Archaeological Sites worth Visiting
Perched on a hilltop just north of Ras-al-Khaimah City, Sheba’s Palace, or Zenobia’s Palace as it is also known, stands sentinel over a vast plain that reaches to the Arabian Gulf. Dating from the 16th century it is the only construction of its type and period in the UAE, and most probably served as the summer residence of the ruler of Julfar, despite the argument that the Portuguese may have built it. Not much remains, but the beauty and quiet that can be found here in the dawn hours are rivalled only by the breath-taking views of the location.
GPS co-ordinates: N25° 49’ 07.40” / E56° 02’ 01.80”
An energy of isolation and remoteness cloak the flat, rock strewn landscape at the foot of Jebel Hafeet, despite the fact that the city can be seen from here. The early inhabitants of this area chose the northern escarpment and eastern slopes of this monolith that rises 1200 metres above sea level to bury their dead. Over 500 tombs have been found here, and although most have been lost to development, the ones on the eastern side are protected. A small group of these beehive tombs have been restored to show what they originally looked like and how they were built. Referred to as Hafeet or Mezyad graves, and probably robbed in antiquity, they were reused during later periods, particularly during the Iron Age, as indicated by the bronze objects, soapstone vessels and beads that have been found here. It is a great place to soak up the peacefulness this barren land has to offer, and there are always camels in the area for a up-close-and-personal experience of these curious creatures.
GPS co-ordinates for the tombs: N24° 2′ 43.2″ / E55° 48′ 02.5″
GPS co-ordinates for crossing the berm that lies between the road and Jebel Hafeet: N24° 2′ 40.9″ / E55° 50′ 31.8″
Just south of Ras-al-Khaimah City lies Al Hamra Village, an expat enclave of modern houses, hotels and a golf course. Huddling in its shadow is Jazirat Al Hamra, the old village that now lies in ruins and is popularly referred to as a ghost village haunted by powerful djinn. It provides a glimpse into what life looked like before oil was discovered and life in the area focused on the sea in the form of pearling and fishing. Even though the village is crumbling away, the houses are still privately owned. Once home to the Zaabi tribe, it has the look of a sandcastle village built from coral stone and bricks, sand and seashells, and although a mere 50 years ago still teemed with life, it now helplessly watches the encroachment of development, whilst slowly succumbing to the onslaught of the natural elements.
GPS co-ordinates: N25° 42’36.8” / E55° 47’ 37.8”
Wadi Al Helo in a chunk of the Emirate of Sharjah that lies on the East Coast is a place that holds immense natural beauty. The mountains represent giant rubble piles. The tinted earth is a study in brown with shades and shadows creating depth and variation, often against the backdrop of a blue canvas sky. The dry river bed speaks of rushing water that has passed through with a violent urgency, and the dead date palm trees at the entrance serve as a stark reminder of the brutality of this landscape in the absence of water. It is here, where human habitation stretches back as far as the Bronze Age, that an archaeological site crouches behind a more recent circular watchtower. Managed by the Sharjah Directorate of Antiquities, it unfolds like a giant puzzle with pieces scattered and buried over quite a large area. Neat pathways lead through graves, neat excavations and stones stacked on top of one another to represent the buildings that once stood here. Copper artefacts of more than 4000 years old have been found here, including a copper ingot weighing almost 5 kilograms, which serves as proof that copper from local ore has been produced here. According to the team of archaeologists that has excavated the site, copper was produced here both during the Bronze Age and the later Islamic Period.
GPS co-ordinates: N24° 59’ 25.8” / E56° 13’ 6.8”
Sir Bani Yas Island, together with Dalma Island, belongs to a group of eight islands referred to as the Desert Islands just off the Abu Dhabi coast. Sir Bani Yas Island, lying only 9 kilometres off-shore from Jebel Dhanna, is still a fairly new island, as it was still connected to the mainland as recent as five to ten thousand years ago. It is believed that the first humans arrived here about six thousand years ago. An interesting pre-Islamic archaeological site that can be visited here is the remains of a Christian monastery, which in all likelihood belonged to the Nestorian Church, and is believed to date back to the 6th century AD and was most probably in use until about 750 AD. Ongoing excavations are taking place to learn more about it, while there are many more archaeological sites that have been found on the island that range from Late Stone Age to Early Islamic structures. Under Sheikh Zayed’s patronage trees were planted and various animals introduced to the island. The Arabian Wildlife Park takes up about half of the island where animals native to the Arabian Peninsula now roam freely, and successful breeding programmes that include the Arabian Oryx, are conducted here. It is also home to various luxury resorts.
