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The Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey (ADIAS) was established in 1992 on the instruction of the late President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, under the patronage of His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, now Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. ADIAS was charged with surveying for, recording and, where appropriate, excavating archaeological sites on the coast and islands of Abu Dhabi. In the years that have followed, ADIAS has identified over a thousand sites or groups of sites on the coast and islands of Abu Dhabi, as well as deep in the deserts of the interior. Among the sites are several of international importance, including the oldest-known settlement in the Emirates, on Marawah island,and major sites in the south-eastern deserts of Abu Dhabi, near Umm az-Zamul, these all being of Late Stone Age date, and the only pre-Islamic Christian monastery yet identified in south-eastern Arabia, on the island of Sir Bani Yas. ADIAS teams have also identified numerous sites of palaeontological importance, with vertebrate fossils from the Late Miocene period, around 6-8 million years ago.

ADIAS was funded until mid-2006 partly by the Private Department of the President. Corporate support for ADIAS has been received from a variety of sponsors, including Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO), Abu Dhabi Petroleum Ports Operating Company (ADPPOC), Emirates Airlines, Hilalco, Takreer and a variety of multinational corporations, including BP and ICL (now known as Fujitsu).

ADIAS also undertakes consultancy work in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, and, through associates, in the Northern Emirates, to identify archaeological and palaeontological sites as part of Environmental Baseline Studies and Environmental Impact Assessments. Summary details of sites in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi are held on a database housed for ADIAS by the Environmental Agency - Abu Dhabi, EAD, as part of its Abu Dhabi Environmental Database, EDB, project.

The methodology adopted by ADIAS is three-fold. The first is the undertaking of field surveys, to locate, identify and record the presence of sites. In some cases, the selective collection of archaeological artefacts, such as pottery, and of environmental remains, such as mollusc shells, is undertaken. While, in principle, ADIAS has always recognised the desirability of avoiding the removal of data in a non-systematic manner, in practice, the rapid development of much of the coastal zone and islands, combined with the fragility of many of the archaeological features recognised, makes it necessary to recover at least an apparently representative sample of the available data when a site was first identified. The second type of work, undertaken at selected sites, involves detailed topographical mapping, drawing and recording. In a small minority of sites, viewed from the surface collections as being of most potential interest, systematic excavation has been undertaken in the past.

The results of the fieldwork by ADIAS, combined with the results of earlier work, particularly on the island of Umm al-Nar, has shown that archaeological sites of relevance for the cultural heritage of the people of Abu Dhabi can be found on almost every one of the islands that have been examined as well as on parts of the coastline, generally those areas of raised elevation, particularly on former shorelines.

On 14th October 2005, President HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, acting as Ruler of Abu Dhabi, issued a law to establish the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), to re-structure the way in which archaeology and palaeontology are handled in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

According to the terms of the new Law, the Authority: "will oversee intellectual and artistic activities in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and will also be responsible for maintaining, protecting, managing and promoting the cultural heritage of the Emirate through the following means:
- the evolving of cultural policies, plans and programmes and ensuring that such policies are implemented.
- undertaking projects designed to develop, promote and protect the cultural heritage of the Emirate and to make appropriate recommendations to the relevant authorities.
- organising and developing activities dealing with the heritage of the country as well as organising conferences, cultural shows, plastic arts exhibitions and other activities related to the activities of the National Library.
- organising study programmes and seminars and other intellectual, scientific and professional meetings in addition to the publication of research and studies in the field of culture and heritage.
- conserving historical, archaeological and heritage sites and buildings and preparing an inventory of cultural property and artefacts.
- carrying out of archaeological excavations, conserving archaeological artefacts and relics and issuing licences for excavations.
- supervising the work and activities of archaeological excavation teams and establishing a department to manage, develop and supervise museums and other buildings where cultural artefacts are housed.
- recommending laws and regulations to protect, promote and preserve cultural heritage.
- providing support for training and educational activities.
- developing human and cultural resources in the fields of documentation, management, archiving and preservation of cultural heritage.
- outlining general plans for the activities of museums, in addition to planning for exhibitions on heritage.
- checking for violations of and damage to the cultural heritage and antiquities of the emirate and taking the necessary legal action in association with the relevant authorities.
- providing support and assistance to bodies working in the field of the preservation, management and promotion of cultural heritage.
- exercising control over heritage and cultural property, whether public or private.
- managing the National Library in such a way as to enrich and promote intellectual, artistic and scientific activities in Abu Dhabi through the provision of references, journals and periodicals in Arabic and other languages in various fields of knowledge.
- recording national history through the collection of documents, the registering of the heritage of the emirate and through the publication of works in this field.

The Authority has a Board of Directors, consisting of a Chairman, a Deputy Chairman and seven or more other members, whose powers will be specified in a decision to be taken by the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

The following organisations have been merged into the new Authority: the Cultural Foundation, the National Library, the Department of Antiquities and Tourism in Abu Dhabi's Eastern Region and the Cultural Heritage section of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.