The depth of the settlement in Al Ain is very clear in the excavations by Department of Culture and Tourism-Abu Dhabi at Bayt Bin Ati. This image shows occupation from the Iron Age to the modern day. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Discoveries made by archaeologists from the Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi have revealed a rich history of Al Ain’s original inhabitants stretching back to the Neolithic period, it was announced on Sunday.

The discoveries make the area one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places. With its oases and rich landscape, Al Ain provided its inhabitants with an array of opportunities, including growing crops in the fields and mining copper and stones from nearby mountains, according to archaeologists.

Copper was mined and processed in Al Ain and then transported to the coast as ingots on the trade routes that had been established during the earlier Neolithic period. With their knowledge of the sea, these Bronze Age entrepreneurs established a trading port on Umm An Nar Island, right next to the modern city of Abu Dhabi. It was to become a hub for international trade, continuing the tradition that their Neolithic ancestors had began at coastal settlements like Marawah thousands of years earlier, and which Abu Dhabi still is today.

Experts at DCT – Abu Dhabi have been using computers to reconstruct what the houses of Iron Age might have looked like. This example is from Hili 17.

“The founding father of the UAE, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, recognised the importance of understanding this ancient past and encouraged fieldwork in Al Ain from the 1960s onwards. The discoveries our team of archaeologists are uncovering are fascinating and reveal incredible details about our ancestors, their lifestyles, their resilience and their ingenuity, said Mohammad Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of DCT — Abu Dhabi

“These details uncovered about our history and earliest culture are both educational and inspiring to all — especially our younger generations as they build their knowledge and appreciation of their Emirati ancestors,” he added.

Stone tools found at these sites can be dated to around 8,000 years ago.

According to archaeologists, as the economy of the area continued to grow, people began to construct fortified mud brick towers. One of these towers — Hili 8 — dates back nearly 5,000 years ago and was discovered by French archaeologists invited to the UAE in the 1980s.

The Bronze Age inhabitants of Al Ain also used the copper from the nearby mountains to make weapons and agricultural tools that provided safety and prosperity. Some of these artefacts were found in the discoveries made at Qattara in Al Ain. Excavations of a tomb in the area, dating to between 4,000 and 3,000 years ago, has revealed dozens of metal weapons that attest to ingenuity and technological mastery of the time.

At the close of the Bronze Age, around 3,000 years ago, the people of Al Ain had already established the basics for life in a rich oasis setting.

Iron Age discoveries

During the Iron Age, beginning around 3,000 years ago, the innovation and creation of the falaj led to the rapid expansion of agriculture throughout Al Ain.

Peter Magee, head of Archaeology at DCT Abu Dhabi, said: “The stone tools found at these sites can be dated to around 8,000 years ago on the basis of radiocarbon dates from other sites in the UAE. Some specific tool types found around Al Yahar may even be earlier.”

The falaj system was the result of knowledge passed down from generation to generation on where water was located, how to safely dig tunnels and how to use the seasons to grow crops. The earlier mastery of bronze technology from the mountains surrounding Al Ain provided the tools needed to dig the falaj and work the fields. The falaj from Al Ain and elsewhere in the UAE offer the earliest known evidence for this technology from anywhere in the world, according to experts.