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Archeology Field Trip to Ras al Khaimah

Report by Marijcke Jongbloed

The archeology field trip on November 30th 2001drew a large crowd, and resident archeologist Christian Velde was an enthusiastic and inspiring guide for the day. With a convoy of over a dozen cars, it was not surprising that some were lost on the way - though it was rather strange that they turned out to be a) committee members and b) lost in FRONT of the convoy!!! It was all sorted out in due time thanks to mobile phones!

We first visited the tombs of Dhayah. Although the number of tombs at this site is smaller than the 100 tombs of Shimal, they are more interesting to the lay visitor, because there is more left of the structures to see. Fourteen tombs lie scattered over the plain, each 12 to 14 metres long. When they were intact they would have been about 2.5 metres high with the inside double chambers measuring 1.5 meters wide by more than ten meters long. They were erected and used in the Wadi Suq time, in the 2nd millennium, around 1600 BC. They occur all along the limestone mountains of Ras al Khaimah and can be seen as an elongated form of the Umm an Nar tombs. They had corbelled roofs. The way in which this construction was achieved can still be seen clearly even now: huge flat rocks were half buried in the ground at an angle of approximately 60 º, with successive rocks positioned on top of the lower ones, until they met each other in the middle. The outer sides of the tombs were quite straight to a height of about one metre. The whole structure would have been covered with gravel and earth. Inside some of the tombs a large flat rock was positioned horizontally, like a table. The use of this structure is not entirely clear.

They were so-called "kinship" tombs, holding the remains of extended families, from newborn babies to the elderly. When they were full, they held between 20 and 40 bodies. The tombs could be entered for new burials through an entrance either midway on the long side of the tomb or at the end. People were buried with flexed knees, in any way that space allowed. Some were accompanied by grave goods, i.e. beads, arms and a special type of pots, that differed from the ones that were used in the habitations. Very little of these grave goods remained after the tombs had been looted many times in the past.

After viewing the tombs a visit was paid to the fort at Dhayah, which lies on a steep hill rising up out of the plantation-filled plain. A set of unobtrusive steps, that Christian had a big hand in designing, leads up one side, and the buildings on top have been carefully and faithfully restored. Christian gave a very interesting talk about the history of the mountain tribes and the last battle that was fought around this fort.

The second site to be visited was the palace complex at Fayyah. This summer residence of the sheikhs of Ras al Khaimah has been extensively renovated in the last decade. It consists of a small mosque, a double-storey tower and the actual palace, all in one compound. The palace is the place where the Treaty of 1820 (peace between the British and the local tribes) was signed. The two metre high surrounding wall is still under construction. We could not visit the palace, as there was a bird breeding inside that should not be disturbed. The mosque however was viewed in detail, while Christian explained that the locally made mudbricks were plastered with double-burned lime in a process for which workmen from Iran had been hired. The ceiling was beautiful with mangrove wood crossbeams, and areesh matting, held together with palm fibre ropes. In the courtyard a slightly raised platform without a roof turned out to be the minaret!

We owe thanks to Christian for his excellent and interesting explanations and his patience in quite answering the many questions that were fired at him.

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Bird-watching par excellence

Report by David Snelling in full flight.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you sure need a bird's eye view to appreciate the appeal of the politely named Wimpey Pits, in reality a sewage farm with a lotta aroma. A well-attended birding trip there on October 12, 2001, nearly ended 'in the mud' after the leader's car blew up on the Hatta Road the night before. But thanks to Universal Car Rentals and its elderly 11th hour Hyundai Accent, the jinx was kept at bay for a good birding excursion with one or two magic ornithological moments.

A beautiful sunny day raised spirits, flamingos swimming like swans raised eyebrows, the incessant chittering of little grebes raised blood pressure, and bee-eaters floating above the sand like living jewels raised the experience into the celestial sphere.

Highlights of the trip, which continued on to the pivot fields, included golden oriole, black-necked grebe, squacco heron and great views of white-tailed plover - enough to satisfy even the most jaded observer. Special thanks to David Bradford whose fieldcraft is legendary, and to chairman Gary Feulner who returned next day to bag a clutch of cripplers - tawny pipit, European roller, pallid harrier, juvenile Bonelli's eagle, eight species of butterflies and moths and a party of twitchers led by Colin Richardson!

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Book Review: Working for Wildlife

November 2001 saw the launch of a new book "Working for Wildlife", that tells the story of the activities of the Arabian Leopard Trust.

"Working for Wildlife" is a scrapbook of memories compiled from the ALT archives - from newspaper articles, newsletters, correspondence, etc. It is beautifully illustrated by photographs of events and activities, as well as with the designs that supporting artists made for the ALT to further the cause. Its publication in print has been made possible by the sponsorship of Shell Markets ME Ltd., one of the staunchest supporters of the ALT from the very beginning.

The story of the ALT work is quite fascinating and well worth reading.

The print run is small, as the book is mainly meant as a farewell gift of the ALT to its sponsors and supporters. But a small number will be for sale at dhs 75 in bookshops, with the proceeds to be divided between the two local animal charities: K9 and Feline Friends.

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Dubai's Children's Museum

A new museum will be opening its doors around Eid al Fitr. It is located adjacent to the Creek Park and is easily recognized by the primary colours of its buildings. It is a children's museum with lots of interesting facts and figures, as well as interactive displays and computer games.

One section holds the fossil collection of Marijcke Jongbloed, comprising a good selection of gastropods, bivalves, echinoderms and miscellaneous fossils. Most of the identifications were done by Val Chalmers. Marijcke was also involved in providing some of the texts of the interactive games dealing with natural history of the UAE.

It will be interesting to see this new learning place for kids and adults!

