Emirati archaeology students get in touch with their land

Recent Zayed University graduates want to see more Emiratis studying archaeology and developing an affinity with the land of their birth.

Emirati archaeologists Bakheeta Al Mansoori, left, and Myriam Al Dhaheri. Satish Kumar / The National
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ABU DHABI // Two female Emirati archaeology students hope that they will inspire more of their compatriots, especially women, to study the ancient history of the region.

Myriam Al Dhaheri, 22, and Bakheeta Al Mansoori, 25, recently graduated from Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, where they were the first two local women to finish a Bachelor’s degree in archaeology.

While neither is working as an archaeologist at present, they say they may consider it as a career.

Ms Al Dhaheri, who is working as a communications coordinator for Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority, said it was her French mother who inspired her love of archaeology.

But she said studying the course had made her feel more attached to her father’s homeland.

“I felt more loyal to this land. What this land gave us is not a little,” she said.

Ms Al Mansoori is of Bedouin heritage and said she took up archaeology because of her interest in the land of her ancestors.

The course completely changed her perception of the country, she said.

“I now look at our history in a different way. You feel proud that it is such a rich history, yet everyone thinks we have less than 50 years’ history,” she said.

“Now I can tell them ‘no, that’s not true’. We have more than 50 years. We have hundreds and thousands of years.”

She said she took satisfaction from the course’s field work, which involved spending hours outdoors, digging for antiquities in places like Al Jahili Fort and Al Ain Oasis.

“It was hot but we enjoyed it. We found potteries from different countries like Oman, Iran and Iraq,” she said.

“It is interesting that it took us back to history of old civilisation, the history of Iraq.”

Ms Al Mansoori believes the study of archaeology is vitally important to future generations.

She said students of archaeology can “send a message for the next generation, and talk about our land”.

“We don’t want to forget our history,” she said.

The archaeology course was run by Dr Timothy Power, an assistant professor at the university.

“It was a fresh idea for those who wanted to do archaeological work, especially UAE women,” said the Briton.

“It was exciting, because this is the first time Emiratis have engaged with their heritage and culture of their own country through archaeology.”

With the pottery pieces they had discovered, he said they “would be able to understand the development of the landscape over hundreds of years”.

Peter Hellyer, who is originally from the United Kingdom, has been carrying out archaeological surveys in the UAE for more than 40 years.

He thought it was good news for the country that Emiratis were getting involved in archaeology.

“There have always been westerners and other foreigners working in UAE archaeology,” he said.

“This course is really important, in my view. The foreign teams share their skills – but [the Emiratis] also bring a different perspective, with a wider understanding of archaeology throughout the region.”