For more information on how to get there visit the Desert Islands Website: http://www.desertislands.com/EN/
The barren mountains and rock-strewn valleys around Ras-al-Khaimah are often reluctant to give up the past, and even with GPS co-ordinates to guide the modern day explorer, some of the sites can be difficult to find. A point in case is the pottery kilns Wadi Haqil shelters. These kilns once baked the famous Julfar pottery from as early as the 14th century until as recent as the 1970s. It is a place of extended creativity and desolation, where the ruined houses of the potters that once lived here serve as a reminder of the vulnerability of human existence in a landscape where the harsh climate dictates the rhythms of life. The ancient town of Julfar, the precursor of modern-day Ras-al-Khaimah, disappeared over time, yet the famous Julfar ware that could be found throughout the Gulf region, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and as far afield as the east coast of Africa were continued to be manufactured. Julfar pottery is unglazed, coarse earthenware with a dark orange or grey body and a rough, hackly fracture. It was either plain or decorated with rust-red or purple paint, sometimes on top of a whitewash or thin paint.
GPS co-ordinates: N25° 49’ 14.00” / E56° 02’ 51.00”
Human settlement of Dalma Island reaches as far back as the Stone Age, which makes it one of the oldest inhabited places in the UAE. The charred date stones, dating from the late 6th to early 5th millennium BC that have been found here, are some of the earliest forms of evidence of the consumption of dates in Arabia. This volcanic island functioned as an important centre during the apex of the pearl trade, mostly because of its fresh supplies of water in the form of wells, and in the late 19th century was the only island on the Great Pearl Bank that was inhabited year round. The house of former pearl merchant Muhammad Bin Jasim al-Muraykhi, built in 1931, now houses the Dalma museum where local finds are on display. More than 20 archaeological sites are scattered around the island that measures only 9 kilometres from north to south, and spending time here can be a very rewarding experience. Buried treasure in the form of sacks of pearls is rumoured to be buried somewhere on the island.
Dalma Island can be reached within 1.5 hours by car ferry (http://dot.abudhabi.ae/en/info/Ferry_Services), from the Dalma Jetty at Jebel Dhanna, near Ruwais. It can also be reached by air from Abu Dhabi: http://www.adac.ae/english/airports-and-companies/airports/delma-island-and-sir-bani-yas-island-airports.aspx
Hili Archaeological Park on the outskirts of Al Ain encloses part of the largest Bronze Age complex in the UAE, and is mostly a tranquil space where past and present meets. The public park that enfolds tombs, where hundreds of bodies were unearthed, is a popular gathering place for families and friends to relax and socialise, especially during the winter months. By examining the remains, scientists came to many interesting insights that provide a rare glimpse into the lives of those who once walked these desert plains. With a general life expectancy of only around 40 years, a high child mortality rate, and general malnutrition that led to serious tooth problems, life here was a struggle for survival. It is a great place to visit during the late afternoon when birds and cats have most of the place to themselves, just before the voices of children on bicycles and go-karts start to fill the air with laughter. By celebrating life here, one is also inevitably celebrating the past.
GPS co-ordinates: N24° 17’ 34.1” / E55° 47’ 32.1”
The present-day Shimal neighbourhood on the outskirts of Ras-al-Khaimah has cradled life from the early Bronze Age. Here the Um An Nar tombs from the early Bronze Age (2600-2000BC), the Wadi Suq tombs from the Bronze Age (2000-1600BC), and a late Bronze settlement (1600-1200BC) rub shoulders with modern-day farmers, and the over-spill from city life. Excavated and forgotten, it is now only the goats that regularly trudge between these stones where rusty barbed wire fences put up a feeble attempt to keep visitors out. The treasures that were unearthed from these sites are housed in the RAK museum where they are safely kept behind thick glass.
GPS co-ordinates for the Wadi Suq Tombs: N25° 52’ 32.00” / E56° 03’ 23.00”
GPS co-ordinates for the Um An Nar Tombs: N25° 49’ 54.7” / E56° 01’ 32.9”
Bida Bint Saud or Qarn Bint Saud lies about 15km north of Al Ain. Rising 40 metres above the surrounding landscape, this rocky outcrop has been the focus of early civilisations. Hafeet-type graves that date back to 3000BC have been found at its base, while a group of graves dating to the Iron Age and a group dating to the Bronze age have been found on the top of the outcrop. Although no skeletal remains have been found here, many other artefacts have, that gives a clear indication of continual habitation in the area. A couple of hundred metres west of this natural outcrop the remains of a mud brick village and a falaj, concealed by sand, have also been found. Fenced in, there is unfortunately no access to the site, but the red dunes surrounding it, is a great place for a hike or a picnic.
GPS co-ordinates to Bida bint Saud: N24° 22’ 54.3” / E55° 43’
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A quick guide to the three time periods of archaeology is offered below, although dates may vary depending on the region:
Stone Age: It is believed that this time-period began about 2.5 million years ago, while the transition out of it took place around 6000-2500 BC.
Bronze Age: Begins around 3000 BC
Iron Age: Begins around 1000 BC