Al Ain Museum: an ancient landscape beneath the carpark
Keywords:Al Ain Museum, Iron Age aflāj, PIR tomb, early Islamic falaj, oasis landscape
Al Ain (National) Museum was established by Shaykh Zāyid b. Sulṭān Āl Nahayyān in 1969 next to the Sulṭān Fort on the eastern edge of al-ʿAyn Oasis, now one of the seventeen components of the Cultural Sites of Al Ain, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2011. In 2019, the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT) commenced a long-planned project to restore and extend the museum, retaining the main museum building and supplementing it with new facilities on the site of the former museum offices, stores, and parking. Careful recording and dismantling of the remains of the twentieth-century village of Ḥārat al-Ḥiṣn, demolished in the 1980s, was followed by an archaeological watching brief during the initial 2 m excavation of deep underlying deposits of sand and silt. When excavation reached more compact deposits, the presence of numerous deep cut features was revealed and works were halted while these were investigated. The subsequent archaeological works have provided important new insights into the natural and cultural landscape of the oasis, including evidence for Iron Age aflāj, a late pre-Islamic (PIR) tomb and a number of PIR wells reused as middens, and a substantial early Islamic falaj. Finds from the excavations have thus filled several significant lacunae in the archaeological and ceramic sequences of al-ʿAyn. This paper describes the progress of the works and discusses its significance for our understanding of the development of the oasis landscape of al-ʿAyn.
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