MY WORK­ING LIFE

Ab­dul­lah Khal­fan Al Kaabi, 31, spends his time slowly sift­ing through the UAE’s his­tory – and plenty of pot­tery shards – as part of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Cul­ture Author­ity’s dig team

Friday - - Contents -

Ab­dul­lah Khal­fan Al Kaabi lives in the past: He’s an arche­ol­o­gist.

What led you to choose a job that in­volves dig­ging around in ru­ins? Grow­ing up in Al Ain, I used to love learn­ing about UAE’s his­tory. I also en­joyed be­ing in the com­pany of older peo­ple and lis­ten­ing to their sto­ries about the past. So when I com­pleted school and was of­fered a grant from the gov­ern­ment to study ar­chae­ol­ogy, I gladly ac­cepted and went off to study at the Univer­sity of Brad­ford in Eng­land, be­fore re­turn­ing to join Abu Dhabi Tourism & Cul­ture Author­ity. Is ar­chae­ol­ogy as ex­cit­ing as In­di­ana Jones? [Laughs] Good ques­tion. Yes, ac­tu­ally it’s very ex­cit­ing. When you start work at a sta­tion, you be­gin with a hy­poth­e­sis. With time you build a story based on ev­i­dence – a story about the site. How­ever, af­ter some time your story may change, de­pend­ing on new ev­i­dence you find. Soon you re­alise what you set out with is not the real story; it’s some­thing dif­fer­ent. The new ev­i­dence may give you a new per­spec­tive about the site and its re­la­tion­ship to the sur­round­ing area. Where was your first dig or sta­tion? It was in 2011 in Al Ain at a site that dates back to the early Is­lamic era. I had done a course in ar­chae­ol­ogy in Ge­or­gia in 2008 and had worked at some sta­tions there, but the one in Al Ain was my first ex­pe­ri­ence at an ex­ca­va­tion sta­tion in the UAE. What does it take to be an ar­chae­ol­o­gist? This is not a job that ev­ery­body can get eas­ily in­ter­ested in or pas­sion­ate about. Some peo­ple may think it is a bit ec­cen­tric but that’s be­cause they do not see things from our per­spec­tive. If they get to a site and see things from our view­point, they will re­alise how ex­cit­ing ar­chae­ol­ogy can be. Dig­ging in the sun and the dust – it must be a lot of hard work, right? I must say it’s not an easy job but what it does is teach you how to be pa­tient. You dig slowly, layer by layer. You may re­move maybe 3cm to 5cm of soil at a time. Then you ex­am­ine the layer. Then re­move another layer. Pa­tience is key and yes it’s hard work. Plus if you are work­ing in re­mote ar­eas you have to do two shifts be­cause the time you have for the dig may be lim­ited. What do you find ex­cit­ing about your job? The best thing is that it is not a rou­tine job. You don’t do the same things ev­ery day and you do not get the same re­sults ev­ery day. Ev­ery day brings you some­thing new – you may be dis­cov­er­ing new things, get­ting new in­sights into his­tory, learn­ing more about a peo­ple who lived ages ago in the area. How come ar­chae­ol­o­gists seem to find so many bits of bro­ken pot­tery? The most com­mon thing that will pre­serve in soil is pot­tery but we do find a lot of things be­sides. Char­coal, ar­row­heads, tools, bones of an­i­mals, shells... Last month dur­ing a dig in Sir Baniyas, we found some metal fish hooks. That said, pot­tery give you a good ev­i­dence for dat­ing a site. It of­fers strong clues of which pe­riod it is from. Have you ever dis­cov­ered trea­sure? Any ar­chae­o­log­i­cal find I dis­cover is trea­sure be­cause it’s some­thing I’ve achieved due to hard work. Re­cently for in­stance, while dig­ging in Sir Baniyas Is­land we dis­cov­ered a stamp that dates back over 4,000 years. It was the first one of its kind found in the area; def­i­nitely a trea­sure. It’s still be­ing stud­ied and com­pared with sim­i­lar stamps found in Bahrain and Kuwait. What’s your most trea­sured find and what were your feel­ings when you dis­cov­ered it? I guess it would have to be the stamp seal. It was the first time we found such a seal in this re­gion. We’d found a lot of bits of pot­tery but find­ing this was a huge sur­prise for us. I was to­tally thrilled; a great mo­ment. What are the draw­backs of your job? The fact that you may have to be away from your fam­ily for a long time, par­tic­u­larly when work­ing in re­mote ar­eas. Then there’s the sun and dust but with time you get used to it. We do not have any dif­fi­cul­ties as such. How does it feel to be in­stru­men­tal in chang­ing his­tory books? It’s not re­ally chang­ing his­tory books as such. The finds may be adding value to his­tory, giv­ing you a deeper in­sight, a greater read­ing into the cul­ture and find­ing new con­nec­tions be­tween this re­gion and other ar­eas in the re­gion or world. Tell us some­thing about UAE his­tory that many peo­ple might not know. Many peo­ple think that UAE is just a few decades old. That’s not true at all. The re­gion that is now the UAE has had strong con­nec­tions with other coun­tries across the world since very an­cient times. This re­gion has been play­ing a crucial role in the trade and com­merce of sev­eral coun­tries dur­ing var­i­ous pe­riod in his­tory – the Bronze age, the Iron age... It was a cen­tre point, con­nect­ing the dif­fer­ent worlds. This was a thriv­ing re­gion where lots of peo­ple lived. Even to­day, UAE con­tin­ues to play a ma­jor role in trade and com­merce in the re­gion. Lastly, which is the one place you would like to ex­ca­vate in? Egypt, I guess. Be­cause cul­tur­ally it will be very dif­fer­ent from our sites here and I’m sure I will find a lot to learn.

Ab­dul­lah dis­play­ing pieces of pot­tery he and the team found dur­ing a dig in Sir Baniyas Is­land

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