Bulletin 29 - July 1986: History of the Buraimi Oasis

History of the Buraimi Oasis

by Nick Saines
Geologist, Regional Development Committee, Buraimi.


For hundreds, if not thousands, of years the Al Ain – Buraimi area was known as the ‘Buraimi Oasis’. The Buraimi Oasis does not apply only to the palm groves in Buraimi, but also to the wider Al Ain – Buraimi area, just as the Liwa Oasis refers to a geographical area, not a particular palm grove. Over the past 15 to 20 years, with the spectacular growth on the UAE side of the international border, the name ‘Al Ain’ appears to have replaced Buraimi Oasis as the geographical name of this area.

Before development, the Buraimi Oasis comprised nine small villages. Three of these were inhabited by tribes loyal to the Sultan of Oman: Buraimi, Hamasa and As ‘Sara. The other six villages were inhabited by tribes loyal to the sheikh of Abu Dhabi: Al Ain, Muwaiqih, Mataradh, Jimi, Qattara and Hilli. In 1972 the international border was drawn through the Oasis, with Buraimi, Hamasa and As ‘Sara remaining in the Sultanate of Oman, and the other six belonging to Abu Dhabi Emirate of the UAE.


40,000,000 years ago, during the Tertiary Epoch, Al Ain looked just like west of Abu Dhabi today, that is, under water. The eastern shoreline of the Arabian Gulf was about 50 km. to the east of present day Buraimi. The conditions in this Tertiary sea were not unlike those in the Gulf today. In fact the fossils found in Tertiary limestones, as in ‘Fossil Valley’, are similar to their modern counterparts in the sea today.

25,000,000 years ago there were great upheavals in the earth’s crust in this area and the region slowly rose out of the sea. The limestones formed in the shallow sea were folded into big up-arches of rock in places such as Jebel Hafit and Jebel Huwayyah (‘Fossil Valley’). These up-arches are known as anticlines. As the mountains to the east were also uplifted, flood runoff carried sediment down on top of the marine deposits and the huge alluvial fan on which Al Ain is built began to form. Wind began blowing the sand-size particles into sand dunes, and the shoreline of the Gulf receded farther to the west.

1,000,000 years ago the Ice began. With a tremendous volume of water tied up in the great ice that covered the northern hemisphere, the bed of the Arabian Gulf was exposed to wind action. It is possible that a significant portion of the sand in the dunes between Al Ain and the coast is derived from the days when the sea bed was high and dry during the Pleistocene (Ice) Age.

20,000 years ago the Ice Age ended and the Arabian Gulf refilled. The topography of the Buraimi Oasis was much as it is today.


10,000 years ago, during the Stone Age, primitive tribes roamed the region, but Stone Age man was unaware of the shallow ground water and no settlements were made. Flint artefacts are the only testimony of their existence.

5,000 years ago Early Bronze Age Man must have settled in Al Ain, as indicated by rock tombs on Jebel Hafit, Qarn bint Sa’ud and on the ridges north east of Buraimi. No trace of the actual settlements has been found.

4,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, there was major settlement in the Hilli area. Archaeologists have found remains of irrigated fields, and evidence in pottery and rock carvings of trade links with Mesopotamia and India.

3,000 years ago the first falaj may have been built in the Buraimi Oasis, according to Dr. Walid al-Tikriti of the Al Ain Museum. If correct, the falaj was developed by local Arabs before the Persian conquest of Cyrus the Great in 536 B.C.


By the mid sixth century A.D. Azdite groups were moving in from Yemen and Tawam (as the Buraimi Oasis area was then known) was well within their sphere of influence, with Dibba being the major port of the region.

In 750, during the ongoing conflicts between Ibadite and Sunni factions, General Shaiban lost a battle and his life at Tawam.

In 840 a faction of the Bani Julanda tribe captured the Oasis and murdered the Governor. They were wiped out, along with the rest of their tribe, by a powerful punitive force sent from Sohar.

