Sharjah is best known as the cultural capital of the UAE. I was pleasantly surprised to discover its pre-historic past at Mleiha Archaeological Park. These layers of history made me wonder about the wandering of pre-historic man. They created habitation as they traveled the world. They adapted to the varied landscapes be it snow-capped mountains or never-ending deserts with hardly any water to survive.
Where is Mleiha?
Mleiha is a pre-historic site in the emirate of Sharjah in UAE.
Excavated remains found at Mleiha Archaeological Park or technically Faya North East site date it back to the Neolithic period, or something like 130,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe that humans would have migrated here from Africa on their way to later migrations across the world. It is also assumed that the natural conditions that would have been favorable to human habitation in existence since then. This means it may not have been a desert then.
From a pre-historic world’s perspective, the location would have allowed easy access to other pre-historic civilizations via land route. Stone tools discovered here are a testimony to that.
Burial Site found here point to life here between 4000- 8000 BCE, as do the fireplaces. Humans were still nomadic at this stage and were yet to start cultivation. The collapse of this civilization may have happened due to climate change.
Extensive graves point to the Bronze age habitation. One such grave can be seen right beside the Mleiha Archaeological Centre. There is an indication of collective graves with multiple chambers that followed some rules in their formation. Each chamber probably belonged to a family. Painted pottery, soft stone vessels, jewelry made of carnelian stones, bones and ivory have been found in these graves. The civilization potentially collapsed during the iron age that followed the Bronze age.
At the visitor center, a well-curated series of exhibits take you through the life and times of Mleiha.
Things to see Mleiha Archaeological Centre
Well documented storyboards present the story of this pre-historic site in Arab World as discovered in the excavations in last 40 years or so. The maps, timelines, and boards tell you the story. We were taken around by the curator who explained everything very well. You can also watch a film about the story of the place.
Unfortunately, over a period of time, a lot of ancient artifacts have been looted by all kinds of people. Thankfully, now there is an organized approach to treasure what is left.
Here is what you must see at the Archaeological Center.
Stone Tools & Pottery
Stone tools and pottery is the most faithful remains of gone by eras across ancient civilization sites. Here you see the different type of stone tools and painted pottery ware. Do not be surprised if it reminds you of Indus Valley Civilization. It may have been a part of the same civilization as recently Oman excavated an Indus Valley site. At the very least the two civilizations must have traded with each other.
Baliya or Horse Burial
A buried horse & camel beneath a glass floor are on display at the Archaeological Center. This display tells you about the Baliya practice that refers to burying of animals, particularly camels and horses along with its owner. This is like sending the departed souls with all his possessions including the animals and jewelry. Interestingly, the camels buried here were not local but brought from outside.
You can see one of the burial grounds very close to the Archaeological Center.
Located not too far from Archaeological center, Mleiha Fort dates back to 300 – 0 BCE, a period now designated as Mleiha Period or Late Pre-Islamic Period. An agrarian society potentially flourished around this fort and coins with Greek Gods on them indicate trade with Greece.
This is a huge double humped rock that looks like a camelback. It seems to be erupting out of a sand dune. It is a very photogenic site to visit. Being at a height, it also gives you a beautiful view of the vast expanse of sand dunes around this rock. You can visit this on a 4X4 vehicle from the center on a tour that takes about 40 mins. Alternatively, you can choose to hike to it.
Not far from the camel rock is the Fossil Rock. You must go really close to it to see the fossils on its faces. It is amazing that these timestamps from a far past have decided to stay as rocks surrounded by absolute desert.
Ancient Stone Age Caves
You can visit these on a tour from the center that lets you walk on the wooden walkways through the ancient caves called the valley of caves. Caves were the earliest form of settlement in pre-historic times.
Sand Dune Bashing
The 4-wheel drives in purple color with ‘Mlieha’ written loud and clear on them take you for Sand Dune Bashing. You can experience it on the way to camel rock and fossil rock. Be prepared to cling on to your seats with seat belts fastened. The drive can be as scary as it is exciting. Going up and down the steep dunes was scary for me as a first-timer.
If you are adventurous enough, you can go on horseback and visit the same places. They have facilities for the first time, intermediate and expert riders to ride the horses. I did not see any horses when I visited. It would be fun to see people riding camels and horses in the desert – a kind of classic desert scene it would be.
Paragliding & Paramotoring
I have not experienced this. A press release by Sharjah Tourism tells me that these facilities have recently been started. I can only imagine how much fun it would be to see the sand dunes while flying low over them.
Camping and Star Gazing
Imagine camping in the deserts on the Faya mountain. A 12-hour package gives you dinner, camping, star gazing & breakfast. I am yet to experience it. But I would love to do this as and when opportunity permits.
It is promoted both as an eco-tourism and adventure tourism destination by Sharjah Tourism.
How to Reach and other Travel Tips
It is about 65 km from Sharjah. Tours from Archaeological center include pick up and drop facilities from Dubai & Sharjah.
Archaeological Centre is open from 9 AM-7 PM on Weekdays and 9 AM-9 PM on Weekends which is Thursdays and Fridays here.
It has a café, a gift shop, and facilities to facilitate things like Sand Dune Bashing, Star Gazing and excursion trips with guides.
Unless you opt for camping and star gazing, you can easily do a trip from Sharjah as a day trip.
A lot of trips may depend on weather conditions. In a rare happening, the day I was there, it rained. Thankfully, it stopped, else we would have missed the Desert Safari.
For more details, check the website.