Piece of paradise: Qatar’s wild desert

By Nadia El-Gowely

BBC News, Doha

Qatar currently has the dubious honour of hosting the highest number of residents in the Middle East

In a field beside the Al-Jazeera TV studio, scattered rocks bear hieroglyphic markings. Two children walk between them, examining the puzzling markings – still accompanied by a bronze eagle on the top. The rock art is just one of hundreds of found artefacts in the country’s rich desert landscape. They have been preserved as vast open areas in a cultural oasis where ancient people once lived. The importance of the Stone Age is illustrated by other archaeological sites and living examples of the Stone Age found in people’s homes. “We still have the bodies of the stone age and cavemen in our desert in this sand, and this is their home, so when I see it I feel and feel like I am part of the Sahara,” says one local guide, pointing to the markers. “When you get outdoors in this desert, you see it’s kind of like a different planet.” Artful hides Scientists attribute the find to a desert seabed which encircles the majority of the country’s surface. The mountainous areas inside the desert have become a great resource for some people

Sarah Burda

Qatar archaeologist The sea, once a vast irrigation scheme from the higher, snow-fed al-Thani Mountain, gradually receded in large areas of the country – leaving behind the low desert plain and its vast mounds of sand, and still countless preserved temple fragments. But over time, the desert became more fertile, the vegetation began to thrive. The Valley of the Animals and the Dreaming Frog are two of the amazing finds made during excavations of the old city of Ghanib, on the outskirts of the capital, Doha. Archaeologist Sarah Burda explains: “The mountainous areas inside the desert have become a great resource for some people.” She adds: “From what I have learnt from the archaeological process, the rock art was either used by people for health purposes, used for alms giving. Or perhaps their bodies, or body parts were used to identify where someone was at, or would arrive from.” Some stone hunters consider the desert to be like a “dusty universe” Here at the Dasht, one of Qatar’s many large abandoned “habitat” complexes from the Stone Age, it is clear the people of the desert thought in similar ways. There, an undulating sand landscape, strewn with ancient animal bones, is just some 20 metres below the surface of the earth. It is not just the animals here that look similar to the past – there are people too. Archaeologist Sarah Burda says: “There is no doubt in my mind that these people probably knew that things here can be portrayed through symbols. “For example we are currently excavating at the old Zabrud Bedouin village, and everywhere I go, I see the same style of life which these people lived in 500 years ago.” To associate this with the archaeological process here is incredibly strange. It is one of the most advanced countries in the region, with diversified cultural experiences, with a modern infrastructure well beyond its starting point. And now all this, and the well-documented reputation for cultural riches – and its challenges – can be summed up in a single word: sex. Nadia El-Gowely travelled to Qatar for a new BBC documentary, Doha: Money, Power and Beauty.

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