Al Ain National Museum loans iron age axe to Louvre Abu Dhabi

Al Ain National Museum has loaned the Louvre Abu Dhabi an axe dating back to the Iron Age, 1000-600 BCE. Several similar axes have been found throughout the country, but this is an outstanding example of the metal-working traditions, technology and unique Iron Age culture of the UAE.

The axe was cast from copper, probably mixed with a small amount of tin. The copper comes from the Al Hajar mountains, located to the east of Al Ain. Throughout the UAE's ancient history, these mountains were a major source of the precious metal and fueled an innovative metal-working tradition. As far back as 3000 BCE, UAE inhabitants mined and supplied copper to Mesopotamia, modern Iraq, and the rest of the Arabian Gulf. At that time, the country was called ‘Magan’ and was an international hub for industry and commerce.

According to a press release from the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, the superb craftsmanship and delicate working of the axe are a result of a long tradition of metal working. It was clearly a special object and was probably not used for everyday activities. Other weapons produced during this period include arrowheads, short daggers and swords. Many examples of these weapons are known from various sites in the UAE and some were certainly used in warfare.

The statement continued to say that the period in which the axe is thought to have been relatively peaceful, and there is evidence that weapons such as this were only used for special ceremonial purposes. Perhaps it was carried symbolically to represent the power of its owner in meetings with village elders in the majlis, or perhaps when the rulers of the many towns that existed at the time came together to discuss matters of importance. These meetings were important to ensure stability at a time when the invention of falaj irrigation resulted in rapid economic growth and expansion.

The community in which the owner of the axe lived also had a deep sense of memory and identity. When the axe’s owner died, they buried him or her in a grave in what were then ruins of an ancient village that archaeologists now call "Hili 8". When the burial took place, Hili 8 had already been abandoned for about 1,000 years. It is, however, one of the oldest known agricultural villages in Arabia, and is enticing to think that the community was aware of the importance of this village and how it represented a fundamental transformation of ancient life in the UAE. The burial thus made a statement about belonging to a culture and tradition that already had a deep connection to the land for thousands of years.

The axe lay buried in the ground for about 3,000 years. In the 1960s, the late founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, invited foreign archaeologists to explore the Al Ain region believing, quite rightly, that there was a deep unexplored history in the region. A few years later, a team of archaeologists discovered the axe in the grave of its owner, the release concluded.

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