Vast archaeological site in Sharjah to become eco-tourism destination by year’s end

A visitor’s centre being built to the conventions from around 300 BC will be the base for tours of the pre-Islamic Umm Al Nar tomb, at Mleiha.

Remnants of copper workshops dating to about 300BC at the Sharjah site, but there is much more to be uncovered. Courtesy Department of Culture Sharjah
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SHARJAH // Work has begun at one of the largest archaeological sites in the region that will, by the end of the year, be opened as an ecotourism destination.

A visitor’s centre is being built, from where tourists will be able to take tours of the pre-Islamic Umm Al Nar tomb.

The centre will be built according to building practices and conventions from about 300BC, the period from which the majority of the site dates.

“It’s a long process, and we don’t want to do it quickly,” said Dr Sabah Jasim, director of antiquities at Sharjah Department of Culture.

“It has to be studied properly and given full consideration to ensure the restoration will be scientifically accurate.”

The 125,000 hectare area of Mleiha, in Sharjah, has shown evidence of findings from the late Iron Age, the Hellenistic and post-Hellenistic periods.

The majority of artefacts recovered from Mleiha have come from the tomb, including a bronze horse head that was in a Sharjah exhibition from April until October last year. Some of the items recovered from the tomb date to 2000BC.

The site was first excavated in 1986.

Prof Michel Mouton, of the Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, in France, worked at Mleiha from 1986 to 2001.

“In the 1980s, we knew very little about the antiquity of the Oman Peninsula, so Mleiha was the most interesting place,” he said. “It was occupied for nearly 500 years continually. It became a reference site for all of north-east Arabia.”

Prof Mouton said there was still much more to see. “We have excavated only 1 per cent of the site. It is a small city, so we can excavate for years and still find new things.”

Sharjah Department of Culture said radar scans were being carried out at Mleiha to identify other possible dig sites.

“We do have plans to start digging elsewhere,” said Dr Jasim. “This is a systemic operation which might take years, generations even.

“However, we don’t have immediate plans to start in other areas because we haven’t completed with the ones we are working on now. With every season, there are more findings, and those discoveries are shedding more and more light on what we have already dug up.”

Over the past year, a joint team from the University of Tubingen, in Germany, and Sharjah government has carried out tests to ascertain the water level during the period of the now dry lakes in the Mleiha area.

In June last year Shurooq, the Sharjah development authority, said that work would be completed by the end of this year.

Phase two involves building leisure facilities, “resorts, lodges and restaurants”, the authority said.

Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, said at the time: “The intent in developing this ecologically and archaeologically sensitive and diverse area is not to damage it by the construction of abundant towers and buildings that would rub out its distinctive characteristics, but rather, to develop it in a viable way that will strengthen its environmental diversity and position and encourage residents to be integrated with this environment through providing sustainable jobs.”

Dr Jasim said there were plans to allow more tours to other excavated areas of Mleiha. “When the tourists come, they will have a lot to see,” he said.

“It’s from the pre-Islamic period, so it’s interesting to the public who don’t know much about this era.”