Jomon was not that old after all...

Cyril Roger Brossard

Well-known member
Aug 30, 2012
Oldest archaeological pearl found in UAE cemetery
By Livius drusus
Ancient pearls have been discovered in fossil form going back to the Cretaceous Period (145-65 million years ago), but they don’t appear in the archaeological record until fairly recently. Conventional jeweler’s wisdom has it that the oldest archaeological pearl known is the 5000-year-old Jomon pearl, found in Japan and named after the semi-settled hunter-gatherer period of Japanese prehistory (ca. 14,000 B.C.-300 B.C.) to which it dates, but as so often happens, conventional wisdom is wrong. There isn’t much reliable information about the Jomon pearl that I was able to discover online, no academic research, no details about where it was found, just the same two sentences on page after page of “famous pearls” websites, but there are properly documented pearls that are far older than 5000 years.


According to Pearls: A Natural History, a gorgeously illustrated book written in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History’s and The Field Museum’s Pearls exhibit that I had the great fortune to see when it was on the road in 2003, the oldest pearls found connected to human habitation have been found in Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites in Mesopotamia and Arabia. Some of them were found in shell midden piles, discards from harvests of freshwater mollusks. Two perforated pearls dating to between 3700 and 3400 B.C. were found grasped in the right hands of one male and one female skeleton buried facing the sea at the Ras al-Hamra site in Oman.

Excavations in the early 2000s by the British Archaeological Expedition to Kuwait unearthed a pearl dating to around 5000 B.C. at the As-Sabiyah site inland from the northern edge of Kuwait Bay. The pearl is pierced through so clearly its intended use was decorative. A number of mother-of-pearl beads, buttons and other kinds of shell jewelry were also found, evidence of the long tradition of pearling in the Persian Gulf.


A new study has moved the oldest date of archaeological pearls even further back to approximately 5500 B.C.


“There are also numerous mother-of-pearl "buttons" with several piercings. These may have been sewn onto cloth like sequins, as they are very delicate.
Most of them are circular, but barrel-shaped and hourglass-shaped examples are also found. The nearest parallels are found at Ubaid-related sites in Qatar (Nayeem 1998: 215, figs 5-8).”

Researchers with the French Foreign Ministry have found 42 burials in the Neolithic site of Umm al-Quwain 2 in the United Arab Emirates. The burials were spread through four shell layers from different periods alternating with layers of sterile sand. In the earliest shell layer, recently radiocarbon dated to 5500 B.C., a small pearl 0.07 inches in diameter was recovered after excavation from sand stuck to the skull of skeleton/burial 4.


Interestingly, this pearl was not perforated. It wasn’t worn on a string or embroidered onto clothing. Like more recent archaeological pearls discovered placed on the upper lip of a buried skeleton, it appears to have had a ritual role.
The pearl is remarkably well preserved, its luster dimmed, perhaps, but not destroyed, thanks to the layers of shell which lowered the pH level of the sand layers. That same mechanism preserved an impressive 18 pearls from 4700 – 4100 B.C. found on the UAE island of Akab. The Akab pearls come in white, pink and orange shades and retain their original luster. Almost all of them are round, which are far less frequently found in nature than the baroque shapes.


French adventurer Henry de Monfreid described going traditional pearl fishing on the Red Sea with four men in 1935. They worked all day and found only 27 pearls in 1000 oysters. Out of that 27, 20 were baroque and five were round ones the size of a pinhead. That means the Neolithic pearl divers, who already were doing an incredibly dangerous and difficult job, discarded the vast majority of the pearls they found in favor of the ones closest to spherical.
It’s amazing to think of how powerful a role pearls played in Neolithic sea-dependent cultures and how far back that goes. They weren’t just objects of great beauty and fragility, prizes to be kept and to inspire trade with Mesopotamian civilizations. They were also symbols used in the most profound rituals surrounding life and death.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Ariel’s song, Act 1, Scene 2, The Tempest


Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

French researchers have unearthed the oldest natural pearl ever found at a Neolithic site in Arabia, suggesting that pearl oyster fishing first occurred in this region of the world.
Discovered in the Emirate of Umm al Quwain, United Arab Emirates (UAE), the pearl was believed to have originated between 5547 and 5235 BC.
"Gemmologists and jewellers have popularised the idea that the oldest pearl in the world is the 5000-year-old Jomon pearl from Japan. Discoveries made on the shores of south-eastern Arabia show this to be untrue," Vincent Charpentier, Sophie M?ry and colleagues at the French Foreign Ministry's archeological mission in the UAE, wrote in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.

