The Journey of an Archaeological Artefact: a glimpse into how ancient relics are discovered

“It is a long and ancient story and not just about putting pieces in a museum. The exhibition will help people understand processes used for interpretation before final display,” said Dr Sabah Jassim, head of the archaeology excavation missions at Sharjah Archaeology Museum in Sharjah.
A golden horse bridle and trappings buried with a horse and a camel found by local team in Mleiha, dated between 150 BC - 200 AD, will be on display during the exhibition 'From the Site to Museum' at Sharjah Archaeology Museum in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National
A golden horse bridle and trappings buried with a horse and a camel found by local team in Mleiha, dated between 150 BC - 200 AD, will be on display during the exhibition 'From the Site to Museum' at Sharjah Archaeology Museum in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National

SHARJAH // A small bronze statue, a ceramic incense holder, a golden horse bridle: together they tell a story – not just of how our ancestors lived thousands of years ago, but of the long journey such historical treasures make from their discovery by archeologists to being displayed in a museum.

With just these three striking pieces, Sharjah Archaeology Museum strives to show how experts conduct archaeological digs, record their findings with exhaustive documentation followed by intricate restoration, and finally weave together an artefact’s story by linking it with past civilisations.

“This is first time we are taking people behind the scenes from the archaeological excavation site to the people who document the objects, the cleaning, restoration process and interpretation,” said Nasir Al Darmaki, the curator at the museum.

“Normally in any exhibition you will see the object but you don’t see the discovery process.”

It took almost seven years for archaeologists to find a section of a bronze statue excavated in Mleiha. Dating to 150BC, the small, wavy-haired figurine wears a kilt and holds a bird in one hand.

Archaeologists found the figure had links with Hellenic civilisation and dates to a period when the region was part of an international trade route that connected the kingdoms of Greece to Arab trade centres in Yemen.

“You cannot imagine how difficult it is to bring things together, to match them,” Mr Al Darmaki said. “We first saw half the object on the site and then after seven years of the excavation we found the other part.”

With the aid of large pictures and examples of research and excavation tools, the exhibition explains how items have been unearthed over the past 40 years.

Meticulous work helped researchers to prove that people lived in this region as far back as 125,000 years ago – the oldest proof of human life within the borders of what is now the UAE.

The museum has 90,000 rare artefacts including weaponry, jewellery, agricultural tools, crockery and coins.

The current exhibition showcases a horse bridle with embellished golden and iron discs and a portion of the bedrock on which it was found. Dating to between 150BC and 200AD, the relic reflects the wealth of earlier inhabitants and was found in a tomb in Mleiha, buried along with a horse and a camel.

“It is very important for the public to understand the story behind each item so when they see a pot or jug they know why it was made and the time and effort we take to restore it,” said Dr Sabah Jassim, the head of the archaeology excavation missions.

“All objects are of great value but some are more interesting than others. The bridle with pure gold discs is significant because it showed there were wealthy people here and when they died they could afford to have their camel and horse buried with them.”

Researchers hope the reconstruction will help the public to understand the evolution of civilisation.

“It is a long and ancient story and not just about putting pieces in a museum,” Dr Jassim said. “The exhibition will help people to understand the processes used for interpretation before final display.”

A perforated ceramic incense holder topped with a bull figurine is being displayed for the first time at the museum. It dates to the Iron Age between 600BC and 900BC and was found at the Muweilah excavation site in Sharjah.

“The burner was found in a burial area and belongs to a religion before Islam,” Mr Al Darmaki explained. “It was found three years ago but wasn’t displayed because it was under a process of study.”

Visitors are also encouraged to touch fragments of relics from smooth cream ceramic pieces to rough red stones displayed on a wall.

“Seize the opportunity to touch these pieces discovered in Sharjah and imagine the ancient people who made them,” says one poster.

Authorities hope the interactive section will fire visitors’ imagination.

“Normally people cannot touch any objects in an archaeology museum but by touching we want people to understand that their history goes back thousands of years,” said Mr Al Darmaki.

“Instead of keeping everything behind cases, we want people to touch their history and hope they benefit from it.”

The exhibition, From Site to Museum – The Journey of an Archaeological Artefact, opened Wednesday and will run until September 7.

rtalwar@thenational.ae

Published: May 7, 2014 04:00 AM

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