Hi-tech survey at Al Zubarah site


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Al Zubarah Archaeological Site, hopefully going to place Qatar for the first time on the Unesco World Heritage List, is being explored with cutting-edge technology to seek unprecedented insights from the past. 

A magnetometer is being used in Al Zubarah to take a peek beneath the ground [Credit: Dan Britton]

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, commissioned by the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), are conducting geophysical survey and 3D laser scanning alongside ongoing excavations to learn more about the abandoned town on the northwest coast. 

Specialist equipment and experts have been brought in from Germany to build upon the success of three previous seasons of excavations at the site, the Gulf’s most complete and well-preserved pearl trading and diving town of the 18th-19th centuries. 

Experts from Posselt & Zickgraf Prospektionen GbR, a company specialising in archaeological geophysics, have for the first time begun to use magnetometers and ground penetrating radar. 

“These techniques enable us to detect differences in the earth’s magnetic field that relate to archaeological features and buildings hidden beneath the ground,” Prof Alan Walmsley, director of the archaeological excavations at Al Zubarah, told Gulf Times during a site visit. 

If it is successful, the plan is to roll it out across the site and other sites in northern Qatar. The techniques allow covering large areas of ground in a relatively short period of time and create a map of archaeological features beneath the ground. 

“In the last two days the geophysics team has had some very encouraging results from Qal’at Murair, which used to be the source of freshwater supply to Al Zubarah, where we can now seen buried walls and buildings at this largely vanished site,” Prof Walmsley said. 

The team has already discovered interesting signatures, including a regular alignment of features along the coastline of Al Zubarah that need to be explored further. 

Another state-of-the-art technology in use at Al Zubarah this season is 3D laser scanning. 

The specialist team from the HafenCity University Hamburg has been called in to record the archaeological remains with high-precision equipment. 

“This technology enables us to create very accurate virtual 3D models of buildings, walls and other archaeological features,” stated Prof Ingolf Thuesen, director of conservation work at Al Zubarah. 

“We use this technique to both record walls and buildings before they undergo conservation and also to monitor the state of preservation across the site,” he explained. 

3D laser scanner in use at Al Zubarah Archaeological Site on the
northwest coast of Qatar to record walls and buildings [Credit: Dan

Traditionally, archaeologists had to rely only on pencil drawings and photographs to record walls. Although these techniques are still in use, they are being increasingly supplemented by 3D laser scanning and other digital techniques. 

Courtyard houses, a warehouse and a palatial building have been excavated in Al Zubarah. 

“The excavations continue to turn up a stunning collection of artefacts and some of the new buildings we have excavated this season gives us new ideas of the history and development of Al Zubarah,” Prof Walmsley revealed. 

The QMA and University of Copenhagen team is continuing excavations at Freiha, also a very important site 3km north of Al Zubarah. 

“At Freiha, the excavations will be completed by the end of 2012 season and conservation work at a mosque discovered at the site will begin in due course,” he said. 

Extensive conservation work is also being carried out by the joint team in the archaeological site, as well as in the nearby 1938 Al Zubarah Fort, itself an important visitor attraction and a source of national pride. 

“We are consolidating the walls by re-pointing joints in the walls with a special, salt-resistant mortar, and are replacing all the rotten timbers in the Al Zubarah Fort,” said Prof Thuesen. 

Al Zubarah was nominated by Qatar in January 2011 as a Unesco World Heritage Site. The ongoing work by QMA and University of Copenhagen not only enhances the historical understanding of the site, but also prepares it for presentation to visitors in future. 

“We are very aware that visitors from around the world will stream to Qatar for the 2022 Fifa World Cup and our aim is to prepare this amazing site, that showcases the country’s pearl fishing and trading past is by then ready to be seen and enjoyed,” added Prof Thuesen.   

Author: Bonnie James | Source: Gulf Times [January 21, 2012]




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