Abu Dhabi archaeology: The ancient wonders found in the Arabian desert

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(CNN) – The UAE may have just celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence, but Abu Dhabi has a centuries-old past.

The largest emirates have UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as some of the best preserved forts in the country that have for centuries shown their major geographical location, telling the story of the emirate’s connection to both land and sea.

A short drive to Al Ain’s Oasis Town is where some of the oldest magical gems of the older generation come alive, a living museum paying homage to the country’s Bedouin origins.

The birthplace of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, the country’s founder and first president, Al Ain is a must for visitors to the UAE for its authentic culture and true taste of heritage.

Known as the Garden City, Al Ain was once an important green desert island on the caravan route from the UAE to Oman and is now home to a number of UNESCO-protected sites.

Here are some of the key archeological and historical treasures of Abu Dhabi.

Kassar al Hosn

The 18th-century Hosn Palace, or Qasr al-Hosn, began as a single watch tower in the 18th century, and as the complex grew, it eventually became a center of power until the late 1960s.

“There are beautiful stories about the palace told by people living around the place,” says Natalie Leslie, a tour guide in the emirate. “The door of the palace was very open for the people to talk to the sheikh and express their concerns.”

Today, the palace remains a major attraction not only for tourists but also for emirates who come and sit in the palace’s coffee shop and listen to their ancestors speak with great affection.

The palace also showcases local culture along with regular exhibitions and events.

Al Ain Oasis

Al Ain, Abu Dhabi

Al Ain is home to 100 varieties of dates.

Barry Neeld / CNN

The first UNESCO sites in the UAE were the dramatic Al Ain Oasis.

Located in the heart of what is known as The Garden City, the site is more than 4,000 years old and is evidence of one of the first irrigation systems of modern times.

The system, known as the “flag”, used to draw water from the nearby Hajar Mountains through a series of narrow waterways that are still visible today.

Visitors can take curated walking trails, although the site covers more than 1,200 hectares and has more than 147,000 palm trees and 100 species of palms.

The centuries-old flare system was only updated in the 20th century with the introduction of the pump. An eco-center is also available for visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the ancient Bedouin irrigation system.

Bida Bint Saud

A treasure trove for archaeologists, Bida Bint Saud, the site of an ancient caravan, is located 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Al Ain.

Attractive area that was once a large community of farmers extending to the northern emirate, using a network of falaj irrigation systems all over the area, including a rare Iron Age building and 5,000 year old Bronze Age tombs as well as towers. Gharan Bint Saud.

This 40-meter-high rock rises above the landscape and is topped by several ancient stone tombs. Many finds from the area, such as pottery, dagger blades, jewelry, and bronze arrowheads, are now on display at the Al Ain National Museum.

Healy Archaeological Park

The Bronze Age (3200 BCE to 1300 BCE) and the Iron Age (1300 BCE to 300 BCE), show evidence of ancient life living in the area’s desert at one time.

Archaeologists have unearthed villages, cemeteries and agricultural structures now known as the Umm N-Nar period, named after an island off the coast of Abu Dhabi where the remains of a civilization were first found.

It is also home to the largest collection of tombs and buildings in the UAE from this period.

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Jebel Hafit graves

The tombs of Jebel Hafit show the importance of maritime trade throughout the Arabian Gulf.

The tombs of Jebel Hafit show the importance of maritime trade throughout the Arabian Gulf.

David Steel / Adobe Stock

In addition to being the highest peak in Abu Dhabi, Jebel Haft (Mount Hafeet) is also home to some 500,000 year old tombs that mark the beginning of the Bronze Age in the UAE.

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First discovered by excavations in 1959, archaeologists found ceramic vessels and copper artefacts in igloo-like tombs, highlighting the importance of maritime trade throughout the Arabian Gulf.

Single chamber tombs are a dramatic place that offers a window into the past.

Tour guide Leslie calls these “hidden gems” of Abu Dhabi.

“Most people don’t know about all these discoveries in the field,” she says. “Despite the UAE being a relatively young country, it has ancient findings that prove that the area was once a busy place where history was made.”

Makta Fort

Located at the entrance to Abu Dhabi’s main island, this small but decisive castle was built in the late 18th century using basic materials such as coral stone, beach rock and sand and its tower will protect and preserve Abu Dhabi for many years to come.

“While Kassar al-Hosan has developed into a very important place for locals, Makkah Fort has become a comfort stop for visitors to Abu Dhabi,” says Leslie.

Al Ain Palace Museum

Al Ain Palace was once the home of the UAE's ruling family.

Al Ain Palace was once the home of the UAE’s ruling family.

dudlajzov / Adobe Stock

Al Ain Palace, once the home of the late Sheikh Zayed, the first president of the UAE, was occupied by the ruling family until 1960, before they made the city of the emirate their permanent home as Abu Dhabi’s main island was transformed into a political and economic capital. .

Visitors can get a glimpse of the life inside the dwelling, which stands as a reminder of the time before oil was discovered in the mid-20th century.

Although not “old” compared to other places in the emirate – the oldest building in the complex dates back to 1937 – it is made up of traditional materials from that era, scattered over the traditional courtyards that show such properties in the region during that time. Duration

Now a museum, visitors can see the crucial links between the past and the present and appreciate the rapid transition from the Bedouin life of Abu Dhabi to modern prosperity.

“If you are a fan of history and want to learn about the royal family and traditional architecture of the time, this is the place to go,” says Shamsa Al Naqbi, an Emirati tour guide.

“It’s an understanding of the life of the royal family, their rooms, the style of architecture, the things they will use, so it’s a really great place to visit to see the true history of the UAE. It really marks the transition of our ancestors. Made for the modern UAE. Which we have today. “

Sir Banias Island Church and Monastery

Not far from the Petted Track is Sir Banias Island in the western region, which can be reached by boat or flight from Abu Dhabi to Anantara Resort, which manages the tourism of the distant island.

Churches and monasteries, discovered in the early 1990’s, are the only pre-Islamic Christian sites found in the UAE, Leslie explained. It is the source of hundreds of artefacts that give an interesting insight into life during this period.

“Like life in the UAE before the discovery of oil, the inhabitants of this colony used the sea as their food source,” she said. “They also kept animals like sheep and cattle and traded in the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.”

Sir Banias Island is now a wildlife reserve, with a wide range of protected animals from Arabian oryx to gazelles that visitors can see first hand on a safari.

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