Archaeological Sites Remains Conservation, Protection, Interpretation & Presentation for H.H. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Mosque Archaeological Park

Client : The Department of the President’s Affairs & Ministry of Presidential Affairs in Abu Dhabi

Location : Al Ain, Abu Dhabi - UAE

Joint Venture :  ICON

Year : 2017

The Project centers on the conservation, protection, interpretation, and presentation of an Abbasid archaeological Site dating to the early Islamic Period in Al Ain. These archaeological trenches are part of a larger site which is H. H. Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyian Mosque Site in Al Ain, Emirate of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The client/owner of the Project is the Department of the President’s Affairs, Ministry of Presidential Affairs in Abu Dhabi, UAE (MoPA). TURATH: Architecture & Urban Design Consultants of Amman, Jordan, are sub-consulting this work for INTELLIGENT CONSULT- CONSULT ENGINEERS LLC (ICON) who are responsible for the design and supervision of landscape works within the Site; while the main Mosque building was designed and supervised by Al Bayaty Architects, UAE. In terms of research and archaeological excavations, they are carried out by and the responsibility of the Tourism and Cultural Authority of Abu Dhabi (TCA Abu Dhabi). The new Mosque is about 45% completed. The total area of the Project is 198,667 sqm. The area is composed of the Mosque building, open Mosque arcades, parking lots and an Archaeological Park.

 

The Site was discovered by accident by the Royal Courts when digging for conservation purposes revealed one of the Aflajs on the Site. The discovered remains dated to the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and to the Early Islamic periods. A total of 11 archaeological trenches were dug and some had been reburied again. The main proposal is for these archaeological trenches and remains to be conserved, protected and exhibited as part of an archaeological Park that is open to the general public and visitors.

 

Discovery of the Site & its General Significance

The discovery of the Site dates to 1999-2001 when one of the Aflaj and a mud brick mosque was discovered by accident on the Site (Al Tikriti et al., 2015). The Department of Historic Environment of TCA Abu Dhabi and in collaboration with the Ministry of Presidential Affairs of Abu Dhabi, had declared the discovery of an extremely significant archaeological Site dating to early Islamic periods on a Site belonging to H. H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed AlNahyian in the area of Aud al Toubah in Al Ain City (Al Riyad Newspaper, 2011). Mr. Mohammad Khalaf al Mazroui of TCA Abu Dhabi had stated that this discovery is of utmost importance due to the fact that it is the only found Site dating to the early Islamic Period discovered in the Emirate, therefore, testifying to the rich temporal depth of Al Ain City dating from prehistoric periods up to the present. In the past, and in Al Ain, several archaeological Sites from the Bronze Age (second millennium BC) and Iron Age (first millennium BC) periods had been discovered, and this early Islamic Period Site is the first one discovered.

Resumed excavations and rescue operations started on the Site in 2011 addressing a network of features and buildings on the Site including Aflaj, mud-brick structures, basins, a mosque, and water channels, in addition to other features. “The discovery of these structures is significant as they provide the -so far- only available evidence for the presence of early Islamic (eighth-tenth century) standing building in al-Ain region.” (Al Tikriti et al., 2015).

 

As mentioned earlier, archaeological remains of Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Late Islamic periods, are widely known in the region, in contrast to late pre-Islamic and early Islamic sites. “This discovery may cast light on the history of the oases in Al- Ain, which has its origins in the beginning of the Iron age; hence filling the blank by this early Islamic period discovery.”

Introduction to Cultural and Conservation Work Methodology & Field Work Management Planning

In general, the methodology adopted for this Project is borrowed from the processes of conservation management planning, which is based on 3 related processes: Identification and documentation; Assessment, and Response.

Site-management planning for archaeological sites is a necessary element of a comprehensive approach to site protection, especially when there are expectations for public access, tourism, and economic development (Palumbo et at., 2014).

A Conservation Management Plan will offer a collective vision and provide a decision making tool that would guide future excavations, conservation, and intervention on the site. It is value-driven and through a participatory and interdisciplinary process will balance conservation needs and tourism development demands. Being a collective vision to the management of cultural and natural sites, the management plan provides an anchor to accommodate how different stakeholders relate to the site and to its management. An effective conservation management plan should be capable not only of guiding policy makers and planners involved with the site but should also engage with the fullest variety of stakeholders in order to secure a long term and sustainable future for the Site.

Different researchers have orchestrated and came up with planning mechanisms for conservation, interpretation, and management for cultural sites. Several scholars (Demas 2002; Greene 1999; Sullivan 1997; de la Torre 1995) developed useful and insightful frameworks that depended on identification of the site and its associated stakeholders; assessment of values, significance, and management contexts; and coming up with responses in the form of policies and strategies. The preparation of management plans for cultural sites could proceed through a 3 tier process:

  • Identification & Description: understanding of the site, its documentation, and stakeholder analysis. A thorough documentation that takes the form of measured drawings of different nature and scales are produced of the Site. Furthermore, this stage would also address researching the various stakeholder groups associated with the site (which is a continuous process that continues on during later stages). Finally, this stage ends with identifying the main aims behind preparing the management plan.

 

  • Assessment: of management context, physical condition, and cultural significance values. This important stage (Assessment) is mostly about the following:

- Assessment of Cultural Site Significance (and values) addressing why the site is important and for whom.

- Assessment of the physical condition of the site in addition to assessment of potential environmental and physical threats and challenges. This also includes an assessment of previous excavations and conservation works conducted on the site ending with a state of conservation reporting.

- Assessment of the management context identifying the ongoing constraints and opportunities that will affect the conservation and management of the site.

 

Response: Come up with a vision, establish policies, and develop strategies for future conservation & management of the site. During this stage, we will establish policies addressing how the values of the Site would be preserved for future generations and conveyed to the public. Objectives would address what will be done to translate policies into action. Furthermore, strategies would be developed addressing how the objectives will be put into practice. Policies are considered the critical link between the assessments of values, conditions, and management context on one hand; and the objectives and strategies on the other. In general, policies would address:

  • Philosophy and approach for future excavations and research.

  • Philosophy and approach for future conservation and maintenance of the site and its cultural and natural features and contexts.

  • Future Sites interpretation and presentation to the general public.

  • Future tourism and visitation management.

  • Future policies regarding management context and staff organization setup.

  • Future policies regarding assets management.

  • Future policies regarding training and capacity building.