Shimal Archaeological Site

The following article was among papers left to the Al Ain ENHG by Ibrahim Zakhour. The article, and related documents -- see links at the end of the text -- is undated and attributed to the Department of Antiquities and Museum, Ras al Khaimah.

Shimal Archaeological Site

Government of Ras al Khaimah
Department of Antiquities and Museum

Shimal is the largest pre-Islamic site in the Emirates of Ras Al Khaimah. Situated about 8km northeast of Ras Al Khaimah town near the modern village of Shimal, it is easily accessible by ordinary car in a 15 to 20 minute drive.

The site comprises a number of proto-historic settlement remains, a very extensive contemporaneous cemetery and a medieval fortress locally known as the "Palace of the queen of Sheba". The area has been settled for at least 4500 years and its former inhabitants have benefited from its favorable setting close to the sea, pastures and cultivable lands. Fishing, animal husbandry, hunting, and horticulture were their main subsistence through the ages. But also far distance trade with Mesopotamia, Bahrain, Iran and the Indian sub-continent was certainly important.

Since 1976 British and German archaeologists have uncovered a number of impressive monuments yielding artifacts that are now on display in the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah.

The vast proto-historic cemetery of Shimal consists of some 250 tombs of different architectural types, many of monumental size. Most of these were designed to take a large number of people possibly belonging to families or clans. The tombs are predominantly built over ground with a small door permitting multiple accesses to the interior. But there are also a number of single burials in subterranean stone-cists. Most probably the dead were laid on the floor in a sleeping position on one side with contracted legs and flexed arms accompanied by specially fabricated offerings (ceramics, stone vessels, weapons etc.) and personal ornaments, (beads, necklaces, bracelets, rings and the like).

When approaching the site from the north approximately 2km from the main road appears on the left side a separately fenced trench containing a large circular tomb 11.3 ms. in diameter (Sh 222). It belongs to a type (so-called Umm an-Nar) well known from many places in the Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman. Note the partly preserved outer skin of well-dressed limestone ashlars and the regular system of inner partition walls dividing the chamber into 8 compartments. Although disturbed, the tomb contained some 300 burials furnished with locally produced pottery, some soft stone vessels and thousands of beads of different materials. But there were also some clay vessels probably imported from the island of Bahrain and from southeastern Iran. The tomb can be dated to the last centuries of the 3rd millennium BC. (2200-2000 BC.)

Entering the main archaeological park of Shimal you immediately face a very large oval over ground tomb (Sh 99) 16m long and almost 11m wide. It was constructed in two phases, first a rectangular "Central" chamber with a doorstep in the northern end. Later an oval chamber with a second entrance on the same axis was added to its exterior giving space for further burials. At its southern end a bench construction may have been used for the deposition of offerings and an internal horseshoe shaped stone alignment is most likely a later addition.

Besides the skeletal remains of at least 66 individuals (including possibly some cremations) animal bones, shells, ceramics, soft stone vessels and personal ornaments were discovered. The tomb is approximately 3800 to 3500 years old, but it is constructed on top of older domestic remains (not visible).

The nearby settlement is an almost rectangular compound at the foot of a triangular limestone outcrop. The stone foundations of an L-shaped wall, once meant to screen off the domestic area, show a covered gutter in the corner to drain away run-off water from the inside and a narrow entrance on its southern side with a big monolith and the remains of an adjacent stone c1rcle just behind it. Excavation trenches across the slope reveal several retaining walls built to terrace the more elevated areas. Scattered all over are fireplaces and pits and oval patterns of postholes, which may represent huts originally made of perishable materials such as wood or palm leaves. From here very large amounts of shells, crustacea, fish and other animal bones were collected as well as some carbonized dates. Among the garbage thousands of potsherds were also found, belonging mainly to large vessels once used for storage. This area was intensively occupied during the 2nd millennium BC occupation.

