Oases are subject to decreasing resources and changing human activities. Fully aware of their rich heritage, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have undertaken work to preserve and revitalize these oases. However, there is a clear lack of understanding of the dynamic links between climate change, hydraulic and agricultural management, and socioeconomic activities. To clarify these links, our team conducted a systematic geoarchaeological, geophysical, spatial, and chronological study of the Masafi oasis, UAE. Results indicate the existence of a natural humid area as early as the late Pleistocene (~18 cal ka BP). These conditions persist during the early-mid Holocene with drainage activation and soil development (~12–6.3 ka). During the late Holocene, after the emergence of the “artificial” oasis around ~3250 cal yr BP, cycles of intense management suggesting water availability (~3250–2380 cal yr BP; 550 cal yr BP) alternate with episodes of fluvial detritism (~2380–1870 cal yr BP; >550 cal yr BP) and scattered evidence of farming activities with complex hydroclimatic signatures (~2300–550 cal yr BP). These results, together with regional environmental data, indicate that water and soil resources were available and exploited strategically throughout the Holocene despite adverse climatic conditions, and the oasis of Masafi could have acted as a desert refugium.
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