Plenty of fruit in Michele Ziolkowski’s Fujairah’s Date Palm Gardens - GulfToday

Plenty of fruit in Michele Ziolkowski’s Fujairah’s Date Palm Gardens

palm trea 1

A low-lying mound in Fujairah City.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Fujairah’s Date Palm Gardens, A Preliminary Survey by Fujairah resident and UAE citizen Dr Michele C Ziolkowski, published by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Hamad Al Sharqi, Crown Prince of Fujairah, is a nearly hundred pages long volume that provides a detailed picture of the settlements which have existed for centuries in the palm gardens of the coastal towns and villages of Fujairah, UAE, and adjacent parts of Oman — a “vast acreage of alluvial farmland so juicy rich, you can almost hear it gurgling like the tummy of an overfed infant”, as a writer put it.

Ziolkowski, a trained archaeologist, was intrigued by the mounds of soil and rubble, often dismissed as collateral damage of agricultural activities, present in the above mentioned areas. She was sure there was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma here. She began examining and, with the help of associates, excavating the mounds. What she found there was a wealth of material, which spoke of life and loves of times gone by.


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The mounds (“nud” in Arabic), were old. Some of them were already visible prior to the development of the twentieth century date palm gardens in Fujairah. Several generations of Fujairah farmers do not remember how they were formed; as far as they could recall, “they were always there.” A hundred mounds were explored, revealing items such as shells, pottery sherds, khunj ware, ceramics, porcelain, copper coins, imported ware from places ranging from Iran to Myanmar, Thailand to China and Mesopotamia to Indus.   

As the shovels, trowels, spades, brushes, sieves and buckets began their work, a bewildering range of surprises were encountered: gravel, quartz, boulders, pebbles, car tracks, farm fences, debris, trees, animal fodder, farming and gardening material and others of the kind. In a message, the author described the exhilaration and exhaustion of her journey. “It took years of work,” she said. “Even crawling under wire fences, commando style! Climbing over other fences as well. “Standing on the roof of my car to photograph one of the sites. Madness. So much work”.

Michele C 1 Dr Michele C Ziolkowski.

The mounds have been painstakingly measured and their features meticulously documented. Photographs add to the detail and GPS coordinates tell us exactly where they were found. Ethnographic interviews, conducted by Sheikh Abdulla Suhail Al Sharqi, add punch to the pages. Archaeological tell (mound) sites which were investigated, were situated in the north at Dibba and midway along the eastern coast of the UAE at Bidyah, Khor Fakkan and Qidfa, with two excavated tell sites south of Fujairah, on the east coast in the date palm gardens of Kalba, Sharjah Emirate. Material finds recovered from these sites ranged in date from the Umm an-Nar period (2500 BCE and 2000 BCE), Wadi Suq period (2000 to 1600 BCE), Late Bronze Age (1600 to 1250 BCE), Iron Age (1250-300 BCE), Late pre-Islamic period, 17th to 18th centuries CE and up to the 20th century CE. “The scope of the material and chronology reflects the diversity and longevity of human presence along the East Coast of the UAE, within the fertile date palm garden belt”, notes the author.

She quotes Daniel Eddisford and Carl Phillips (authors of Kalba in the third millennium) who wrote that “at least by the second half of the third millennium, the inhabitants of Kalba were clearly integrated in the complex trade network that linked Mesopotamia with the Indus. “Southeast Arabia exhibits a relatively homogenous material culture throughout this period, and local exchange was presumably also an important factor”.

So, the title of Ziolkowski’s book is deceptive. It is not only about date palms. It is much more than that — just as The Road to Mecca is not about roads or Kalīla wa-Dimna, about animals and birds. Preliminary Survey is a Discovery Channel of a read, in a National Geographic setting, with History Channel as guide. There is a substantial bibiliographic mound at the end, which will take a season’s worth of dig to read. It offers a list of works ranging from Abdullah M M’s ‘The United Arab Emirates: A Modern History’ to Ziolkowski M C’s ‘The Historical Archaeology of the Coast of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates: from the Eve of Islam to the Early Twentieth Century, Volume I.’ The bibiliography is followed by an extensive array of endnotes, endless in content.  

The book is a dialogue between the muted past and vocal present, with the author as host. It is a many faceted piece of writing, and, for proof, look no further than pages 52 – 53. It is an exhaustive description of irrigation methods — an engineering manual in two pages. Examining sites located within the date palm belt along the UAE’s East Coast may also elucidate answers to questions surrounding the Umm an-Nar to Wadi Suq period transition, settlement patterns, sedentary and mobile populations, seasonal migration and trade networks. “As the Emirate of Fujairah, in company with the rest of the United Arab Emirates, moves forward in terms of its modern development,” says His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi, Crown Prince of Fujairah, in his foreword, “it becomes increasingly important that we do not lose sight of our past heritage and history.”

“To dismiss these surveyed coastal mounds as ‘simple’ or ‘complex’ clearance mounds”, says the author, “would be presumptuous. Based on current survey data and archaeological evidence, the mound sites should be preserved and detailed investigations undertaken.” The Survey is an eye-opener. It is a teaser for, hopefully, many more things to come. Detailed analysis of the sites, including excavation, will provide further insight into prehistoric and historical settlement patterns, in addition to agricultural practices. This introductory survey, available currently at Dubai Library online, only whets the appetite. The author is called upon to do more work on the matter to serve us a full, four-course, meal.

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