Around 880 the Oasis was used as a base for the conquest of Oman by the Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad.

In 1633 the Omani Sheikh Nasir bin Qahtan attacked the Wali’s fort in Buraimi with the help of the Bani Yas. The Wali of Nizwa counterattacked successfully and ordered the demolition of all forts except that of the Imam. By 1650 the Oasis was under Omani control, with the immigrant Naim tribe settling the whole region.

Around 1750 Imam Ahmed bin Said, the founder of Oman’s Al Bu Said dynasty (Sultan Qaboos’ ancestor) governed the Oasis.

Around 1790 the oldest extant fort in the area, Muraijib, was built by Sheikh Shakbut.

Around 1805 there occurred the first of five nineteenth century incursions from Saudi Arabia. A Wahhabi force under a Nubian slave named Hariq seized Buraimi, built a fort and used it for operations into Oman. Wahhabism was an Arabian reform movement in Islam founded in the late eighteenth century. Saiyed Sultan led 12,000 Omanis against Hariq who withdrew into the Najd.

In 1869 Naim tribesmen in alliance with the Imam Azzan bin Qais finally drove the Wahhabis from Buraimi; they were not to return until 1952

During the reign of Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifah (1855 - 1909), Abu Dhabi built up tremendous influence over the Oasis. In 1891, supported by the Sheikh of Dubai, he captured the main village of the Dhawahir, then known as ‘Ain Dhawahir (and now simply as Al Ain).

In 1905 the position of the Buraimi Oasis was first accurately located on a map by Major (Sir) Percy Cox. Previous explorers who had visited Buraimi included Hamerton (1840), Chester (1855), Miles (1875, 1885), Zwemer (1901) and Cox himself (1902).

In 1919 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the present Ruler of the UAE, was born in Al Ain at Jahili Fort.

In 1948 the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger visited Sheikh Zayed in Al Ain, as recalled in his book Arabian Sands. It took him four days by camel to reach Al Ain from Abu Dhabi.

As late as 1951 slave trains passed from the Oman coast through Buraimi each year, en route to Saudi Arabia. According to Wendell Phillips in his book Unknown Oman some 25 per cent of these caravans were intercepted by patrols of the Trucial Oman Scouts.

In September 1952 Turki bin Abdulla bin Utaishan took over the village of Hamasa with 40 armed Saudi Wahhabis after an overland drive from Al-Hasa, thus violating Abu Dhabi territory. He claimed the Buraimi Oasis for Saudi Arabia, and the ‘Buraimi Dispute’ made world wide headlines. A joint expedition of Trucial Oman Scouts from Abu Dhabi and the Sultan’s forces from Sohar began to advance on Buraimi but the Saudis withdrew due to international pressure to avert a war, after being blockaded for several months. As a result of arbitration a Saudi police post was permitted to be established in the Oasis in 1954, much to the disappointment of the local inhabitants. In 1955 arbitration broke down. Britain changed its position and encouraged the forces of Abu Dhabi and Oman to expel the Saudi police, which was effected without major incident.

In 1972, after the establishment of the new State of the UAE, the international border was delineated through the Buraimi Oasis, separating Al Ain (UAE) from Buraimi (Oman).

In 1978 the United Arab Emirates University opened in Al Ain.

In 1979 Tawam Hospital was opened.

  • Clements, F.A., 1980, Oman – The Reborn Land, Longman, London and New York.
  • Hassall, Brian, 1985, Captivating Diversity of a Garden City, Khaleej Times, June 27.
  • Hassall, Brian 1985, Digs Reveal Gulf’s Links with the Bronze Age, Khaleej Times, September 20.
  • Heard-Bey, Frauke, 1982, From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates, Longman, London and New York.
  • Searle, Pauline, 1979, Dawn Over Oman, Allen and Unwin, Harmondsworth and New York.
  • Thesiger, Wilfred, 1959, Arabian Sands, Penguin.


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