Dubai, the land where old meets new. I am currently working with Sanisera Archaeology Institute on an excavation in the UAE, and, even with my extensive travels, I have never been to a country before this that embodies, simultaneously, both ancient tradition and dynamic modernism. Our excavation is focused on uncovering the material culture of the Magan, an ancient area and civilization that spanned what is now modern Oman and the UAE.
Emirates Archaeological Map
The first session of the project began November 1st and will run until December 20th. Each day on our way to the site, as we begin our drive across the dunes, we pass a small homestead where camels are gathered. Some sit peacefully, unbothered by the sand that swirls up in the air around them, while others playfully butt heads with a friend. Before this trip, I had only seen a camel at the zoo as a child, so passing their friendly, gangly silhouettes every morning is proving to be a highlight of this experience for me.
We read at the Dubai Museum over one of our weekend trips how valued camels are here, not only for how useful and resourceful they are, but also in how families form attachments to them throughout their surprising eighty-year lifespan. With their ability to smell water from miles away and instinctual ability to lead people right to it, their presence in the UAE is just as significant and beloved today as it was for the Bedouins who roamed these deserts centuries ago.
In contrast to the prevalence of this old, valued tradition, one day while we were working on the site, we heard engines revving in the desert around us. Without missing a beat, someone who had worked in this area before explained, “They are racing their Ferraris.” Whereas at home, you would be shocked and excited to see a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, it’s almost more common to see those here than anything less expensive than a Lexus, even out away from the city.
The wealth of the city itself is overwhelming. Anything money can buy can be found in Dubai. At the Dubai Mall, we were impressed to find out that you can scuba dive at their aquarium when you get tired of shopping at Prada, for example. Dream it up, and it’s here. Yet for all the wealth and indulgence, it is easy to see the rich history and love of the old traditions. For every new thing, there is an ancient counterpart. For every Lamborghini, there is a camel.
With every nice car comes a lion, in Dubai.