5 Great Books on Archaeology in the UAE

In my opinion, the richest and most active research discipline in the United Arab Emirates is archaeology.  We could probably come up with the titles of hundreds of articles.  I’ve narrowed down the first couple of items on this list to books that I think are the most accessible for the uninitiated.  Archaeological reports rely heavily on precise quantitative data and sometimes it takes prior knowledge or unusual dedication to decipher the meaning. The vast majority of archaeologists working in the UAE are from foreign universities and usually excavate in January when the temperatures are at their kindest.  Each emirate has its own resident archaeologist except maybe Ajman and Umm al-Qawain, but then they have specialists in other important research areas, particularly anthropology and oral history.  Dr. Sabah Jasim, Dr. Hussain Quandil, and Dr. Walid Yassin Al-Tikriti have been coordinating foreign archaeological teams and running their own excavations for years in Sharjah, Dubai, and Al Ain respectively.  Mark Beech, the head of Coast Archaeology and Palaeontology in Abu Dhabi also serves as a resident archaeologist.  Check out his website: http://www.markbeech.com/.  I was humming and hawing about putting Mark’s book, In the Land of the Ichthyophagi: Modelling fish exploitation in the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman from the 5th millennium BC to the Late Islamic period, but I’ve decided to keep it for another day when I put up a list of more specialised books.  Some of the main universities that come back to the UAE repeatedly including the University of Sydney, the University of Tubingen in Germany, and Kanagawa University in Japan.

1.  Dan Potts, Ancient Magan

potts ancient magan

Dan Potts is one of the best known and most respected archaeologists working on Gulf projects by anyone’s estimation.  Dan edits the important, professional journal on archaeology in Arabia: Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1600-0471).  He has also written a number of useful, more popularised books on archaeology, history and culture in the UAE, including this small, accessible account of his excavations at Tell Abraq in Umm al-Qaiwain, one of the most significant sites in the UAE.  Well written, well illustrated and well designed, this is a great book if you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of archaeology and want to learn something about the UAE’s prehistory at the same time.

2. Derek Kennett, Towers of Ras al-Khaimah

derek's book

Derek Kennet, while currently at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, normally teaches at Durham University in the UK.  Before Durham, he was resident archaeologist at the National Museum of Ras al-Khaimah where he completed a number of important surveys.  Derek’s strongest suit in my opinion is his deep knowledge of historic and prehistoric ceramics and he is sought after by other archaeologists to help process and analyse the ceramics recovered in their excavations.  This book was published by the British Archaeological Review and documents the towers and forts of Ras al-Khaimah, complete with maps, plans, and elevations.  It’s a book that’s useful to archaeologists and non-archaeologists (especially architects) alike.

3. Peter Hellyer, Hidden Riches


Peter Hellyer is a long-term resident of Abu Dhabi and a key player in the Emirates Natural History Group (http://www.enhg.org/), which publishes the refereed journal Tribulus and maintains chapters and regularly scheduled meetings in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai.  While not a professional archaeologist per se, Peter’s work behind the scenes has facilitated great research and he has put his experience as a journalist to good use writing and publishing several key texts.  Hidden Riches is a great introduction to archaeology in the UAE, the different periods, monuments, objects and sites and what it all means within the larger context of the country’s cultural history.

4.  Dan Potts, In the Land of the Emirates

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 12.20.42 PMI have to confess that I have a pdf copy of this through Dan’s page on Academia.edu.  I’m so grateful for this resource, given that these books I’m listing here are sometimes difficult and often expensive to get.  Like I said above, Dan’s one of the most respected archaeologists in the Gulf and this was co-published with London-based Trident Press and Sultan bin Zayed’s Culture and Media Centre in Abu Dhabi.

5.  Peter Hellyer and Simon Aspinall,  The Emirates: A Natural History

emirates natural history

Okay, technically, this isn’t a book on archaeology, although it does contain chapters on the geology and fossils of the UAE.  I put this on the list because to understand how people lived in the Emirates prior to industrialisation, you have to understand the environmental conditions that people here had to deal with.  Simon Aspinall was the foremost environmentalist working in the UAE until his unfortunate passing from motor neurone disease in 2011.  This is a great book.  I am lucky enough to have a copy of it because of giving a guest lecture at the Emirates Natural History Group meeting in Al Ain in 2011.  My prize for speaking was the choice of any book on the UAE they had there and I chose this one.  I think everyone needs a copy of it on their bookshelf.

For a follow up to this list, check out Brian Ulrich’s blog post on recent books on Arabian history: http://bjulrich.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/five-recent-arabian-history-books.html

Click on the image to read more about archaeology in the UAE

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16 thoughts on “5 Great Books on Archaeology in the UAE

  1. You might like to check out my own book ‘Beyond Dubai: Seeking Lost Cities in the Emirates’. Only published last year so understandable if you haven’t come across it yet. You can find it at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Dubai-Seeking-Cities-Emirates/dp/0993832105 . It aims to be a bit more up to date and accessible than some of the others around, although I would agree with all your choices, especially Dan Potts and Peter Hellyer !


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