x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pioneer who dug up UAE's past honoured

A British archaeologist has been honoured for his work uncovering some of the emirate's first settlements dating back 7,500 years.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, presents the Sheikh Mubarak bin Mohammed Prize for Natural History to Dr Mark Beech at his Majlis in Abu Dhabi.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, presents the Sheikh Mubarak bin Mohammed Prize for Natural History to Dr Mark Beech at his Majlis in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi // A British archaeologist has been honoured for his pioneering work uncovering some of the emirate's first settlements dating back 7,500 years. Dr Mark Beech, cultural landscapes manager in the historic environment department at the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach), has been on hand to discover an elephant tusk in Al Gharbia and a church and monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island. He also helped discover the first evidence of date consumption.

This week Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, presented him with the Sheikh Mubarak bin Mohammed Award for his achievements. The award, named after Sheikh Nahyan's father, was presented on behalf of the Emirates Natural History Group, of which Sheikh Nahyan is patron. Dr Beech has been in the UAE since 1994 and first worked for the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey before it was merged into Adach.

His first project centred on excavations of a church and monastery on Sir Bani Yas Island. In 2004 he worked on Marawah Island, off the Abu Dhabi coast, as part of a team that studied the earliest settlements in Abu Dhabi emirate. DNA testing was used to date a skeleton to 7,500 years ago. "We found one of the earliest necropolises and inside this we found the remains of the earliest known inhabitants of Abu Dhabi," said Dr Beech.

On Delma Island his group found the first known houses in the UAE and used radiocarbon dating to discover that stones from dates people had eaten were from more than 7,000 years ago. As well as being an archaeologist, Dr Beech is a palaeontologist and in November 2002 found a 2.54-metre long elephant tusk in Al Gharbia, while carrying out survey work. The fossil was between six million and eight million years old.

He said the Arab world was "very, very interesting" archaeologically because of its position as a cultural crossroads with interactions with ancient civilisations in other parts of the world, including Mesopotamia. "Most archaeology has only been done in the last 50 years and especially in the last 20 years," said Dr Beech, an honorary visiting fellow at the University of York. Much of his work for Adach centres on maintaining a database of fossil sites and archaeological sites and helping developers modify plans to ensure important sites are protected. He also teaches the archaeology of the UAE at Zayed University.

He was presented the award at Sheikh Nahyan's palace in the capital. "I've been a member of Emirates Natural History Group since I first came to the Emirates and it's an important group that carries out important scientific work on natural history," Dr Beech said. Also presented with an award by Sheikh Nahyan was Ali al Suweidi, president of the Emirates Marine Environmental Group. He was given the Bish Brown Award, named after John "Bish" Brown, founder of the Emirates Natural History Group, for protecting the country's marine heritage.

"We have many projects to protect marine life," Mr al Suweidi said. "We're also doing an education project for most of the kids of the emirate." After receiving his award, Mr al Suweidi presented Sheikh Nahyan with several posters about marine life, including one on dugongs, the large marine mammals, and another that featured elasmobranchs, a subclass of fish that includes sharks and rays. Keith Taylor, the Emirates Natural History Group deputy chairman, described Mr al Suweidi as "a dedicated educator" who had "given his time endlessly" to promote marine environmental causes.

"The Bish Brown Award remembers our founder and his endless enthusiasm," Mr Taylor added. dbardsley@thenational.ae