Some 7,500 years old and 0.07 inches in diameter, the newly discovered pearl is just the last of a series of findings at archeological sites in the Arabian Peninsula.
Over the years, researchers unearthed a total of 101 Neolithic pearls, coming from the large pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera and from Pinctada radiata, a much smaller, easier to collect species, which provides higher quality pearls.
"The discovery of archaeological pearls demonstrates an ancient fishing tradition that no longer exists today," wrote the researchers.
Although diving for pearls was difficult and dangerous, mother-of-pearl was an important resource in the economy of local Neolithic societies, said the researchers.

The large valves of P. margaritifera's were used to make fish hooks for the capture of fish as large as tuna and sharks, while spherically shaped pearls were collected for their esthetic value and for funeral rites.
Indeed, the Umm al Quwain pearl, which was not drilled, had been recovered from a grave.
According to the researchers, findings at local necropolis reveal that pearls were often placed on the deceased's face, often above the upper lip.
In the fifth millennium BC, half-drilled natural pearls were associated with men, and full-drilled pearls with women.
"In this region, pearls still hold an important place. Indeed, today they remain a central, identifying "element," the researchers wrote.
Photos: The oldest pearl in the world. Credit: Ken Walton/CNRS.
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also seen here.

Dubai: The oldest pearl in the history of human kind, that goes back to over seven centuries to the Neolithic age, was found in the UAE recently.

The report, quoting a French National Centre for Scientific Research statement, said gem specialists believed that the oldest pearl hitherto known goes back to 3000 BC and was found at an antiquity site in Japan.

The centre added that the pearl, which was discovered lately in the Umm Al Quwain emirate of the UAE, was found to be of 5500 BC time after it was tested by Carbon 14.

According to the Center, the pearl is the oldest known in the Arabian Peninsula and across the world.

This newly discovered pearl along with other pearls found along the south western shores of the Arabian Peninsula indicates that this region witnessed the oldest clan hunting activity in the world for the value of pearls aesthetically and for special rituals, the Gulf News report said.

Researchers at the centre clarified that natural pearls were important in funeral rituals where un-pierced pearls used to be delivered at the Umm Al Quwain cemetery and others where they were placed over the deceased's face, especially over the upper lip, said the report.

This new discovery shows the importance of pearls in old societies of the Arab Gulf and the northern part of the Indian Ocean, and made up an important element of its cultural identity.
And from the website of the CNRS.

Paris, 7 juin 2012
D?couverte en Arabie de la plus ancienne perle fine arch?ologique au monde
Des chercheurs du laboratoire Arch?ologies et sciences de l'antiquit? (ArScAn) (CNRS/Universit? Paris Ouest Nanterre La D?fense/Universit? Paris 1 Panth?on-Sorbonne/minist?re de la culture et de la communication, Inrap) viennent de mettre en ?vidence la plus ancienne perle fine arch?ologique de l'humanit?. D?couverte sur un site n?olithique de l'Emirat d'Umm al Quwain (Emirats Arabes Unis), elle est dat?e de 5500 ans avant notre ?re. Ces r?sultats, alli?s aux pr?c?dentes d?couvertes de perles fines faites sur le littoral de l'Arabie du sud-est, attestent dans cette r?gion du monde de la plus ancienne pratique de p?che ? l'hu?tre perli?re. Publi?s dans la revue Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, ils montrent l'importance qu'elles pouvaient avoir dans les soci?t?s anciennes du Golfe persique et du nord de l'oc?an indien, au point m?me de constituer un ?l?ment majeur de leur identit? culturelle. Ces travaux ont ?t? financ?s par le CNRS, le minist?re des Affaires ?trang?res (MAE), le d?partement des Antiquit?s et des Mus?es de l'Emirat d'Umm al-Quwain (UAE) et le minist?re de la Culture du Sultanat d'Oman.

Jusque-l?, les gemmologues avaient popularis? l'id?e que la plus vieille des perles fines (dat?e de 3000 ans avant notre ?re) provenait d'un site pr?historique japonais. La perle qui vient d'?tre trouv?e au sein de l'habitat c?tier d'Umm al-Quwain 2, aux Emirats Arabes Unis, est issue d'un niveau dat? par carbone 14 de 5547-5477, 5410-5235 ans avant notre ?re. Il s'agit donc de la plus ancienne perle fine arch?ologique connue actuellement en Arabie mais aussi au monde. Cette d?couverte atteste que les perles fines ?taient d?j? collect?es 2500 ans plus t?t dans cette aire g?ographique, pour leur valeur esth?tique voire ? des fins rituelles.

La pr?sence de perles fines dans de nombreux sites n?olithiques d'Arabie confirme leur p?che non seulement dans le Golfe persique mais aussi sur le littoral de l'Oc?an Indien (Mer d'Oman et Mer d'Arabie du Sultanat d'Oman). Ni l'Egypte, ni la M?sopotamie, l'Inde ou la Chine n'ont fourni de perles fines tr?s anciennes, on en connait toutefois en M?sopotamie d?s 3200-3000 ans avant notre ?re.

