Archaeological sites more than 5,000 years old show that the original inhabitants of the region made their living by farming, fishing, copper mining and trade with other areas. Nomadic tribes lived in the desert and seafaring people inhabited the coast.

In the early 7th century A.D., the Arabs united most of the Arabian peninsula under the religion of Islam. In the 16th century, the Portuguese began to trade in the Gulf, and in the early 17th century, the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company established trading posts.

Abu Dhabi (which means "the place of the gazelle") was founded on an island off the coast in the 18th century by a tribe known as the Bani Yas. They cultivated date palms and fished for pearls. In the 19th century, a group left Abu Dhabi to establish a settlement at Dubai. Dubai became an important port and centre for trade. Near Dubai were two other ports, Sharjah and Ras Al-Khaimah, which were ruled by a powerful seafaring family called the Qawasim.
 Did you know?
Pearls have been harvested by Gulf fisheries for more than 5,000 years.

In the early 19th century, the British, claiming that Qasimi vessels were engaging in piracy, attacked and sank the Qasimi fleet in the harbour at Ras al-Khaimah. This established British control of the area. In 1820, Great Britain signed treaties with six of the sheikhs in the region, giving Britain control over defence and foreign policy. In 1853, the sheikhs signed a Perpetual Maritime Truce. The area came to be known as the Trucial States.

Oil exploration started in the area in the 1940s and oil exports began in the 1960s. The wealth generated from oil revenues paid for rapid development in the Trucial States. Within two decades, quiet towns turned into bustling modern cities and country roads became paved highways.

In 1968 the British announced their intention to leave the Arabian Gulf by 1971. The rulers of the Trucial States decided to form a federation. The UAE was formally established on December 2, 1971. Since then it has had a stable government under Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahayan of Abu Dhabi, who is president of the Supreme Council.
 Did you know?
The earliest evidence of the domestication of the camel has been found in Umm an-Nar and dates back more than 4,000 years.