x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Archaeologists find historical secrets beneath Sharjah

But Peter Jackson, architectural adviser to the Sharjah Government, says it may be too late to get to them.

Archaeologists in Sharjah have used cutting-edge technology to unlock secrets of the past buried deep beneath the ground. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Archaeologists in Sharjah have used cutting-edge technology to unlock secrets of the past buried deep beneath the ground. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

SHARJAH //Archaeologists have used cutting-edge technology to unlock secrets of the past buried deep beneath the ground.

The team found long-lost features of an abandoned village in Sharjah, but some valuable archaeological material had already been obliterated by the construction of modern buildings in the city centre.

The areas surveyed were Al Khan, an abandoned fishing village in the south of the emirate, and the Heart of Sharjah. The researchers used ground penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry equipment to peer down beneath the surface and create images of what lies below.

"The alignments of structures show the broader street areas," Peter Jackson, architectural adviser to the Sharjah Government, told a conference in Dubai.

"In the vicinity of the mosque and principal house small areas covered by the magnetometry located evidence of structural remains," he said.

Mr Jackson said walls and other possible features suggested further possible rooms and courtyard divisions.

"The full extent of the narrow structure to the north of the mosque can be made out as a series of small rooms. A building, or walled garden, immediately to the east of the mosque appears in the results.

"First developed around fishing communities, sites such as Al Khan frequently went on to form the basis of substantial urban coastal conurbations critical to the subsequent urban development of the UAE."

Turning to the Heart of Sharjah, Mr Jackson said the old town was well established by the 19th century. However, many buildings had been demolished during the 1970s to make way for commercial and residential blocks.

"It's apparent that a significant proportion of the archaeological remains have been damaged or obliterated," he said. "The zones of damage extend some 14 metres beyond the footings of the modern buildings but leave the main areas of parking and the carriageways as principal locations for surviving archaeology."

The survey revealed the locations of the buried foundations of long-demolished buildings.

Mr Jackson said the ground level in the area was now half a metre or more higher than it had been 50 years ago.

"We hope that underneath the Tarmac this build-up might have protected some archaeology below," he said.

GPR fires electromagnetic radio waves into the ground and detects them when they are reflected off objects and structures. This enables the operator to build up images of what lies at different levels.

A magnetometer detects objects underground by sensing the magnetic fields they generate. Unlike GPR, it shows only the first objects or structures it finds, rather than revealing underlying layers.

The use of such technology removes the need for digging - a particular advantage in city-centre sites such as the Heart of Sharjah.

The accuracy of the equipment was demonstrated when the researchers found where the original waterfront had been before the waters of the creek were pushed back by reclamation for the development of the Corniche.

Comparison with an old aerial photograph showed that the edge of the Creek had been exactly where the images produced by the equipment indicated.

The survey was a collaboration between the Sharjah Directorate of Heritage, the Maritime Archaeological Stewardship Trust and the University of Southampton in Britain. It was led by Dr Lucy Blue, a maritime archaeologist from Southampton.

Dr Blue, Mr Jackson and geophysics researcher Kristian Strutt have written a paper about the project which is about to be published. Mr Jackson presented sections of the report to delegates at the International Architectural Conservation Conference.

"The results of the survey are now being used to inform a current excavation in Al Hisn," he said. "We hope that we might get back in time to the earlier days of Sharjah.

"There's a report of Sharjah in 1580 and there are Spanish reports from 1756, so it will be great if we are able to get through some of those layers."

csimpson@thenational.ae