Hili Archaeological Park

During that magical hour when the shadows start to lengthen and the light turns soft and golden, Hili Archaeological Park is the perfect place to visit. The soft cooing of pigeons is only interrupted by the prancing or playing of the many cats that inhabit this green space. It lies almost deserted, but for a couple of old men on a park bench and a woman on her daily walk, black abaya floating in her wake. It is the ideal time to soak up the peace and quiet the many nooks and crannies of the park has to offer, while the murmur of traffic in the background acts as a reminder that the demands of daily life is never far away. Inhaling the sweet scent of petunias that dance with colour, one can easily be transported to a time when the landscape were devoid of modern-day clutter.

Hili AP 7

On these plains, the largest Bronze Age complex that has ever been found in the UAE, once stood. Originating in the 3rd millennium BC, it was a complex built over many centuries that eventually covered a total of 10 hectares. The people that lived here built their houses from sun-dried mud brick, but their tombs from stone, which suggests a belief in an afterlife. These tombs were collective burial sites in which hundreds of bodies have been found. Most of the houses, towers and graves that were found here date from the Umm Al Nar period (2700-2000 BC). The Hili Grand Tomb, which also dates from this period, is believed to have once stood at least four metres above ground. It is the largest of the tombs that were found here, and the two entrances have beautiful carvings above their openings. Archaeologists believe that the many pit-graves that have been found in the area were used to re-bury bodies that were previously interred in the main tombs.

An interesting feature of the towers that were excavated is that they were all built as strongholds around wells with several rooms enclosed in the outer walls, similar to the watch towers and forts that were built much later (from the 16th century AD onwards) in the area. Archaeologists are of the opinion that these were built to protect the copper industry, as well as trade routes.

It must have been difficult to eke out a living here, as the remains that were excavated suggest that not many people lived longer than about 40 years. The quest for food and general struggle for daily survival brought on malnutrition, tooth decay and subsequent pain. One can only guess at the intricacies of life during the time, but the examination of the hundreds of skeletons that were found here indicate an average height of 157 cm for women, and 171 cm for men. By the 1st millennium BC the falaj system was already in existence, and date palms, barley and wheat cultivated in the area. Life, no matter how short, flourished.

It is only towards nightfall that Hili Archaeological Park fills up with the exuberance of life: families and friends gather to enjoy picnics, social pleasantries, and the cool night air. If you prefer a jovial atmosphere this is the time to visit when laughter erupts in joyful bursts, and bicycle and go-kart wheels scrape the surface of the many pathways that dissect the lush lawns, clumps of trees, playgrounds, and archaeological remains. It is a reminder that life has carried on here for millennia.