Inside the western leg of the enclosure wall can be seen a long nearly rectangular tomb (Sh 43) built of large random stones but also utilizing a natural cavity in the rock. The threshold is on the western side. On the paved floor many human bones were lying mixed with broken pottery, stone vessels, metal items and personal ornaments. The tomb was constructed probably during the first half of the 2nd millennium BC and prior to the enclosure wall at a time when this part of the settlement was temporarily abandoned.

But there were also some domestic activities outside the main settlement enclosure, immediately adjacent to its western section are the foundations of a small, roughly rectangular, single roomed hut that was in the use already during the 2nd millennium BC. Further to the west was an area first marked by pits of different size (for rubbish and also to accommodate large storage jars) and later superimposed by some huts. After these had collapsed a larger oblong building was founded directly on top of them consisting of a range of adjoining, well-built rectangular rooms. All that seems to have happened in a relatively short period sometime during the first half of the 1st millennium BC.

Tombs Sh 46 and 48 are small subterranean stone-cists of 2.5m and 3m length and 1.3m and 1.5 width. They belong to a type known from many places both in the Emirates and in Oman and which is usually reserved for single or double burials. They date very generally to the 2nd millennium BC. Close by is a large over ground tomb of oval plan (Sh 103, 11m by 6.0m) consisting of two parallel chambers and accessible from the west. Although badly disturbed it still yielded the skeletal remains of at least 50 individuals and a high quality funerary inventory of personal ornaments, soft stone vessels and geometrically painted pottery that attribute the tomb to the early 2nd millennium BC.

Following the edge of the nearby wadi toward northeast one comes to the remains of a small circular over ground tomb (Sh 100) of barely 4.5m diameter. Its entrance in the northeast shows two vertical slabs (jambs) and the large block between them was the original door blocking which was then additionally concealed by an extra screening wall. The tomb dates as well to the 2nd millennium BC but at least one of the nine burials recorded was accompanied by some beads, an iron bracelet and a small stamp seal, which may give a date between the 3rd and 5th century AD.

On the opposite side of the wadi there are two more tombs worth seeing. Sh 101 and Sh 102 are over ground funerary monuments, Rectangular in plan with rounded narrow sides as already known from tomb Sh 43 inside the settlement compound. This type is the most frequent in the cemetery and is very characteristic for northern Ras Al Khaimah. Tomb Sh 101 is the better preserved, displaying the major criteria of the 2nd millennium BC funerary architecture, i.e. in-filled double skin masonry, small entrance, and very distinct internal roof construction made of gable-like tilted boulders. Sh 101 was found empty but tomb Sh 102, which was heavily affected by later quarrying and disturbances, produced bones of altogether 140 individuals mixed with smashed grave goods including a number of rather rare arrowheads with incised decoration. The tomb can be assigned to the period between the 15th to 13th century BC, while some burials might be even slightly younger (latest 2nd millennium BC).

From the gate of the Shimal Archaeological site you can proceed another kilometer to the so-called "Palace of the Queen of Sheba" (see map) Please park your car near the fence and lock it. Follow the fence on the inside and you will soon find the steps that will take you on top of the mesa-like outcrop above the modern housing area of Shimal. The irregularly shaped plateau is edged by a continuous fortification wall consisting of adjacent rooms. Except for a few water cisterns the center of the outcrop, the plateau is more or less empty but at its highest point there are the remains of a larger building including a vaulted cistern. Local tradition reports that the Queen of Sheba, legendary visitor of King Solomon (10th century BC) was here, another gives the same account of Queen Zaba (Zenobia of Palmyra, 3rd Century AD) who is said to have paid a short visit to the place, most likely the fortifications here are not older than the nearby town of Julfar (14th to 18th cent A.D.) may point to earlier occupations. The fortress may have guarded the coastal plain and the coast with which it is connected in a straight line by a dam ("Wadi al Sur") that starts at the southwestern foot of the outcrop.

NOTE: The area is densely inhabited; please conduct yourself in a way you would like visitors to behave on your own property. Do not pick up archaeological artifacts from the surface or damage any monuments. Please respect the Law of Antiquities!


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