University of California at Berkeley Marine Archaeology Expedition to Fujairah, United Arab Emirates

1994 Season Preliminary Report, February 14, 1994

Chris Kostman, M.A., Office of Scientific Diving and Department of Near Eastern Studies

Sean Kelly, Office of Scientific Diving

Kyler Abernathy, Office of Scientific Diving

NOTE: Financial support for this project came from the Government of Fujairah Department of Cultural and Archaeological Affairs, the University of California at Berkeley Stahl Travel Fund, the Dr. Karl Koenig Foundation, and personal contributions by Sean Kelly and Kyler Abernathy. The project was ultimately the result of the generous support of H.H. Shaikh Hamad Bin Mohammed Al Sharqi and H.H. Shaikh Salah Bin Mohammed Al Sharqi.


This preliminary report outlines the surveying efforts made by the University of California Office of Scientific Diving research team, led by Chris Kostman, M.A. This survey of the entire eastern coast of the UAE, especially those areas in the Emirate of Fujairah, took place between January 30 and February 13, 1994 with the generous support of the Fujairah Department of Cultural and Archaeological Affairs. Though only two weeks were available for these efforts, a comprehensive search of the coastline was completed. The basic results are outlined in this preliminary report, while a proposal for a follow-up project to be conducted from November of 1994 through January of 1995 is attached separately. A detailed final report of this preliminary investigation will be sent from California to the Fujairah Department of Cultural and Archaeological Affairs at the earliest possible convenience.

Scope of the Project

The archaeological survey of the coastline involved the following:

  • Study of maps and charts
  • Car and foot survey
  • Boat survey
  • SCUBA Diving survey
  • Aerial reconaissance
Maps and Charts
  • Eighteen maps and charts of the coastline and ocean of the Emirate of Fujairah were obtained. These include:
  • five British Admiralty charts
  • four United States Navy soundings charts of the ocean bottom in
    the area between Kalba and Fujairah
  • nine Hunting Surveys Limited land survey maps

Most importantly, these show that the ocean bottom is almost entirely sand, free of rocky protrusions, and slopes away gradually from the seashore. Thus most large objects found by advanced surveying techniques are likely to be shipwrecks or other human artefacts.

Car and Foot Survey

A visual, physical survey of the entire UAE coastline was made from the southern Omani border (south of Khor Kalba) to the northern Omani border (northern Dibba). This car and foot survey included specific areas where photographs, GPS satellite locations, and notes were taken. Features included all likely shipwreck or ancient coastal settlement locations, such as:

  • natural and man-made ports
  • geographical points jutting into the ocean
  • wadi outflows into the ocean
  • coastal areas adjacent to islands
  • rocky shorelines
  • beaches with evidence of off-shore coral reefs
  • areas where old or ancient architecture are extant, such as Bidya, Qidfa, and elsewhere
  • areas where long-standing vegetation or agriculture is extant.

Altogether, sixty-three specific points were examined and documented with GPS location, photography, and written notes. (These 63 sites are detailed on the accompanying map of the UAE coastline.) Global Position System (GPS)-derived latitude and longitude fixes were made at all 63 sites to insure their ease of relocation.

Boat and SCUBA Diving Surveys

This component of the coastal survey took place over four different days. SCUBA dives were made in areas determined via study of the US Navy charts or the car and foot survey. These included:

  • An off-shore area south of the Fujairah port where the ocean bottom is slightly higher than surrounding areas. This was noted on the US Navy charts, then found via echosounder in the boat.
  • Only sediment was found, possibly from port dredging.
  • Jezirat al Ghubba.
  • Jezirat al Bidya.
  • Ras Dadnah.
  • Ghalilat Dadnah.

Altogether, nine interesting points were examined by SCUBA diving. (These are detailed on the accompanying map of the UAE coastline.)

Aerial Reconaissance

Aerial survey via UAE Police helicopter was made on February 9. This was made during mid-day (11:00am to 12:20pm) so that the angle of sunlight would give maximum visibility into the water and reduce glare. 140 photographs (slides) were taken of all interesting areas, including all islands, ports, points, submerged rocks, etc.

A few specific areas were noted which may have some type of submerged objects. However, water visibility is such that the aerial survey only allowed to see into the water to depths of three meters (mostly in the south) to eight meters (mostly in the north).

No shipwrecks were located, nor were any submerged structures found.

Initial Conclusions

This archaeological survey essentially provided negative evidence. That is to say that no structures or shipwrecks were found along the coastline or its immediate ocean areas in three to eight meter depths.

This survey provided as well the scientific reasons why ancient shipwrecks could not expected to be found in shallow waters along this Indian Ocean coastline. Specifically, the geomorphology, weather, and marine conditions of this coastline are not ideal to either produce a shipwreck or preserve it within the shallow waters. In other words, there are few dangerous shipping lanes, near-surface reefs or rocks, or unusual weather or marine patterns which would cause a ship to sink as it neared the coastline.

Areas of the world which produce ancient shipwrecks, and then preserve them well, are those that have rough and jagged coastlines, uncertain weather conditions, and deep water at these dangerous areas. Thus when a ship wrecks, it sinks to a depth where tidal patterns, waves, currents, sunlight, and marine life are such that the ship is at least partially preserved. The UAE's eastern close-to-shore (shallow water) coastline is not this type of environment and we do not believe that any significant archaeological finds can be made in depths of ten meters or less.

There is also no evidence for any sunken villages or other submerged architecture along the UAE's eastern coast. This of course would be a very rare find in any world area.


The most likely area for the discovery of ancient shipwrecks in Fujairah's waters lies further off-shore in deeper waters. The depth that is most likely to hold reasonably preserved shipwrecks that are also within the range of SCUBA divers is ten to forty meters, with the deeper areas being most likely to yield an intact shipwreck. Thus a search of the ocean bottom in this depth range is the next step of this archaeological research project. This entails a scientific survey utilizing a boat and a side-scan sonar object detection and bottom-mapping system. This survey would allow the detection, location, and mapping of essentially all wrecks in Fujairah waters. Short investigatory dives on discovered wrecks would allow the team to choose the most fruitful wreck(s) to be excavated.

The goal of the second season of this project is the detection and excavation of one or more ancient shipwrecks in Fujairah waters which would contribute significantly to the understanding of this region's history and cultural heritage. The attached proposal details the strategy we would employ to continue this important archaeological investigation of the territorial waters of the Emirate of Fujairah.

For additional information about the United Arab Emirates, visit:

More Archaeology Articles by Chris Kostman.