En Arabie, la totalit? des perles n?olithiques retrouv?es (101 au total) est issue de la grande hu?tre perli?re Pinctada margaritifera et de la Pinctada radiata, cette derni?re ?tant beaucoup plus petite, plus facile ? collecter et offrant des perles de plus grande qualit?. Collect?es au prix d'une p?che difficile et dangereuse, les perles fines ?taient tri?es, pour privil?gier les formes sph?riques. Souvent blanches, opaques et mates du fait de leur alt?ration, certaines sont pourtant remarquablement conserv?es, avec des tons blancs, roses, orang?s, brun?tres et poss?dent encore leur lustre d'origine. La nacre des hu?tres constituait quant ? elle une ressource capitale dans l'?conomie des soci?t?s n?olithiques locales, puisque
c'est ? partir des grandes valves de P. margaritifera qu'?taient produits les hame?ons, destin?s ? capturer toute une gamme de poissons, jusqu'aux plus grands (thons ou requins).

Les perles fines occupaient une place particuli?re dans les rites fun?raires. Ainsi, la perle retrouv?e, non perc?e, ?tait d?pos?e dans la s?pulture d'un individu dans la n?cropole d'Umm al Quwain 2. Dans d'autres n?cropoles, les perles ?taient plac?es sur le visage du d?funt, notamment au-dessus de sa l?vre sup?rieure. Des travaux r?cents ont montr? qu'au Ve mill?naire avant notre ?re, les perles fines semi-perc?es ?taient associ?es ? des hommes, tandis que les perles enti?rement perfor?es l'?taient ? des femmes.

Translated in English.

Paris, 7 June 2012
Saudi discovery of the oldest archaeological pearl in the world

Archaeologies laboratory researchers and science of antiquity (ArScAn) (CNRS / Universit? Paris Ouest Nanterre La D?fense / Universit? Paris 1 Panth?on-Sorbonne/minist?re culture and communication, Inrap) just highlight the oldest Archaeological pearl of humanity. Discovery of a Neolithic site in the Emirate of Umm Al Quwain (UAE), is dated 5500 years before our era. These results, together with previous findings of pearls made on the coast of south-eastern Arabia, attest to the region's oldest fishing practice for pearls. Published in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, they show the importance they may have in ancient societies of the Persian Gulf and northern Indian Ocean, to the point of constituting a major part of their cultural identity. This work was funded by the CNRS, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the Department of Antiquities and Museums of the Emirate of Umm al-Quwain (UAE) and the Ministry of Culture of the Sultanate of Oman.
Until then, gemologists have popularized the idea that the oldest of pearls (dated 3000 BCE) originated from a prehistoric Japanese. The pearl has been found in the coastal habitat of Umm al-Quwain 2, United Arab Emirates, is from a level dated by carbon-14 5547-5477, 5410-5235 BCE . It is therefore the oldest known archaeological pearl currently in Saudi but also the world. This finding confirms that the pearls were already collected 2,500 years earlier in this geographical area for their aesthetic value or for ritual purposes.

The presence of pearls in many Neolithic sites in Saudi confirms their fishing not only in the Gulf but also on the shores of the Indian Ocean (Arabian Sea and Arabian Sea of ​​Oman). Neither Egypt nor Mesopotamia, India and China have provided pearls very old, but we know in Mesopotamia from 3200-3000 BCE.

Arabia, all the beads found Neolithic (101 in total) from the great pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera and Pinctada radiata, the latter being much smaller, easier to collect and providing higher quality pearls. Collected at the cost of fishing difficult and dangerous, the pearls were sorted to favor spherical shapes. Often white, opaque and dull because of their impairment, yet some are remarkably conserved, with shades of white, pink, orange, brown and still have their original luster. The pearl oysters was about it a vital resource in the economy of local Neolithic societies, since
it is from large valves of P. what were margaritifera products hooks, designed to capture a wide range of fish to the largest (tuna or sharks).

The pearls held a special place in the funeral rites. Thus, the pearl found, undrilled, was deposited in the burial of an individual in the necropolis of Umm al Quwain 2. In other cemeteries, the beads were placed on the face of the deceased, especially above his upper lip. Recent studies have shown that in the fifth millennium BC, the semi-drilled pearls were associated with men, while the beads were completely perforated for women.
The pearl of Umm al-Quwain 2 (UAE), dated 7500, was associated with skeleton No. 4 of the necropolis.
18 pearls from the Neolithic settlement of Ahab (UAE), dated 6700-6100 years.