The discovery represents the country’s rich pearl diving history.
Qatar’s historic pearl trade industry has found its way to the present with the recent discovery of the oldest known natural pearl bead in the country, dating back to 4600 BCE.
The gift from the past was discovered during a local excavation mission led by Dr. Ferhan Sakal, Head of Excavation and Site Management at Qatar Museums, on Wednesday.
Whilst pearls are sheltered in shells, the discovered bead was safely protected in an ancient grave at Wadi Al Debaian, one of country’s oldest Neolithic sites. Neolithic times refer to the final stages of the stone age, when humans were learning to raise crops and gradually moving towards agriculture.
“Our team has unearthed a find of considerable historic and sociological importance, pointing us to the first traceable origins of Qatar’s human settlements and their use of the locally-occurring pearl enclaves,” said Faisal Abdulla Al-Naimi, Director of Archaeology at Qatar Museums.
The newly-discovered artefact provides a glimpse into the earliest civilisations of the country, from social structures to wealth distribution.
The grave itself is located near the UNESCO World Heritage site, Al Zubarah, where several archaeological treasures are buried. Such items include pottery from the Ubaid period, between circa 6500 to 3800 BCE, of South Mesopotamia, modern Iraq.
The Wadi Al Debaian Neolithic cemetery was discovered by Qatar Museums as part of its National Priority Research Programme,“Human Populations and Demographics in Qatar from the Neolithic to the late Iron Age”.
A rich pearl diving history
The discovery enriches ongoing studies on Qatar’s past and identity, enabling the museums’ entity to delve deep into the country’s rich pearl diving industry.
Before the great discovery of oil in the 1940’s, Pearl diving was the driving force behind the Arabian Peninsula’s wealth in the 19th century. Pearl diving amounted to 75% of the Gulf’s total exports at the time, with a large number of the jewel being sold to Europeans and royal families around the world.
Divers, then-known as “Jazwas”, used to hop on dhow boats and embark on pearl diving journeys that would take place for up-to four months. Those who went on the long diving journeys used to wear special gear, including a cotton diving suit and a nose plug made out of turtle shell or sheep bone.
The journey was not easy at the time, particularly during challenging weather conditions that involved swimming for hours whilst collecting oysters containing the pearls.
Pearl diving was then disrupted with the introduction of pearl farming, a process that enables the gems to grow in specific areas.
Despite gradually decreasing over time, the pearl diving industry continues to play a key role in Qatar’s culture, with its name and symbols being embedded across the country; whether through the oyster fountain on the Corniche or the Pearl area, which was, within itself, built on an old pearl-diving site.