The largest of its kind in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, the Umm An-Nar prehistoric tomb measures 15 metres in diameter. Situated on the edge of the fertile date palm gardens in Shimal, the tombs date back to the Umm An-Nar period between 2600 and 2000 BC. Meaning ‘mother of fire’, the tombs are named after the Abu Dhabi island excavation by Danish architects in the 1950s.

The latter half of the third millennium BC was a flourishing period in the history of Ras Al Khaimah. Copper from the Hajar Mountains was an important natural resource in demand from other regions. Large quantities were shipped to Mesopotamia, Iraq and the Indus Valley, Pakistan. The two empires were rich in cultural achievements but lacked raw materials such as copper for weapons production.

The circular Umm An-Nar tomb was built with enormous physical effort and extreme wealth as a communal family or tribal grave. For over a century, the deceased were buried in three family vaults, divided by internal walls into several burial chambers. It’s thought that the height of the tomb was between 2 and 3 metres based on historical findings from other similar tombs. The majority of the stones were reused after this period.

Carefully placed slabs formed the foundation of the tomb. Roughly hewn stone walls were on the inside, and ashlar masonry was on the outside. The ashlar masonry was carefully cut from white limestone and shaped to match the curvature of the round tomb. The bright smooth face extended to the roof, giving an impression of a large, white tower. Each entrance was closed with perfectly fitting stone doors with carved handles to simplify opening and closing when a new body was buried. The inner chamber walls had no foundations and were corbelled towards the roof to prevent gaps. The flat roof was closed with slabs and equipped with gutters to allow rainwater run-off.

Archaeological excavations revealed a complex arrangement of the interior and various burial practices. Each of the three grave units had matching entrances and two, four and six chambers. Stone slabs served as shelves and provided storage for the cremated remains leaving space for burials on the lower level. When the space was fully occupied, bodies were cremated outside the tomb and buried on the upper storey. The complex processes allowed the tombs to be used for well over a century. Records exist for 430 burials.

Typically, the dead were buried in a flexed position with their personal belongings, such as jewellery, weapons, stone vessels and pottery. Most artefacts were of local origin or from Mesopotamia, Iran, Bahrain and the Indus Valley, demonstrating the extensive maritime trade in the third millennium BC. One finding revealed a female buried with her pet dog.