24 June 2013

University of Copenhagen excavations in Qatar named World Heritage Site

world heritage

In 2009, University of Copenhagen archaeologists signed a contract with the Qatar Museums Authority to excavate the seaport Al Zubarah, which has been hidden under desert sand in northwestern Qatar for hundreds of years. As the only well-preserved 18th century city in this part of the world, it is of exceptional cultural importance, and on 22 June UNESCO inscribed Al Zubarah on its World Heritage List.

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Archaeologists at work. Photo credit: University of Copenhagen

"I am very proud that University of Copenhagen can contribute to inscribing Arabian cultural heritage on the UNESCO World Heritage List. To an archaeologist, Al Zubarah is an extraordinarily challenging and interesting excavation because the Qatari climate demands that we develop new conservation methods to preserve the old city structures," explains Near Eastern Archaeologist and project manager Ingolf Thuesen from the University of Copenhagen.

The Pompeii of the Persian Gulf

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Diving weights used by
pearl fishers.
Photo credit: University of Copenhagen

Al Zubarah, which was founded in the late 18th century, based its economy on trade between the Asian, African, and European continents as well as pearl fishing. The city had a population of 5,000 citizens, was well-planned and consisted of streets, quarters, market places, palaces, and mosques. It was protected by a mile long city wall with towers.

"In 1811, Al Zubarah was attacked and destroyed by troops loyal to the Sultan of Muscat from what is now known as Oman - and it never recovered. Its buildings and installations were buried under the desert sand, and today it stands as the Gulf's version of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. Like Pompeii, the Al Zubarah excavations provide us with unique insights into the period's city planning and social and economic conditions, says Ingolf Thuesen.

Fragile archaelogical remains

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Arial shot of Al Zubarah.
Photo credit: University of Copenhagen

One of the challenges of the Al Zubarah excavations is that the building materials used to construct the houses are very fragile. Archaeologists and conservation officers have therefore had to develop new conservation methods to preserve the old building structures. And they have written a 100 page long conservation guide as well as a management plan for the coming Al Zubarah archaeological park.

The Al Zubarah archaeological park, which will be open to the public and offer tours of the site, is expected to open 18 December 2013 when Qatar celebrates its national day.

Read more about the Al Zubarah project on the University of Copenhagen website.


Near Eastern Archaeologist Ingolf Thuesen
University of Copenhagen
Phone: + 45 35 32 89 06

Professor of Islamic Archaeology and Art Alan Walmsley
University of Copenhagen
Phone: + 45 30 50 70 71
BlackBerry: +974 779 77723

Press officer Ditte Maria Søgaard
Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
Phone: + 45 28 75 89 00