We have now been digging in central Doha for over a month with a joint team of archaeologists from UCL Qatar and QMA. Good news – even though the area had been cleared and looked completely blank when we arrived, it turns out that the whole archaeological sequence survives in the area, running from Doha’s foundation (probably the early 1800s) through to the 1950s. As we peel off each layer we go back deeper in time, uncovering the lives of previous generations.
So what have we found so far? Our deepest trenches have already told us that Doha was initially founded on a sandy beach next to a small creek. Humble ‘arish (palm frond) structures were the first to be built, eventually replaced by tightly-packed walled enclosures with stone buildings, separated by narrow alleys, much like the traditional town that existed until recent decades.
Abundant imported pottery from Europe (luxury wares in the context of the time) helps us to put a date to the various archaeological layers: most of the layers excavated so far date to the last three decades of the 1800s and the first half of the 1900s. We know from maps and historical sources that Doha already existed in the 1820s, and that it was a walled stone-built town in the 1860s, but it was completely flattened in 1867 by a joint attack by Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. We therefore think that we have mainly been digging through the rebuilt town that flourished after this event. We are just reaching the earlier layers close to the bottom of the sequence, and expect them to be less well-preserved because of the attack. Nonetheless, these deeper layers will contain valuable information about Doha and its development during the first half century of its existence.
For me, the most exciting thing about this excavation is uncovering the forgotten and undocumented lives of the people of Doha. This information is found in the discarded scraps of everyday life which are the true treasure of archaeology: bones and plant remains which tell us about people’s diet, pieces of cloth, glass, crockery and storage jars, ovens, tools, incense burners, lost coins and simple jewellery such as glass beads and bangles. These things will reveal how the first people of Doha lived, what they owned and ate, and how they rode out the peaks and troughs of the pearling industry (to which almost all of them owed their livelihoods before the coming of oil).
And what’s next? We still have a week of excavation to go, and then we need to start the analyses and writing up of the excavation and its finds. This always takes much longer than the digging itself, and involves a lot of experts who specialise in very obscure things. If we’re lucky, perhaps we may be able to continue excavation at this site, or even begin digging elsewhere. Doha was originally a twin town, and it would certainly be worth looking the other centre, Bida’, now underneath parkland just to the west of the Amiri Diwan.
Finally I have to thank my team, who worked through the Christmas and New Year break. I give huge credit to my students Shaima Sherif and Fatma Abdel-Aziz for working so hard and so well at the site.
Robert Carter, Director of the Origins of Doha Project