Abu Dhabi archaeologists uncover UAE's oldest buildings dating back 8,500 years

Discovery on Ghagha Island offers new insight into the earliest known settlements in the country

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Archaeologists in Abu Dhabi have unearthed startling new evidence of the first known buildings in the Emirates dating back more than 8,500 years — at least 500 years earlier than previously thought.

The fascinating findings by experts from the capital's Department of Culture and Tourism were made on the island of Ghagha, west of Abu Dhabi.

The discovery of the stone structures, which likely housed the country's first communities, sheds new light on early chapters of the country's rich history.

It was believed that long-distance maritime trade routes which developed during the Neolithic period were the catalyst for settlements in the area, but the latest discovery proves that Neolithic settlements existed before then.

The DCT team have been using cutting-edge techniques to help unravel the history of the country.

The biggest discovery was revealed by carbon-14 analysis of charcoal fragments, which indicated the structures were at least 8,500 years old — breaking the previous record for the earliest known structures built in the UAE, which were detected on Marawah Island, also off the coast of Abu Dhabi.

“These archaeological finds have shown that people were settling and building homes here 8,500 years ago. The discoveries on Ghagha Island highlight that the characteristics of innovation, sustainability and resilience have been part of the DNA of the inhabitants of this region for thousands of years,” said Mohamed Al Mubarak, Chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi.

“The finds reinforce an appreciation of history, as well as the deep cultural connections between the people of the UAE and the sea.

“We are also reminded that there is still much to discover across the emirate of Abu Dhabi, and that it is vitally important we continue working to discover, preserve and protect our invaluable heritage for current and future generations to learn more about our ancestral past.”

The new evidence, along with the previous findings on the island of Marawah, indicate the islands of Abu Dhabi were a focal point of human innovation and settlement during the Neolithic period, the last stage of the stone age which is viewed as a key era in the development of humanity across the globe.

What did experts find?

The ancient structures were simple round rooms, the walls of which were made of stone and preserved to nearly one metre in height.

It is believed they were probably houses for small communities who inhabited the island year-round.

Hundreds of artefacts were found in the rooms, including finely worked stone arrowheads that would have been used for hunting.

It is likely that the community would also have used the rich resources of the sea. How long the settlement existed is unknown, but after it was abandoned, it apparently remained an important part of the cultural landscape, as nearly 5,000 years ago a person was buried in the ruins of the structures. It is one of the few burials from this period known on the Abu Dhabi islands.

Digging deep into the past

The significant findings on Ghagha Island are just the latest success story for the tourism department's emirate-wide archaeological programme.

In addition to the breakthroughs at Ghagha and Marawah islands, teams have uncovered the remains of an ancient monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island, as well as the Unesco-inscribed Cultural Site of Al Ain, comprising a series of oases, historic monuments, archaeological sites and natural areas, which has been a World Heritage Site since 2011.

Abu Dhabi's historic treasure trove also includes Miocene Trackways — footprints of a herd of an extinct form of ancient elephant — which six to eight million years ago; a 3,000 year old falaj in Al Ain, indicating the earliest known widespread use of this irrigation technology in the world; stone tools dating more than 300,000 years ago, which were found in surveys around Jebel Hafit; and a well preserved Iron Age fortress dating back 3,000 years, which was discovered during excavations at Al Ain’s Hili 14 archaeological site.

A series of late pre-Islamic tombs have also been found in various locations in Al Ain.

Updated: February 17, 2022, 11:46 AM