UNE and Dubai team up to uncover desert secrets

Published 24 November 2014

DUBAIThe University of New England is embarking on a fascinating exploration into the ancient secrets of the Arabian Peninsula in an unprecedented archaeological partnership with the government of Dubai.

A team of international experts led by the Head of the UNE School of Humanities, Professor Lloyd Weeks, will spend the next three years analysing and conserving thousands of 3,000 year-old artifacts discovered at a mysterious site in the desert of Dubai known as Saruq al-Hadid.

Professor Weeks, an expert in the study of ancient metallurgy in the Arabian Peninsula, was approached by Dubai Municipality to undertake this multi-million dollar project.

Professor Weeks says the site, which was discovered by HRH Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, twelve years ago when he was flying over it in his helicopter, is something of an enigma.

“The site is quite mysterious, in that we are not sure why these artifacts are there, in the midst of the sand dunes” Professor Weeks said.

“The site was clearly used for smelting metal, which is strange given how far it is from sources of ore or fuel, but so far no settlement or structures have been discovered. Only thousands upon thousands of bronze, gold and iron artifacts, which include pieces of jewellery, weapons, tools and utensils, as well as vessels of pottery and stone and thousands of beads of decorative stones.

“Our task at Saruq al-Hadid will be threefold. Firstly, we will conduct post-excavation analysis of the objects to determine what they’re made of, what they were used for, where the materials were sourced from and why they were left behind.

“In collaboration with our partners at the Sydney firm International Conservation Services, we will also be responsible for the conservation of the items and preparing them for museum display.

“Finally we will keep on digging at the site in the hope that we will discover more about how the location has changed in the 3000 years since the site was used. We’re also hoping to find evidence of settlement that may help to answer some more questions for us.”

Professor Weeks will lead the team of experts, including two UNE postdoctoral fellows and two PhD students, in this collaborative project with the Dubai Municipality.

“The Dubai Municipality has invited us to do this work, and I am greatly looking forward to working with them over the next three years,” Professor Weeks said.