The United Arab Emirates’ Earliest Buildings Are 8,500 Years Old

Found off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the structures likely served as houses for Ghagha Island’s Neolithic inhabitants

Overhead views of the structures
The finds suggest that the islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi weren't "arid and inhospitable" thousands of years ago, but rather a "fertile coast" ripe for settlement. DCT Abu Dhabi

Archaeologists off the coast of Abu Dhabi have unearthed the oldest known buildings in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), reports Jeevan Ravindran for CNN. The circular structures on the island of Ghagha are at least 8,500 years old, making them 500 years older than the previous titleholder.

Researchers with the local Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi) made the discovery as part of an emirate-wide archaeological program, reports local newspaper the National. Described in a statement as “simple round rooms,” the structures likely served as “houses for a small community who may have lived on the island year-round.” Their surviving stone walls stand a little over three feet tall.

It’s unclear exactly when the settlement was active, notes Heritage Daily, but pieces of charcoal found at the site have been carbon dated to around 6500 B.C.E. The team also uncovered hundreds of stone arrowheads and other hunting tools. In one section of the ruins, the researchers found the remains of a person buried almost 5,000 years ago, suggesting the site “remained an important part of the cultural landscape” for millennia, according to the statement.

8,500-year-old stone walls in the UAE
The surviving stone walls stand more than three feet tall. DCT Abu Dhabi

“These archaeological finds have shown that people were settling and building homes here 8,500 years ago,” says Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, in the statement. “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.”

Prior to the Ghagha discovery, the oldest known building in the UAE was an 8,000-year-old structure on the island of Marawah, also off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Per the statement, the new finds suggest Ghagha, Marawah and their neighboring islands weren’t “arid and inhospitable” thousands of years ago, but rather a “fertile coast” that attracted inhabitants with its “local economic and environmental conditions.” The Neolithic buildings show that habitation of the islands predates the development of long-distance maritime trade routes, which were previously thought to be the impetus for settlement in the region.

“The finds reinforce an appreciation of history, as well as the deep cultural connections between the people of the UAE and the sea,” says Al Mubarak in the statement. “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 UAE is home to some of the Middle East’s most well-known cultural sites. Examples include the remains of the oldest Christian monastery in the country; the Unesco Cultural Site of Al Ain (a series of oases, historic monuments, archaeological sites and natural areas); Miocene Trackways, which contain the six- to eight-million-year-old footprints of a herd of extinct ancient elephants; and a well-preserved Iron Age fortress dated to 3,000 years ago.