Dubai does such a good job of promoting its image as a destination of world-class shops and luxurious hotels that it is perhaps understandable that many visitors never realize that the UAE has an impressive heritage too, and that its desert and mountains contain some remarkable archaeological sites.
Many of these sites date from the Bronze and Iron Age (roughly 3000 BC to 500 AD) when this part of the Arabian Peninsula was an industrial powerhouse, supplying the world’s earliest civilisations in Mesopotamia with copper and iron. Others are from the Golden Age of Arab seafaring in the 10th to 14th centuries AD when Arab vessels traded widely, and as far afield as China and Europe, while yet others reflect the region’s more recent history of occupation by Persians, Portuguese, and the British.
Keen for visitors to appreciate this rich and diverse history and culture, the UAE has launched a new initiative to encourage archaeology-hungry visitors, by opening sites to the public and investing in visitor facilities. Among them, Mleiha (a key Iron Age metalworking town in the desert near Dubai), and the early Christian monastery on Sir Bani Yas islands, both of which have just been opened and sport impressive visitor and interpretative centres. Let our tour begin.
Images: David Millar