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His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in Dubai Directory


The image of oil tankers passing through the Straits of Hormuz, into the Indian Ocean, and so to the rest of the world seems quite modern, dating back only some fifty years or so. It is surprising to realize, then, that it is actually just the latest aspect of a tradition of maritime trade in the region which stretches back some 7,000 years. In fact, the South and Southwest Asian regions, and the Gulf area in particular, have perhaps the richest and longest running seafaring tradition of any world region.1. The Arabian Gulf, or al-Khaleej al-Arabi in Arabic, lies between the Arabian Peninsula and Southwest Asia. It is connected by the Straits of Hormuz to the Arabian Sea, the northwest part of the Indian Ocean. The Gulf is some 615 miles long and has a maximum width of 210 miles, with an area of about 93,000 square miles. It is a shallow body of water, with a maximum depth of 360 feet, and due to hydrological conditions does not develop high waves. Despite high temperatures and humidity, the Gulf rarely sees storms and gale-force winds, and therefore is an easily navigable body of water, unlike its neighbour, the Red Sea. For several millennia these two bodies of water served as primary routes of interaction between the great civilizations of the East and the Mediterranean. Mesopotamia is the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers at the northwest end of the Arabian Gulf. It is likely that in prehistoric times the waters of the Gulf were higher. As they receded, the land was left covered in rich, highly fertile sediment which attracted settlers to the region. This region formed one end of the Fertile Crescent, an area of fertile land stretching from the northern end of the Arabian Gulf in a semi-circle northwest to the Nile River delta. As one writer describes it, the Fertile Crescent was to be for most of historic times a great crucible of cultures, a zone not only of settlement but of transit, through which poured an ebb and flow of people and ideas. In the end this produced a fertile interchange of institutions, language and belief from which stems much of human thought and custom even today.2 The first known urban civilizations arose in Mesopotamia. There is archaeological evidence of urban centres around 5,000 BCE at sites such as Ubaid, Uruk and Kish. In the United Arab Emirates and Oman, archaeological surveys have also revealed settlements as old as 7,000 years. In these settlements, distinctive black pottery from Ubaid has been discovered; indicating that trade throughout the Gulf had been established by that time. It is difficult to know why the Mesopotamians and their neighbours took to the sea to trade. Some suggest that despite its agricultural fertility, Mesopotamia lacked other resources such as metal, wood and stone. If they had been unable to obtain these by trade overland, it may have driven them to sail their boats down the rivers and out into the Gulf in search of other sources. Written records from Sumer dated around 3,000 BCE mention a place called Magan, from where copper was obtained; possibly this was a culture in the southeastern Arabian Peninsula. Later trade records from the Akkadian period, around 2000 BCE, mention Dilmun (perhaps modern Bahrain) as an entrepôt between Mesopotamia, Magan and Meluhha (the Akkadian name for the Indus valley region). Dilmun itself may be a much older civilization, as archaeological evidence from Bahrain suggests that it dates back to the beginning of the 3rd millennium BCE. Thus, there is plenty of archaeological evidence of trade between Mesopotamia, the Gulf and the Indus valley, including findings of special seals from each region, which would have been attached to bundles of trade goods, in the other regions.


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