirs and their deputies. The shapes are irregular and some have had pieces cut off them. This is because transactions involved a certain weight of coined metal rather than a number of coins. Gold dinars were struck in Oman by the same governors but these are their first known dirhams.

Many of the small bronze coins form the Julfar excavations display the mint signature "Jarun' which was the original name of the island of Hormuz where the coins were minted between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries AD. During this period Hormuz controlled the waters of the Gulf and adjoining parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The Portuguese arrived at Hormuz in 1507 and most of the small coins here belong to the time of Portuguese domination during which the rulers of Hormuz continued to issue their own coins.

The collection of eighteenth century copper 'fulus' is from the mints of Isfahan, Tabriz, Lar and Kashan. The coins are worn and only a few dates are visible, but their typical animal designs can be clearly seen.

Two more rooms complete the Archaeological section, one devoted to the period of Portuguese domination in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries when imports to the thriving port of Julfar included Chinese porcelain, celadon and stoneware, and many other ceramics from Thailand, Vietnam, south India and east Africa.

Julfar as a district was first mentioned by Arab chroniclers in the eight century AD and later as a port in the tenth century. A famous seaman, Ibn Majid, a resident of Julfar, became navigator to the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama in 1498. A description of the port in 1517 by the Portuguese writer Durate Barbosa tells us that at Julfar there 'dwell persons of worth, great navigators and wholesale dealers. Here is a great fishery as well as seed-pearls as large as pearls, and the Moors of Hormuz come hither to buy them and carry them to India and many other lands."

During the eighteenth century the Persians gained control in the Gulf and built many encampments along the coast, including a small fort north of Julfar. In the Persian room is exhibited the local unglazed pottery known as 'Julfar ware'. It has either a pink or cream slip and is decorated with linear designs in maroon paint. Kiln sites have been found in Baramah and Wadi Haqil, where hand-thrown traditional pots continued to be made until the early 1970's. It is possible to trace the shapes and changing patterns of decoration from the fourteenth century to more recent times.


This gallery is on the northern side of the fort, running under the wind tower. The introductory room explains the topography of the Emirate and the different economic and cultural regions (including seasonal migration). There are pictures of the traditional house types to be found in the area.

The first room deals with the pearling industry, an important source of income until the Japanese cultured pearls captured the world markets. This is followed by a section on boat building and carpentry, with an attractive model of a dhow. The section on agriculture includes date palm cultivation and irrigation; there are pictures of dates being harvested, together with a display of the tools and equipment used. Animal husbandry and basketry lead on to an exhibition of pots made for different purposes and used by the local Beni Shimali tribe. A separate room at the end of this gallery is devoted to the nomadic Bedouin and his equipment.

The Silver room also contains weapons and costumes. Silver jewelry has been used since ancient times by the tribes of the Oman peninsula both for personal adornment and as an investment. The centers for working the silver are in Oman, but the jewelry was used throughout the peninsula. Examples on show include such typical objects as necklaces, bracelets, head ornaments with earrings, rings, grooming utensils, anklets, buckles, belts and pipes.

Among the weapons are not only the locally known 'khanjars' and axes belonging to the Shihuh tribe but also weapons imported from Iran and Britain. For example, the Baker rifle was the first in regular use to the British army (1801). The great length of the bayonet (24 inches) was in order to match the size of a bayoneted musket for defense against calvary. It was probably used in the British expedition against Ras al Khaimah in 1809.

Modern History

The final exhibition room covers the period from the nineteenth century to modern times and is called the Quwasim room. Here is the family tree of the Quwasim Sheikhs, starting with Rashid bin Mattar (1720 to 1777). There are descriptions and drawings of Ras al Khaimah in the nineteenth century and photographs of modern day developments.

Of particular interest are the prints of drawings made by Private R. Temple, a member of the British expedition against Ras al Khaimah in 1809. The British, who had been active in the Gulf for almost a century, wished to curtail the trading activities of the Quwasim and their power in the Gulf, as this seriously affected the trade of the British East India Company. After capturing the town of Ras al Khaimah and destroying the vessels in the harbor, the British withdrew, but it was not long before the Quwasim were re-established and regained their former sea power. A further expedition was sent against them in 1819 under Major General Sir William Grant Keir. A large model of his flagship, the HMS Liverpool is on display. After recapturing the town and the nearby port of Dhayah, a general peace treaty was signed in 1820. On 18th July the British garrison withdrew to the island of Qishm and Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr resumed authority.

(At the time of writing (April 1987) work is being finalized on the displays and graphics. It is impossible to give a precise date for opening, but it may be decided to wait until the autumn.)


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