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Damsels and Dragons: Where the Girls Are

Report by Gary Feulner

The edges of streams, ponds and puddles are prime places to find dragonflies and damselflies.* They are often brightly colored. In the UAE we have at least four red species and five blue ones, of various sizes and shapes. These conspicuously colored individuals are, however, almost all males. The females are more likely to be clad in "earth tones". In addition, the females are likely to be found in different places.

The males have come to the pools partly to show off and find a mate, and females who turn up there are inevitably noticed and "harrassed". Analogous problems have sometimes been reported among humans at local shopping malls. As a result, the females of many water-oriented species visit local water bodies only to seek food or when they are ready to mate. At other times they can be found perched in shrubs or on trees or rocks a few metres to a few hundred metres away from the nearest water. For example, at Safa Park one recent morning, male Purple Blushed Darters were common along the edge of the boat pond and canal, but the only females seen were perched atop the wrought iron fence posts surrounding the so-called English Garden overlooking the canal.

[*Note: Damselflies are smaller and fold their wings back over the body when perched. Dragonflies always hold their wings outstretched.]

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Hajar Mountain Hike

Exhilaration, not exhaustion, marked the faces of the party at the top of the pass at early afternoon. It had been a good morning in the wadi near Hatta town, an excellent introduction to the natural history of the Hajar Mountains - fruiting figs, sprouting wadi grass and flowering oleander in the wadi, a calm but circumspect carpet viper at our first pools, a few fish and a few Arabian toads surviving the drought, a graveyard terrace with broken pottery of various sorts, another terrace with sunken foundations and a soapstone lid, tiny rock geckoes and several large Jayakar's (Oman) lizards, predictable appearances by the Arabian paper wasp and the oriental hornet, a bit of boulder art here and there, and even a carcass of Brandt's hedgehog. Trip leader Gary Feulner had even broken into a trot to try to catch a second glimpse of a lone ungulate with an unusual "jizz." It was a disappointment only for botanists. A recent light shower had made little impression and out of the wadi bed only the milky-sapped Euphorbia larica was dressed for show.

What would the afternoon bring? First, a cautious descent over much loose scree to reach a smaller tributary wadi. Then, several detours in search of evidence of the smooth stone slabs of the 'dinner plate people.' Two isolated flowering Tephrosia apollinea, the 'only game in town,' attracted three species of small butterflies -- the Mediterranean Pierrot, the Small Cupid, and lots of Blue Spotted Arabs. The latter is not a typical mountain species but its numbers throughout the UAE seem to have exploded with increased plantings of its larval foodplant, the toothbrush tree Salvadora persica. Finally, a shutout in the wadi bed, which ended in a 10 meter vertical waterfall, requiring a backtrack and another detour - a gentle reminder about the potential problems of descending by untested routes.

Some field tips: A number of members made good use of close focus binoculars to observe small but easily disturbed wildlife such as lizards and butterflies. Several people felt that a walking stick would have been useful for descending on scree.

The group was careful to leave all archeological material in place, but three samples were taken of exceptional material that will be presented to resident professionals for evaluation. Mike Lorrigan spotted a shard with a sort of cuneiform design (Mike is intrigued by the recently popularized theory of Sumerian migration to Arabia and Egypt) and Deanne White added a green-glazed shard with etched design of curved lines. Both of these were photographed and then bagged and labeled with description and location. They were identified two weeks later by Christian velde, resident archeologist at the National museum of Ras Al-Khaimah, as Islamic period, 15th-16th century A.D.).

But the gold doubloon for the day goes to Larry Woods, who turned up a small rectangular soapstone lid, decorated with a spare pattern of stitch-like lines. This was likewise photographed and labeled, and was identified by Christian Velde as an Iron Age artifact, c. 1200-1000 B.C.

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Camping/Fossilling, Madam

Report by Mike Lorrigan, with thanks to Valerie Chalmers

The full Thursday convoy arrived in good time at the campsite, at the base of an escarpment about 40 minutes drive away the Madam roundabout. Tents were pitched and some people took the opportunity to appreciate the sunset before night closed in. There was then a bustle of activity as fires and barbeques were prepared. Once the meals were over the main bonfire was lit and the party sat around it to be well entertained by Jonathan Pardoe and his guitar. James Pardoe set up his telescope at the other end of the camp and gave a steady stream of campers the opportunity of exploring the night sky. My thanks to both of them.

Next morning, I met the day visitors' group, headed by Valerie Chalmers who had very kindly agreed to attend as the fossil expert. The whole party then embarked on a short fifteen minute walk to the site which had been identified by a friend and myself two years ago. There was a bubble of excitement when the first fossils were spotted on the ground, but this was nothing to the astonishment of the group as it was shown the tightly packed gastropod beds that were exposed a short walk up an incline.

The group then spent the next hour and a half exploring the site and everyone went away satisfied with their samples which were literally everywhere to be found. After identification and lunch back at the campsite, most of the party headed back to Dubai, Sharjah, or other destinations, while Rosemary, Judith and I took a relatively leisurely walk in an adjacent wadi.

The fossils collected by the group were identified by Valerie, who reported: "It is a very interesting site to visit and worth exploring further. There were literally masses of Acteonella - both large and small forms. Other gastropods found were a few Campanile (a large form), a Cerithid, Trochacea (a flattened form) and several Natica. Once you have got over the shock of seeing so many specimens of Acteonella (gastropods) together, there are many other interesting fossils to be found. Various colonial corals were seen, but no solitary corals. No Echinoderms were found. Bi-valves found included many specimens of the rudists - Hippurites, Durania and Dictyoptychus (the larger forms) and one specimen of the small toothlike rudist, Glabrobournonia." According to Valerie, the fossils dated the site at approximately 70 million years.

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Patron: H.E. Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak Al Nahayan