Behind Expo 2020 Dubai logo: Saruq Al Hadid’s documentary links UAE’s rich past with an innovative future
Dubai: On the edge of the empty quarter, hidden and forgotten for thousands of years, lie the remains of an ancient trading post – a city that traded with the ancient kingdoms of Egypt, Mesopotamia and India , with foundries producing ornaments and weapons of exquisite design. A thriving oasis in the desert. A meeting place for cultures and ideas.
Archaeological finds at the 3,000-year-old Iron Age settlement of Saruq al Hadid on the outskirts of Dubai are rewriting the history of the Emirates and the region. But its secrets would only have remained for years, if not centuries, without an improbable fluke.
Something unusual in the sands
In 2002, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, was flying over an area of the desert about 80 km south of Dubai when he saw something unusual. The sand dunes stretched as far as the eye could see, except for a small area. In the Yellow Sea were dunes covered with what looked like small black stones. A team of archaeologists from the Municipality of Dubai was commissioned to investigate.
“When I got here it was a big mystery,” said Dr Mansour Boraik, chief archaeologist at the Department of Architectural Heritage and Antiquities (AHAD), Dubai Municipality, describing his first visit. “You’re in front of a big site, a huge site, and I said ‘Oh my God.’ It was a big challenge for us. “
The stones turned out to be slag from smelting copper and iron. As teams of archaeologists set to work, it soon became apparent that the site had flourished during the Iron Age, around 1000 BCE. What is now a desert was once a rich and prosperous oasis city.
The story of the discovery of this ancient site and its importance to understanding the deep and rich history of the Emirates is the subject of a documentary “Saruq al Hadid: Dubai’s Iron Age”, which premiered at the ‘Expo 2020 Dubai Sunday. A collaboration between Expo 2020 Dubai, Image Nation and Atlantic Productions, it will be available to watch on Expo 2020’s Youtube channel, Expo TV and Virtual Expo, starting Monday.
“May Sheikh Mohammed fly over the desert in his helicopter and see strange things in the sand, may those little scars in the landscape become something we understand, then go down and understand what was there – it’s amazing, ”said Anthony Geffen, CEO and Creative Director of Atlantic Productions. “The story unfolds to reveal things that we had no idea were there.”
Documentary director Lina Zilinskaite recalls being ‘intrigued’ when she received a call from Atlantic Productions about a documentary project, as it seemed unimaginable that such a location could exist so close to Dubai .
“When we think of the great ancient civilizations, our minds immediately turn to Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece,” Zilinskaite says. “What I found incredibly rewarding to work on this project is to show that the ancient world was much richer and more diverse than you think and that there were other cultural centers, other great civilizations at the time which were centers of cultural activity, commerce and exchange.
The ring behind the logo
Over 23,000 artefacts have been unearthed at the Suruq Al Hadid site. Beautifully carved daggers, copper and bronze ax heads, arrowheads, snake models, ceramics and ornate jewelry reveal the story of a very advanced civilization that traded heavily with the region .
But an object would tell an even bigger story. During excavations carried out in 2008 and 2009 by the Dubai Desert Survey, archaeologists discovered a solid gold ring that had been cast in beeswax. Instead of being worn on the finger, the “ring” was tied with others to form a necklace.
“Of all the thousands of objects found at the site, the artefact that resonated with Sheikh Mohammed was not a mighty sword or a giant piece of earthenware, but a tiny gold ring,” said Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General of Expo 2020 Dubai.
This ring became the basis of the now familiar Expo 2020 Dubai logo which was unveiled by Sheikh Mohammed at a ceremony in 2016, where it was projected in golden light on the Burj Khalifa.
“When we were looking for a logo for the Expo, falling into the ring was like a gift from history and a gift from our nation,” said Dr Hayat Shamsudddin, Senior Vice President, Arts and Culture, Expo 2020 Dubai . “The ring is truly a symbol to represent the past, to link it to the present and to take us to the future. In itself, the ring is breathtaking, but when you put a lot, a lot of pieces together, it’s something even more beautiful.
Shrouded in mystery
While there is no doubt that Saruq Al Hadid was one of the most important shopping centers in the region, most of the people who lived there, their religion and their culture remain a mystery. “I would say only 2% have been excavated,” AHAD archaeologist Mahra Al Mansoori said. “Saruq al Hadid is a very large area and we are working square by square. We still have not found the homes of the people who lived there. It will probably take 20 years to answer all of our questions about what’s out there.
The location of the site, far from the sources of wood necessary for the production of charcoal for its ovens and the seaports on which it depended for its trade, also intrigued archaeologists. Sculptures showing camels carrying saddles, pots and people dating from the first millennium BCE provide at least part of the answer by confirming that the animal was domesticated in the Iron Age and used to transport goods. through the vast deserts and along the Silk Roads connecting Saruq Al Hadid to remote markets in Asia and the Middle East.
Another clue to Saruq Al Hadid’s origins are hundreds of copper and bronze forged snake models found at the site. “All models have been designed to appear as if they are moving on the ground,” said Dr Boraik. “The snake models give us an idea that Saruq Al Hadid was a very important religious place where they performed ceremonies and worshiped the snake.” Importantly, the snake carvings found as far east as Wadi Saham in the Hajar Mountains of Fujairah provide the earliest evidence of cultural unity in the Emirates dating back 3,000 years.
Parallels with today’s Dubai
“If we compare… the vast commerce of the people of Saruq Al Hadid in ancient times and compare it to that of today, Dubai is now one of the major cities of commerce – it is exactly the same thing”, Dr Boraik said. “It’s very nice to connect between ancient and modern history of Dubai.”
For Dr Hayat, Saruq Al Hadid’s role in opening up the region to the world shows that the Emirates have always been a meeting point for civilizations – and this has important lessons for creating a better future for all.
“What we can learn from Saruq Al Hadid is that this is really the best way to move forward to preserve our planet and help us have a better future for us, [and] for our generations to come, it means working together. One person can do a lot of things, but many people and many nations coming together can really find solutions. When we come together we can make a better world and we really, really need it. “
DUBAI, November 28, 2021. Dr. Hayat Shamsuddin, Senior Vice President, speaks during a panel discussion after the screening of Saruq Al Hadid’s documentary at Terra the Auditorium, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Mahmoud Khaled / Expo 2020 Dubai)
DUBAI, November 28, 2021. Lina Zilinskaite, director of the documentary Saruq Al Hadid before the screening at Terra the Auditorium, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Mahmoud Khaled / Expo 2020 Dubai)
DUBAI, November 28, 2021. Dr Hayat Shamsuddin (R), Senior Vice President and Lina Zilinskaite (L), Director at a panel discussion after the screening of the documentary Saruq Al Hadid at Terra the Auditorium, Expo 2020 Dubai. (Photo by Mahmoud Khaled / Expo 2020 Dubai)