Backfilling at Zubarah

Piles of sand, rocks, and road debris line the road to Shamal. The
lines on the road wander around off into the margins and into large
concrete barriers. The country is building an 8-lane highway from Doha
to Shamal that will eventually connect to the longest bridge in the
world, a bridge that will connect Qatar to Bahrain. Massive
construction projects are a constant theme.

There’s a split in the road before Shamal, with a left turn that goes
off to Zubarah, a desert fort and pearling town where most of the team
is spending their days. We have the option of working Saturdays to
save up time to take a holiday, so I went out with a couple of the
archaeologists that have been here a while to do a little site
maintenance work.

We backfilled a few large trenches–backfilling, for
the uninitiated, is filling in the holes you’ve made in the
archaeology with dirt that you’ve just taken out of these holes. We do
it to preserve the surrounding dirt matrix and for health and
safety–nothing much gets a local farmer more agitated than their cows
falling down in a hole that you’ve left open. Or camels, as the case
may be. Anyway, me and Alistair supervised a couple dozen workmen
shoveling wheelbarrows and dumping them into the trench. And by
supervising, I mean shoveling next to them and haranguing them in
Arabic and English and in this case, Nepali. Most of our workmen are
from SE Asia or Africa. Qataris are generally taken care of by the
state and don’t need our archaeology riyals. All of the dirty work in
this country is done by immigrants, including pesky British,
Americans, and Danes who dig up their history.

Regardless, it was really good working with workmen again. They’re
generally ridiculously overeducated–there’s an oil Engineer from
Eritrea on the team with 2 degrees–and learn quickly and are deeply
capable. We joke around in pidgin, with one guy coming in with a new
“gold” watch and everyone constantly asking him the time. Working hard
and working with your hands generally breeds a kind of camaraderie
that crosses cultures in minutes. They got over the weirdo white
American girl with the tattoos pretty fast, though who knows what they
were actually saying. At Dhiban I learned that the guys that were nice
to me were also saying that I was a drug addict, so it’s always hard
to say.

We finished filling in the trench in near record time so we moved over
to help another team of archaeologists, working a couple of kilometers
away. I might not have mentioned, but Zubarah is enormous–the site
photographer has to bicycle between different areas being excavated. I
was flagging a bit, so I helped sort rocks out from the backdirt pile
and used them to fortify the wall around the spoil. At the end of the
day I was tired, but enormously satisfied. It’s been ages since I’ve
done a good day’s work outside.

So I mentioned the split in the road before Shamal–to the right is
Fuwairit, a site that Dan and I will be surveying in the next couple
of weeks. It’s a lovely site, located right on the beach, next to a
Mangrove copse and a bunch of rock art and Iron Age cairns. The site
is also a historic pearling town, but it’s being destroyed by people
who use the beach as site to test out their 4-wheel drive. It will be
nice, but maybe a little lonely, after our crew of 70 workmen and
impromptu language lessons over a shovel.

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

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