Until achieving independence, many countries in the Middle East were unable to excavate and locate their histories. When emancipation came, along with the return of plundered antiquities from Western nations, the Middle East was able to reclaim its identity. Yet, with independence, sham elections, despot leaders and near-totalitarian regimes, archaeology in the Middle East has been disturbed by political unrest.
This adds to several nations which, in pursuit of cementing their own ideological and religious beliefs, have destroyed the archaeological record of their own countries.
No place is this more prevalent than in Saudi Arabia.
There, with the word of King Salman who doubles up as Prime Minister, much of the nations Ottoman history has been razed to the ground.
This sort of destruction is but one issue archaeologists face when searching for lost treasures in the Middle East.
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As Andrew Petersen, director of research in Islamic Archaeology at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, explained to Express.co.uk, he and his colleagues face several other, often more intense, issues surrounding their work, including the potential threat to life.
Of the problems he has experienced, he said: “At its most basic, you could have no access to the country in the first place, despite knowing there’s stuff to be found there.
“I was meant to be going to Basra in Iraq this year but couldn’t because of COVID-19, yet before that I was unable to go because of rioting.
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“I work in Qatar which is fairly easy, but again there are disputes between the gulf nations; but surprisingly, one of the hardest places to work is Turkey – they’ve got a very hardline approach and attitude to foreign researchers, it’s hard to ado anything at all there.”
Dr Petersen explained the very nature of archaeology – that researchers must be outside to work – is an extreme example of the complications involved.
He said: “In areas that may be outside the city but still very populated, you don’t quite know what’s going to happen.”
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Despite the tough conditions, Dr Petersen and many others often reap the rewards of excavating in such tense environments.
He revealed how, when digging in a remote area on Qatar’s north coast, he came across an untouched and almost pristine Ottoman settlement.
The moment, he said, was special: “We were working our way to the location and we found some mounds that, really, only looked like an area that hadn’t been cleaned for a while – there were lots of plastic bottles and bits of rubbish.
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“But, the more we dug, the more we found, and eventually uncovered a small town there which was completely forgotten about, it was quite an exciting excavation because we found all sorts of evidence of how people lived, of houses, a palace, a boatyard, mosques.
“What was especially interesting was that even though it’s not that old, the only thing we know about the site comes from archaeology; from our excavations.
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“If we hadn’t done the work there nobody would have known it existed or what people did there, and we had some quite good finds there – some jewellery, pottery from all over the world, from the far east and lots of different places.
“I got an idea of quite a cosmopolitan society on this deserted coast that people had not known about before, a place perhaps inhabited until the end of the 1700s, we’re not sure when it was founded, but we think from the 1300s to 1700s.”