History buffs will fall in love with this charming museum that tells the story of the UAE’s ancient history. This is the oldest museum in the UAE, established in 1969 under the leadership of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE and affectionately known as Father of the Nation. Built to chart the history of Al Ain from the Stone Age through to the foundation of the UAE in 1971, the museum houses artefacts recovered from the many archaeological sites scattered across the region, including flint tools and arrowheads dating back to the sixth millennium BCE.
The picturesque Sultan Fort, also known as the Eastern Fort, lies within the grounds of Al Ain Museum and forms one of its major attractions. Located at the eastern edge of Al Ain Oasis, it once sat at the heart of the former village or hara of Al Ain, which also took its alternative name of Haret Al Hosn from the fort. It is one of a number of historic buildings associated with the increased influence of the ruling Al Nahyan family in Al Ain from the end of the nineteenth century onwards. The fort is a well-preserved mud-brick structure with towers at three of the corners and a gate in the southern façade. It was built in 1910 by the son of Sheikh Zayed the First, Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed, the ruler of Abu Dhabi from 1922 to 1926. A temporary exhibition was displayed in Sultan Fort from 1969 to 1970 while the purpose-built museum was constructed. The museum was inaugurated on 2 November 1971 by His Highness Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Mohammed Al Nahyan, the Ruler's Representative in the Eastern Region, the region in which Al Ain is located.
Divided into three main sections – Archaeology, Ethnography and Gifts – Al Ain Museum offers insights into the local traditions and culture that have defined the region.
The Archaeology section of the museum includes imported Mesopotamian (modern Iraq) pots dating back 5,000 years ago and found in tombs excavated on nearby Jebel Hafit mountain, Abu Dhabi’s tallest peak. The museum also documents the rise of Bronze Age society dating back 4,500 years ago when large mud-brick structures were built in Hili, an area that’s home to Al Ain’s incredible Hili Archaeological Park. A key feature of this society was its stone-constructed, above-ground tombs, including the famous Grand Tomb in the Hili Archaeological Park. Many objects from these tombs are on display in the museum.
An example of exquisite, locally manufactured jewellery, sourced from a tomb in the Al Qattara area and dating back nearly 4,000 years, is also on display at the museum. Dozens of copper and bronze weapons were also found in this tomb and attest to the importance of copper mining and bronze work throughout the UAE’s ancient history.
Several large and complete Iron Age pottery vessels from Hili and Rumailah, another archaeological site in Al Ain, can also be seen in the museum. These are 3,000 years old and were used at a time when the inhabitants of Al Ain utilised sophisticated technologies, including the falaj (traditional irrigation system) to irrigate Al Ain oases. Several of these ancient falaj have been excavated by local archaeologists and, along with other falaj in the UAE, these represent the earliest evidence available in the world for the widespread use of this innovative irrigation technology. During this time, and because of this technology, Al Ain flourished and many mudbrick buildings were constructed.
The Ethnography section of the museum explores the traditions and customs of the people and culture of the UAE. Objects that showcase the lifestyle, education, agriculture, medicine and daily life of the local community illustrate how different society was just a few decades ago.
The museum also features a wide range of photographs of Al Ain, Liwa and the surrounding regions, charting the development and establishment of the UAE.
It is also home to an array of gifts that were given to the late Sheikh Zayed by presidents and ambassadors from around the world. A popular item in the museum’s collection is a moon rock that was given to the UAE by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States following the historic Apollo 17 trip to the surface of the moon.