Abu Dhabi Emirati students now have an opportunity to learn about their heritage by sifting through ancient pottery on new field archaeology courses now on offer at Zayed University.
The archaeological methods and knowledge are being offered at the university's Department of Archaeology. The course aims to provide insight into pottery study methodologies as well as help students discover and understand the rich heritage of the UAE.
"Pottery is essential for archaeology, as it helps students analyse the history and culture of a nation," said Jeffery Scuzhman, assistant professor of humanities and social sciences. Scuzhman is also the instructor on both courses, which include field trips to some of the archaeological sites in Ras Al Khaimah, Shimal and Wadi Haqil.
The field trips are for students to gather archaeological material exported from Ras Al Khaimah across the Indian Ocean circa 1550 right up until the mid-20th century for analysis. They will primarily collect bits of pottery, shards and kilns (ovens used to produce the pottery). The analytical process enables the department to understand the specific culture of certain sites.
"The process of analysis first begins by defining the style of the pottery and what it was used for," said Scuzhman.
"From the design on the pottery, our analysts will be able to learn about the culture of the people who used shards."
The new courses are a joint project headed by Scuzhman in conjunction with Durham University in the UK.
The project seeks to understand the organisation, industrialisation and decline of pottery manufacturing in Julfar, historic Ras Al Khaimah, over a 600-year period.
The 15 students currently in the class got a chance to experience first-hand knowledge about their past during a day-long field trip to the two historic pottery production sites in Ras Al Khaimah.
"The pottery we gathered showed that the UAE, historically, had more than just fishing and dates more than 100 years ago," said Ahlam Al Hammadi, 22.
For some students, the courses will help prepare them for a career in the field and help them learn about the history of the UAE.
"We normally listen to our grandparents telling us about the tools and the things they used in the past, but actually seeing and touching them is different," said Eman Salah Al Barout.
"It's like we went back in time and brought history forward to the present."
The courses aim to prepare students for careers in museums, at government ministries and other tourism and culture organisations in the UAE.
"I would like to become the first female Emirati archaeologist since there are not many Emirati archaeologists to begin with — especially women," said Ahlam.