x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A gritty gift of nature

Sand gets everywhere, but sometimes it preserves a piece of the past.

Sand is a fact of life in the UAE. It is a constant source of irritation - especially when it finds its way to where it's least wanted. But it can also be a source of fascination. In this part of the world, entire civilisations have been found buried under fine particles of sand. It not only covered the tombs and temples of ancient Egypt, it preserved them as well, allowing us to unlock some of the secrets of the past.

In the United States, shifting sands as a result of Hurricane Sandy have uncovered a piece of North America's maritime history. According to media reports, a shipwreck has been found on the beach at Fire Island, off Long Island, New York. It is believed to be what's left of the Bessie White, a four-masted Canadian schooner that ran aground in either 1919 or 1922. Historical accounts differ on the date, but they tell us that the crew, including the ship's cat, survived the incident even though the schooner and its cargo of coal was lost.

Bits of wreckage have poked through the sand before, but nobody realised that an entire bus-sized boat was buried in the often 21-metre-deep dune. Archaeologists are now scrambling to photograph and document the wreck before the sand reclaims it.

Half of Fire Island was inundated at the height of Sandy's fury. Yet newly emerged Bessie reminds us that nature preserves as well as destroys.