Mleiha – Your archaeological exit in Sharjah
Mleiha, located in Sharjah, is a fascinating place to visit for its archaeological remains that date from the Neolithic period, and is home to the popular Mleiha Archaeological Centre as well. The space is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a number of artifacts and fossils have been discovered here, from pottery and iron tools to camel skeletons. Mleiha is home to much of the country’s rich, varied history, and is the perfect place to visit in the UAE to learn about important historical sites and discoveries. Apart from the archaeological importance associated with Mleiha, the sand dunes provide the perfect space for dune-bashing, quad biking, and many other desert-related activities.
History and Architecture
Compared to the country’s rapid urbanisation over the decades, Mleiha provides a unique snapshot into the past, coupled with its seclusion in the desert, making it feel as though visitors have stepped into a different world. The visit itself is fascinating thanks to the multiple stations that are scattered around the town; one interesting site that is worth the visit is the Umm an-Nar tomb. This tomb is considered to be the most impressive grave building amongst the many burial sites in Mleiha, and was first constructed in around 2,300 BC. The main archaeological site, on the other hand, consists of the remains of Mleiha’s old town, dating back to around 2,000 years ago. Mleiha’s importance stretches through history, thanks to its vital location on an important trade route between the east and the west; the remains consist of a palace, surrounded by eight different watchtowers. The buildings around this structure include farmhouses and burial grounds, with particular ovens built into the ground to keep fires warm and protect it from chilly desert winds.
Another fascinating piece of architecture that is close to the new Mleiha Archaeological Centre is the Mleiha Fort, initially discovered in the late 1990s and thought to have been a possible seat of an ancient South Arabian kingdom that dates back to 300 BC. This fort has opened up several studies and fields of research in Mleiha, with scholars theorising about Mleiha’s importance and archaeological discoveries, claiming that Mleiha represents almost complete evidence of human settlement from the post-Iron Age to contemporary times within the UAE. Within Mleiha, artefacts like nails, long swords, and arrowheads have been discovered, pointing to early uses of iron within the UAE.
Mleiha Archaeological Centre
The Mleiha Archaeological Centre is a visitor centre and exhibition, solely focused on the archaeological finds and history of Mleiha in Sharjah. The centre itself is built around the Umm al-Nar tomb, and the centre also provides details of excavations and discoveries made over the past 40 to 50 years at Mleiha and the surrounding areas. The centre first opened to the public in January 2016, and was intended to provide guests and tourists alike with information about the historical significance of Mleiha, from pre-history up to the modern era. The min aim of the centre is to provide information about the region’s Bedouin culture, its ancient human settlements, and provide background information on the stories that surround Bedouin culture and about the historic sites in Mleiha, Jabal Bu’hais, and Jabal Faya.
The centre also contains a café, a gift shop, and a number of guided excursions in and around Mleiha’s archaeological sites. Tours are offered from the centre to nearby digs, including Jebel Mleiha, or ‘Fossil Rock’. The centre also offers an education outreach programme, including various packages for families, friend groups, and corporate sponsors. Apart from such programmes, the centre is packed with fun experiences for children and adults alike to learn about fossil formation and how artefacts are discovered and maintained – workshops on fossil moulding, the flora and fauna of the region, and on the history of Mleiha are available at the centre. Rides are available at the centre as well, including desert safaris that can ferry guests to distant archaeological sites, and archaeology and ancient history enthusiasts will be pleased to learn of Mleiha’s importance over the millennia, with early human settlements having been unearthed that provide proof of human settlements as far back as 130,000 years. Such discoveries have added further evidence to the time when anatomically modern human communities first left Africa and began to slowly cover the globe, resulting in the current widespread humanity on every continent.
Mleiha is also famous for its natural adventures, from desert safaris to trekking and horseback riding on the dunes. The vast open desert offers a range of fun activities, including renting quad bikes or dune buggies to ride over the sand, or trekking on foot to the popular Jebel Mleiha. Horses and camels galore offer fun rides across the desert, making the trip enjoyable for children and those curious to see how Bedouins travelled on horseback or on camels. The clear blue sky makes it fantastic for hot air balloon rides and paragliding adventures, and the birds-eye view of the vast expanse of the desert and the many archaeological sites is one worth seeing. The caves in Mleiha, too, are fascinating to explore, with many guided tours available that take you deep into the caves, and other guides offer cycling tours of the desert, as the relatively flat terrain makes it easy to bike over. Campers in particular will enjoy an overnight stay in Mleiha, as the soft dunes offer a stunning place for desert camps. The fact that Mleiha is so remote makes it even better once the sun sets, as the clear, starry night sky alone is worth the overnight trip. During the cooler months, camping trips are popular in this area, thanks to the relatively warm days and chilly nights, providing a perfect end to an adventurous and informative visit.
The UAE is known for its tall skyscrapers, ultimate luxury, sparkling beaches and urban adventures, but there are a number of secluded spots that are scattered throughout the country that speak volumes about its significance in global history and its roots in Bedouin heritage, with Mleiha in particular being one such treasure trove. Though the town itself is quite small, its importance lies in its historical significance, pointing to consistent human settlements for hundreds of thousands of years, providing guests with a rich understanding of how complex and old Arab culture truly is, while shedding light on the history of the country as a whole.
How to get to Sharjah?
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