Optical dating of two dune profiles developed in linear dunes in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, has been used to establish the timing and rate of dune accretion. One section at Awafi was over 17 m high, while that at Idhn was over 40 m high. The Awafi dune appears to have accumulated very rapidly ≈10 000 years ago, with a vertical accumulation rate of about 3·3 m ka−1. The Idhn dune appears to have accumulated over the past 1000 years, with 20 m of sediment accumulating in a time period of about 270 years. The Awafi dune may have accumulated in response to the transgression of the Persian Gulf by rising sea levels in late Pleistocene and Holocene times. The Idhn dune may have accumulated rapidly because of intensified human activity, a short-lived climatic event, or because it may periodically be reactivated after erosion by fluvial action at its base.