Abu Dhabi: 8,500-year-old buildings discovered; watch video

Archaeologists have unearthed the earliest known structures on the Arabian Peninsula


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Discovery on the island of Ghagha. Photo: Supplied
Discovery on the island of Ghagha. Photo: Supplied

Published: Thu 17 Feb 2022, 12:15 PM

Last updated: Thu 17 Feb 2022, 10:24 PM

Archaeologists from the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi) have unearthed evidence of the earliest known buildings in the UAE and the broader region dating back more than 8,500 years — at least 500 years earlier than previously thought.

The discovery on the island of Ghagha, west of Abu Dhabi city, revealed stone structures offering a further compelling history of the UAE.

The DCT Abu Dhabi archaeologists have been conducting scientific analysis of the artefacts since the structures, and accompanying objects were unearthed.

The most extraordinary discovery was revealed by carbon-14 analysis of charcoal fragments, which indicates the structures are at least 8,500 years old – breaking the previous record for the earliest known structures built in the UAE, which were discovered on Marawah Island.

Artefacts discovered on the island of Ghagha. Photo: Supplied
Artefacts discovered on the island of Ghagha. Photo: Supplied

It was previously thought that long-distance maritime trade routes, which developed during the Neolithic period, were the catalyst for settlements in the area, but the latest discoveries prove that Neolithic settlements existed prior to the onset of trade, which means it was local economic and environmental conditions that led to the first settled life in what is now the United Arab Emirates. Rather than being arid and inhospitable, the islands were, in a sense, a ‘Fertile Coast’. This evidence recasts Abu Dhabi’s islands within the cultural history of the broader region.

“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.”

Discovery on the island of Ghagha. Photo: Supplied
Discovery on the island of Ghagha. Photo: Supplied

Until the excavations of Ghagha, the earliest known structures in the United Arab Emirates were found on the island of Marawah, also off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Taken with the evidence from Marawah, the new evidence from Ghagha indicates that the islands of Abu Dhabi were a focal point for human innovation and settlement during the Neolithic period – a time of fundamental change throughout much of the world.


The structures that have been uncovered are simple round rooms, the walls of which are made from stone and preserved to nearly one metre in height. The rooms were likely houses for a small community that may have lived on 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.


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