Terry O'Connor

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Ah, camels!


Long ago, the musical revue duo Michael Flanders and Donald Swann used to do a take-off of a traditional Central Asian ballad that essentially consisted of lyrics to the effect that “A camel is passing…. A second camel is passing … a third….” And so on, sung by Swann in authentic Russian. That song came to mind today, not because camels were actually passing, but because I was amidst an unusually extensive spread of long-dead camels.

The site. Those scattered white patches are fragmented camel bones

The site. Those scattered white patches are fragmented camel bones

The site is in western Abu Dhabi. To cut a long story short, many camels died here around 6500 years ago in circumstances unknown. The project aims to find out those circumstances, and to recover a sample of the more complete camel bones for research and display. The excavation is in a romantic corner on the northern edge of The Empty Quarter, close to an oil pipeline and boldly marching electricity pylons. Camels do wander by occasionally, though not today. Today we surveyed, photographed and undertook limited excavation, the latter not enhanced by a steady wind that replaced any excavated sand with some completely new and different but indistinguishable sand.

Two entangled camels in the process of disentanglement

Two entangled camels in the process of disentanglement

My small part in today’s proceedings was to help with the disentanglement of two camels, sorting out whose leg belonged where and whose vertebrae are these? By late afternoon, some progress had been made, everyone was covered in dusty sand, and a warm shower seemed like the best thing. All being well, there will be more days of CSI Camel to follow, and a Poireau-esque denouement at the end. Which is a link, as Poireau’s inventor, Agatha Christie, was married to an eminent archaeologist. Neat, eh?

Ahmed and Marjan either discussing camels or having an existential crisis

Ahmed and Marjan discussing camels

Despite the location and our focus on the camels, the outside world intrudes in horrible ways.  Two of the team are from Paris and this cannot have been an easy day for them. Our sympathies are with all of those affected by the latest bout of pointless murder.

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