The United Arab Emirates. Home to the world’s tallest building, a man-made, palm tree-shaped island and a regional centre of Iron Age metal production (some 3,000 years ago, anyway).
Back in 2002, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, noticed some unusual dune formations while flying in a helicopter over the outskirts of the Empty Quarter.
The discovery of the site – named Saruq Al-Hadid, which translates to “the way of iron” – marked a turning point in the way historians and archaeologists had been thinking about the development of the Iron Age around the Arabian Peninsula.
Believed to have been operational for more than 5,000 years as a metalworking site, excavations are still ongoing, but much of what has been found is now on display at Dubai’s dedicated Saruq Al-Hadid Archaeological Museum, which only opened to the public last year.
Evidence of iron production is extremely rare in the region, which makes the museum’s exhibits all the more astounding. Excavations at the site have proved that the peninsula was closely connected to other epicentres of Iron Age activity, such as Egypt, India, Mesopotamia and Syria, though exactly how those links existed is yet to be determined. And the display cases are filled with more than just a few pots, pans and arrowheads. You’ll find rows upon rows of gold jewellery and metalworking tools among weapons, stoneware and even objects that remain unidentified.
Nestled in the heritage area of Al Shindagha, from start to finish, the museum offers stunning visuals projected onto walls in among clean white display cases and the chance to get up close to some of the region’s most incredible artefacts. History buff or not, you’ll be glad you did. There’s far more to the UAE’s history than you might expect.
Dhs20 (adults), Dhs10 (kids aged seven to 12), free (kids under six). Open Sun-Wed 9am-5pm. Saruq Al-Hadid Archaeological Museum, Al Shindagha, www.saruqalhadid.ae (04 359 5612).