Abu Dhabi is full of archaeological evidence that points to civilizations having been located there from the third millennium BCE. In more recent times the Bani Yas bedouin tribe was the most significant in the area. In 1793, the Al Bu Falah of this tribe migrated to the island of Abu Dhabi on the coast of the Persian Gulf due to the discovery of fresh water there. One family within this section was the Al Nahyan family. This family makes up the rulers of Abu Dhabi today.
The inhabitants of Abu Dhabi spent winters on the coast pearling and trading with others in the region and would retreat to the slightly cooler area of Al Ain in summer to harvest dates and other foods to sustain them throughout the year. In the 1930s the pearling trade declined significantly and the area had decades of hardship in this harsh climate.
The origin of the name "Abu Dhabi" is uncertain. Meaning "Father of the Gazelle", when literally translated from Arabic, it probably referred to the few gazelles that inhabit the emirate.
In the 19th century, as a result of treaties entered into between Great Britain and the sheikhs of the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, Britain became a predominant influence in the area. the area was known as the Trucial States.
The discovery of oil was a breakthrough in the 1960s for the area in the Arabian Gulf that now comprises the United Arab Emirates. Dramatic and fast moving development has occurred since.
In 1968 the British Government decided, for a number of reasons to cease their trucial agreement with the sheikdoms in the region. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai decided to form a union between their two emirates independently and then invited the other emirates to join. An agreement and constitution was agreed up on December 2 1971, now celebrated as UAE's national day. Sheikh Zayed ruled Abu Dhabi and the UAE from 1971 until his death in 2004. His eldest son Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Maktoum has taken over as the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the UAE since then.