Bulletin 30 - November 1986: Archaeology in Al Ain

Archaeology in Al Ain

By Walid Yassin al-Tikriti*


The location of Al Ain in an oasis dominating the route between Abu Dhabi and Oman was a major factor in the importance of the town as early as the 3rd millennium BC. Archaeologists have over the past few years brought to light remains of different periods though interrupted by the inevitable gaps which result from the nature of the archaeological sites in the region.

The most ancient period in the Al Ain region is represented by several flint sites of the pre - 4th millennium BC. Later came a very distinctive period represented by hundreds of beehive tombs of the late 4th and early 3rd millennium BC. These have yielded pottery vessels of the so - called Jemdat Nasr styles: a ceramic type common in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC. More elaborate tombs associated with habitation sites are found at Hili in the northern part of Al Ain. A fourth period is also represented by tombs and a number of settlement sits dated to the local Iron Age period of the 1st millennium BC. The second millennium is so far poorly represented. Early Islamic sites have not so far been located but later sites (15th century AD and later) are common. A short description of the most important sites follows.

Flint working sites

These sites are scattered south, east and north of Al Ain. Artifacts as well as flakes have been identified by archaeologists, with tentative dates of 6000 - 4000 BC. These sites are associated with natural chert outcrops on limestone ridges and were first recognized in the mid - seventies on Jebel Huwayah (Fossil Valley) in what is now Oman. Arrowheads are rare compared with finds in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi Emirates, but worked material, including a characteristic slug shape is plentiful. Work sites on Jebel Huwayah also include much flake debris, cores and hammer stones.

Early Bronze Age sites

This period is represented by hundreds of stone cairns but unfortunately no associated habitation sites have so far been located. There are single chamber tombs mostly distributed over a very large part of Jebel Hafit. Discoveries, including painted and plain pottery vessels, indicate date of 3200 - 2600 BC.

Bronze Age sites

This period is represented by a complex of habitation sites as well as tombs dated to the 3rd millennium BC. There are several round collective tombs located inside and outside Hili Garden. These multi-coloured tombs have yielded different types of painted, incised, and plain pottery vessels dated to ca. 2500 - 2000 BC. Stone vessels and beads made of different materials and copper objects were among the finds. Among the most important sites of this period is that designated 'Hili 8', located just outside the south - west corner of the garden. This site was used for over 1000 years, from ca. 3000 - 1800 BC. Evidence of sorghum cultivation and the complexity of mud - brick structures implies a fairly sedentary population at least over the majority of the period. The exact relationship between Hili and Umm-an-Nar (adjoining the present - day Abu Dhabi town refinery) is not known, but given the extent of the desert between, which was similar then to its present boundaries, contact was probably minimal. Thought contemporaneous, Umm-an-Nar was settled for a far shorter period and was apparently abandoned well before the end of the 3rd millenium.

Iron Age sites

Al Ain seems to have been extensively inhabited during the first half of the 1st millennium BC. Sites, as well as scattered surface finds of this period, have been found in several parts of the town, especially towards the north. This period is well represented at the following sites:

Hili 2

This site represents a small Iron Age village consisting of at least ten mud - brick houses.


This site is located between Qattarah and Hili, and is about 1 Km. in length by 200 - 300 m. in width. It consists of several mud-brick houses, some of which have been excavated and dated to the same period as Hili 2.

Qarn Bint Saud

This site, located 12 km north-west of Hili, is an outcrop about 800 m. long rising to about 40 m. above the surrounding plain. On the summit plateau there is a number of collective tombs built of rough - hewn stones. Artefacts found are similar to those of Hili 2 and Rumeilah, though the stone vessels are more common. On the slopes and foothills of the Bint Saud outcrop there are cairns of a much earlier date (ca. 3000 BC). These are single chamber tombs identical to those of Jabel Hafit both in finds and architecture.

Late Islamic sites

This period is represented in numerous localities by the presence of various types of pottery scattered throughout the oasis. Although it is difficult to give precise dates to these sites, a date of 1400 AD and later may be considered correct.

* Archaeological Advisor, Al Ain Museum


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