Schoolchildren dig a bit of history at abandoned pearling village in RAK

Forty-seven children from RAK Academy spent a morning this week surrounded by the unique archaeological site that dates back to the 17th century and they also had a chance to build a wall using traditional building materials such as coral.

The abandoned pearling village of Jazirat Al Hamra in south-west Ras Al Khaimah has more than 400 buildings, including about 150 that are traditional. Christopher Pike / The National
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RAS AL KHAIMAH // Schoolchildren were introduced to the importance of archaeology and the country’s heritage by going on a dig at the abandoned pearling village of Jazirat Al Hamra.

Forty-seven children from RAK Academy spent a morning this week at the unique site that dates from the 17th century, and also had a chance to build a wall using traditional building materials such as coral.

“The tour was great,” said Shama Al Sharhani, 8. “This is the first time I’ve visited this place and the first time I got to dig for old things. It was like digging for treasure. They gave us a souvenir [a piece of pottery] to remember the place and the visit and, when they asked us about who wants to be an archaeologist, we all raised our hands.”

Alya Al Zaabi also enjoyed the tour and learnt a lot about her heritage and culture.

“I helped in creating a wall using material that they used in the past and it was so fun,” said Alya.

“I also dug in the ground and found old coins, bracelets, shells and pieces of pottery.”

The programme was launched this month by the Department of Antiquities and Museums in RAK and RAK Academy, after nearly a year of preparation.

“It’s important that children learn to understand the significance of their heritage and culture while taking part and working alongside the archaeologists,” said Kate Ayres, director of the National Museum of RAK.

“The plan is that each year a different school year from RAK Academy will visit and the pupils will learn something new, eventually building up a full picture of the site and the various ­archaeological techniques used.

“Perhaps in the future, one of these pupils will be heading the Department of Antiquities and Museums inspired by their session at the village.”

Ahmad Hilal, director of archaeology at the department, said that involving the public was a good way to preserve sites.

“It’s very difficult these days to protect archaeological sites and cultural heritage,” he said. “The best way is to involve the community and educate the new generations by bringing awareness and teaching them the importance of archaeology and history.”

The old coastal village of Jazirat Al Hamra, which means Red Island, is about 18 kilometres south-west of RAK city and has more than 400 structures, including about 150 traditional buildings, many of them slowly crumbling after it was abandoned in 1968. It used to be an island before areas were filled in and it is widely believed to be haunted.

“We started protecting the site in 2002 and the restoration started in January 2015,” said Mr Hilal.

“It will take many years to restore the village because it’s a continuous process. We are running 10 major excavations now and we have done about 60,000 recordings along with conservation and restoration work, tested a lot of samples and created material that will be used in the restoration process.”

A plan to build a heritage village at Jazirat Al Hamra is under way and it will include arts and crafts centres, galleries, museums, restaurants and shops.

“The souq should be ready in two years, along with two access points, parking lots and an open space for celebrations, while the rest will come later,” Mr Hilal said.

This year an archaeological dig at the village revealed a site where several mosques had been built over the years. There were seven layers of structures, five of which could be identified as mosques.

Mr Hilal said some of the mosques had deteriorated because of geographic and environmental conditions, while others were demolished to build bigger mosques for the growing population of the village.

Archaeologists first began work in Ras Al Khaimah, which has 7,000 years of human history, in 1968 and now plan to revitalise other archaeological sites.

“We are working on different sites in a five to 10-year plan that is set to finish by 2020. At the Dhayah site we are working on creating an archaeological park for visitors and heritage tourism; in Wadi Al Qur, which is in the south of Ras Al Khaimah, there is amazing archaeology that goes back to 3,000AD,” Mr Hilal said.

“Jazirat Al Hamra dates to the early 17th century – 4,000 to 5,000 people were living here ­before they moved to Abu Dhabi in the 1960s.”

Children will be attending sessions at Jazirat Al Hamra every day until May 9.