Jebel Hafeet Tombs
Marine fossils dating back 70 million years to the time when the jebel (Arabic for ‘mountain’) was uplifted from the ocean can be found on the summit and slopes of Jebel Hafeet. However, the mountain is more famous for its ancient remains and archaeology. The tombs, built from rough local rocks, were excavated more than 40 years ago along the northern escarpment and eastern slopes of Jebel Hafeet .
Approximately 5,000 years ago, early inhabitants of the area chose the northern escarpment and eastern slopes of this mountain as burial grounds for their dead and over 500 tombs have been found in these two areas. Although most of the graves on the northern side have now been lost to development, those on the eastern side are protected and regularly monitored.
More than 500 of these tombs, known as Hafeet graves or Mezyad graves, after the village nearby have been discovered. They gave their name to the Hafeet period, which dates from 3200BC to 2700BC, the early part of the Bronze Age.
Hafit graves, are well known to archaeologists. They gave their name to the period known as the ‘Hafit Period’ or ‘Hafit Cultural Horizon’, and represents an early period in the history of the UAE. Scores of these graves have been excavated over more than four decades and have proved to share many similarities. These mysterious dome-shaped tombs, are the earliest tombs of the Bronze Age in the UAE and defined a period known. About 500 of these 5,000-year-old tombs lay scattered at the bottom of Jebel Hafeet mountain.
While difficult to reach, even with a 4x4, they remained at the mercy of random visitors and development until their recent inscription which sealed their protection.
The entrance of each tomb faces south-east, to catch the sunrise. For those few hours every day, the sun has been the only regular visitor to the tombs through the ages.
Some of the tombs are as much as four metres high, with a space inside about two metres wide. The hard part is getting there. In many cases, the doorways have become blocked by fallen stones, and even in those that have been reconstructed the entrance is a narrow tunnel, less than two metres high and 50cm wide. Visitors have to squeeze sideways to make it to the circular heart of the tomb.
Few skeletal remains have been discovered, however it is thought that up to ten bodies were often buried together in family groups, as they were in other parts of the Middle East and Europe. Some of the graves yielded bronze objects and soapstone vessels as well as beads of a much later date, indicating that the graves continued to be used or were reused in later periods, particularly during the Iron Age. it is hard to be sure which period they are from as it was common in the Iron Age to reuse old graves.
Some have been restored to the various stages of construction by the Department of Antiquities and Tourism.
Until recently, the area was largely off limits, because it was previously used as a military area and was consequently cluttered with land mines. These, however, have now been cleared in preparation for a resort project, until that is complete, , the tombs stand in seclusion, a testament to a past way of life, and one that is still a mystery.
While the majority of tombs remain unexcavated, a restored group shows the various stages of building, culminating in the completed bee-hive cairn design that seems typical of the area.
The south-eastern area can only be reached in a 4X4 vehicle but a modern highway leads to the summit of Jebel Hafit.