Mleiha Archaeological Site

Top choice in Sharjah

If you thought the UAE's history only really began when oil was struck, you'd be wrong, and this site is a fascinating introduction to a mind-boggling heritage. Archaeological excavations at Mleiha (pronounced 'maleha') have unearthed evidence that early humans passed through here on their way to Asia during the Palaeolithic era; that a Neolithic community lived here in circa 8000 BC; and that this site was settled consecutively during the Bronze, Iron and pre-Islamic eras. An utterly riveting historic day-out.

The flash visitors centre, built around a massive tomb from the Bronze Age Umm An Nar culture, hosts a museum with plenty of multimedia displays and information panels that go a long way to explain Mleiha's historic importance, but as the various archaeological excavations from different eras are scattered across the surrounding desert, booking one of the centre's well-priced archaeological-site tours (per person Dhs150) is a great way to gain a deeper depth of understanding. You can also explore on a mountain bike (from Dhs90 per person) or hiking tour (from Dhs60 per person). All these tours will take you to the main sites. Highlights for history buffs are the Faya Caves, where archaeologists unearthed the earliest evidence of human occupation outside of Africa; the wadi caves and spring where remains of a Neolithic graveyard were uncovered; the circular Bronze Age Umm An Nar tombs; and the foundations of a fort, palace and houses from the settlement here in the pre-Islamic era.

Mleiha's position, right on the edge where the beige desert plains give way to yellow and orange dunes, is also prime for adventure activities and the Mleiha visitors centre can organise a full range of dune-driving 4WD excursions (from Dhs90 per person) as well as mountain biking, hiking, horse riding, stargazing and camping activities. If you're peckish after exploring there's a lovely cafe on-site (mains Dhs35 to Dhs80) that does the most delicious, thirst-quenching homemade ginger brew ever.

The visitor's centre is just off Hwy E55 in the scrappy town of Maleha, a one-hour drive down Hwy 102 from central Sharjah. If you don't have your own wheels, the centre can arrange transport from Sharjah (Dhs120 return) and Dubai (Dhs220 return).

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