The area currently known as Abu Dhabi has been inhabited by early civilizations since the 3rd milenium BC. The name Abu Dhabi comes from "Abu Dhibaa" which means "father of deer" - the settlement was presumably named after a hunter by the bedouins of the desert, who hunted and traded the gazelles that used to inhabit the area in ancient times. The current rulers of Abu Dhabi is the Al Nahyan family. They were originally a section of the Bani Yas bedouin who lived in the Liwa oasis - Liwa at present is a city in the Western region of Al-Gharbia. A section of the tribe moved to the island of Abu Dhabi on the Gulf coast because of the presence of fresh water. The Al Nahyan family was one of the families of this section that migrated around the year 1793.
Like many other settlements on the Gulf coast, Abu Dhabi was active in the pearl trade - pearl divers were able to spend up to a minute and a half under water with no breathing apparatus to search for oysters. In the 19th century the British became the dominating influence in the region. The British entered into a number of agreements with the sheikhs of the Gulf coast mainly to protect their trade routes to India from pirates. After the piracy problem was suppressed by the Royal Navy, the British maintained their interest in the region and the present-day UAE was a British protectorate for the first half of the 20th century.
In the 1930s the pearl trade declined and oil exploration started to peek interest. In 1936 the Petroleum Development Trucial Coast Ltd obtained a concession from sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan al Nahyan to explore for oil. This was the first step towards the modern oil riches of Abu Dhabi as we know it today. From the 1950s onwards, offshore oil drilling rapidly increased Abu Dhabi's oil output. Initially oil had only a marginal effect on an economy that was traditionally dominated by herding, fishing and growing date palms. It wasn't until 1961 that the first paved road was constructed.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the brother of the then-time ruler sheikh Shakhbut, saw the immense opportunity for development offered by the oil boom. In 1966, the Al Nahyan family decided Zayed should replace sheikh Shakbut which was accomplished with help of the British, who announced their plans to depart the Gulf by 1971 soon after. This caused sheikh Zayed to become the main driving force behind the modern day UAE. With the independence of the UAE in 1971, the oil wealth kept flowing into Abu Dhabi and sheikh Zayed oversaw the transformation of a country from a nation of mud-brick huts to high rises and expressways. The legacy of sheikh Zayed is honoured throughout the UAE and many landmarks bear his name, with his vision of the UAE as a modern nation kept alive today.