The discovery of the world’s oldest known natural pearl bead in Qatar has once again brought attention to the pearl-diving past of the peninsular country. The oldest known natural pearl bead in Qatar was discovered by a local excavation team led by Ferhan Sakal, Head of Excavation and Site Management at Qatar Museums, and dates back to the first human settlements on the peninsula.
The bead, which dates from 4600 BCE, was discovered in a burial in Wadi Al Debayan, one of the country’s earliest Neolithic sites.
Fishing for pearls was the backbone of the local inhabitants until oil was found on the peninsula about 1940. People would go on months-long excursions in wooden dhows, plunging into the water without oxygen tanks or diving gear to pick up oysters that would subsequently be opened to give natural pearls. To locate an oyster with a pearl, one may have to open dozens or even hundreds of them.
‘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, adding that ‘With each new remnant of Qatar’s past that comes to light, we gain a clearer understanding and appreciation for our religious history and identity, which ultimately inform our aspirations for a sustainable future’.
The newly unearthed cemetery is the earliest known evidence of Qatar’s antique pearl diving industry, which served as a focal point for commerce and economic inflow for centuries. It also provides fresh information on the early civilizations that inhabited the peninsula, such as social systems and wealth distribution.
Wadi Al Debayan, a few kilometres south of Al Zubarah on Qatar’s northwest coast, has yielded a number of significant archaeological finds over the years, including pottery from the Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BCE) of South Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), obsidian from Anatolia (modern Turkey), and additional burial sites.