The northeastern sector of the Rub' al-Khali desert in the eastern United Arab Emirates (UAE) is dominated by large NE–SW trending dune ridges orientated perpendicular to the currently prevailing northwesterly wind regime. In this study, extensive use has been made of artificially exposed sections through these major dune ridges that reveal internal sedimentary structures and allow an intensive, high-resolution sampling programme to be carried out. Here, we present the optical dating results for samples from 7 sections. The results indicate that dune activity and preservation occurred within the periods 7–3 ka, 16–10 ka and 22–20 ka with evidence of earlier preservation during marine oxygen isotope stages MIS 3 and 5, with net accumulation rates in the range 2.2–25 m.ka− 1. In several instances, hiatuses in the preserved record of dune accumulation coincide with stratigraphic bounding surfaces visible in the exposed section profiles with associated truncation of internal sedimentary structures. Caution must be exercised when interpreting such gaps in the recorded accumulation chronologies of these dunes since these may simply constitute phases of low preservation potential rather than phases of low aeolian activity. Other factors such as sediment supply and availability in relation to sea-level dynamics may be significant and are also considered.