x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The pioneer of pre-history

Serge Cleuziou, a pioneer of archaeological investigation in the years shortly after the foundation of the UAE, has died in Paris. He was 65.

Prof Serge Cleuziou.
Prof Serge Cleuziou.

Serge Cleuziou, one of the founding fathers of archaeological research in the UAE, died on Wednesday in Paris. He was 65, and had cancer.

Prof Cleuziou was one of the pioneers of prehistorical archaeological investigation in the years shortly after the foundation of the UAE, helping to uncover fascinating insights into early Arabian civilisations. He dedicated more than three decades of his life to studying the remains of these ancient communities throughout the Middle East, but mainly in the UAE and Oman. A funeral service was held in the French capital on Saturday, and he is to be buried in the Correze region, in central France, in the coming days.

Friends and peers spoke of his passion for the region and his lifelong dedication to furthering an understanding of life in and around the desert oases more than 4,000 years ago. In 1972, he joined France's National Centre for Scientific Research, and in 1977 he moved to the UAE to work as the director of the French Archaeological Mission to Abu Dhabi. He conducted a series of surveys and digs at Jebel Hafeet and Hili, near Al Ain, where he worked on a settlement site and two tombs.

The work at Hili was a joint venture between French authorities and the Department of Antiquities and Tourism, which was later superseded by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach). It was his work at the Hili 8 site that brought him to international prominence. That work included investigation of a Bronze Age settlement and excavation on a mud-brick tower surrounded by a moat, together with other ancient buildings.

"Serge was really a pioneer," said Sophie Mery, a former student of Prof Cleuziou's who later worked closely with him before taking over leadership of the French Archaeological Mission in 1995. "He brought the story of the Bronze Age history of the region to the entire world," she said. "He was a gifted communicator who brought his passion for archaeology into the lives of not just his fellow academics but ordinary people.

"I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked with him and to have known him. "He was remarkable for his intelligence and his way of thinking - also a very good storyteller who had a wonderful sense of humour. "The archaeology of Arabia was his fascination - and it will be very different without him." Prof Cleuziou contributed to the discovery of some of the first evidence in south-east Arabia that its early inhabitants grew cereal crops such as wheat and barley.

The archaeologist and historian Peter Hellyer, who first met Prof Cleuziou in 1977, commended his dedication and his ability to share his enthusiasm with others. "One of his real skills was to help engender a real interest in the subject to those he met along the way," Mr Hellyer said. "He was an excellent speaker and was keen to share his interest with others. He gave regular talks through voluntary bodies to schools in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

"He was responsible for introducing finds of archaeological significance to the broader academic community." Dr Walid Yassin al Tikriti, the manager of the archaeology division at the historic environment department of Adach, worked with Prof Cleuziou on a dig in 1977. He praised Prof Cleuziou as making "a great contribution to archaeology in the region, particularly his work excavating the tower".

"He was one of the key people who laid the foundations for archaeological research in the UAE," Dr al Tikriti said, adding, that "his work excavating the circular tomb between 1982 and 1984 was also of significance". "It allowed us real insight to the traditional burial customs." Prof Cleuziou stopped excavation work on the Hili 8 site in 1984 and shortly afterwards switched his focus to Oman, where he looked to contrast the lifestyles of coastal people with those who lived inland.

In Oman he worked closely with Maurizio Tosi, professor of prehistory at the University of Bologna, taking part in a long-term study at Ras al Jinz in the sultanate. Over the course of his professional life, Prof Cleuziou wrote and edited more than a dozen academic books and scores of journal articles. In addition to his work on the Bronze Age, he studied the neolithic period and conducted research in France, Greece, Syria, Iraq, Turkmenistan and Bahrain.

Prof Cleuziou was also praised for his research in Tureng Tepe in north-eastern Iran and on the copper supply of Sumerian Mesopotamia, which included chemical sampling projects and surveys of ancient copper mines in Iran, Afghanistan and Oman. The data that Prof Cleuziou collected from Hili were also compared with finds in settlements such as Bat and Maysar in Oman and helped establish a theoretical model of community organisation for oasis economies during the early Bronze Age.

"He was one of the important figures in the history of archaeology in the UAE," said Dr Mark Beech, cultural landscapes manager at the historic environment department at Adach. "He has left a very deep legacy. He made a valuable contribution to the prehistory of south-east Arabia, and he will be sadly missed." Prof Cleuziou is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. chamilton@thenational.ae