Lonely Planet Writer

Public tours of one of the oldest archaeological sites in the UAE have begun

History fans heading to Abu Dhabi may be interested to learn that the Hili 8 archaeological site in Al Ain has been opened for the first time to the public. The Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism recently held tours of what is one of the oldest sites of agricultural settlement in the United Arab Emirates, dating back approximately 5000 years. It has indicated that it plans to repeat the experience in the future.

Public tours have begun of Hili 8 in Abu Dhabi. Image by Abu Dhabi Events

Located close to Hili Archaeological Park, Hili 8 is part of the Unesco World Heritage sites of Al Ain. French archaeologists began excavating it in 1977, and they found the remnants of barley, wheat and date palm. Bronze objects, pottery and the remains of cattle, goat and sheep were also uncovered, which indicated the existence of an agricultural community dating back to the Bronze Age. All that structurally remains today are tombs and the exposed foundations of buildings, but archaeologists and international experts returned to the site in March of this year, and they uncovered pottery fragments and evidence of copper mining. A complete account of the French team’s work was never published and it is hoped the new dig can build on what was uncovered back then.

The new Hili 8 tour enables visitors to familiarise themselves with the preservation methods used for this site, such as a new water flotation system that separates archaeologically significant material from trench sediment. Led by archaeologists Abdulla Al Kaabi and Omar Al Kaabi, visitors can examine the recently-discovered artefacts and view fresh excavations first hand. It is believed that the site was once was a complex, active settlement that traded with other communities across the region. There is evidence that wells were dug and the people had workshops, and great effort was put into building the tombs, where jewellery and jars of pottery were placed with the deceased.

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Following the initial tours earlier this month, Hili 8’s formal opening to the public is expected soon, but a conservation plan is being put in place first to ensure that it’s safely presented to the public.