President Sheikh Zayed -
Protector of the UAE's heritage

His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates since it was founded in 1971, and Ruler of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi since 1966, died on Tuesday November 2nd. He was in his late 80s.
Over a period of nearly sixty years involvement in Government, Sheikh Zayed showed both determination and vision, leading to the creation of the modern UAE of today. The record of his achievement is well-covered in websites such as and
Of particular significance was the role that he played in protecting the country's cultural heritage, and in stimulating and sponsoring research into the country's past. For that, the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, ADIAS, owes him particular thanks, for it was on the personal initiative of Sheikh Zayed that ADIAS was first established, in 1992.
Sheikh Zayed had displayed his interest in the country's archaeology long before the establishment of ADIAS.
He was, for example, a keen observer of the first archaeological excavations ever to take place in the UAE, at the island of Umm al-Nar, back in 1959, and personally led the Danish archaeological team then working there to the inland oasis of Al Ain, to show them the great Bronze Age tombs on Jebel Hafit and in the Al Ain Oasis.
Later, he personally supported Danish and other archaeological expeditions to Al Ain, and was responsible for the establishment of the country's first archaeological museum, again in Al Ain.
Becoming Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, and then the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, of which he became first President in 1971, Sheikh Zayed devoted the last forty years to the development of his country, and to the use of its oil revenues in the service of its people.
Despite the increasing demands of Government, however, he retained his deep and abiding interest in the study of the country's past.
He followed eagerly, for example, the work undertaken by palaeontologists on the 6-8 million year old Late Miocene fauna of Abu Dhabi's Western Region during the late 1980s and early 1990s, meeting with them to be briefed on their work.
In 1991, he personally requested the carrying out of the first detailed archaeological survey of three of the main islands of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas, Dalma and Marawah, this survey being carried out by a team led by the current Academic Director of ADIAS, and co-ordinated by the current ADIAS Executive Director. Meeting with the archaeological team on the island of Sir Bani Yas, he displayed a genuine and informed interest in their work, and encouraged them to continue
On receiving a report on the discoveries made during that first survey, Sheikh Zayed then ordered the formal establishment of the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, ADIAS, and the provision to ADIAS of funds from his own Private Department.
In the years that followed Sheikh Zayed continued to follow closely the results of ADIAS work. He expressed, for example, his pleasure at the discovery of the pre-Islamic Christian monastery on Sir Bani Yas, the first physical evidence of Christianity in pre-Islamic south-eastern Arabia, and urged ADIAS to continue its work on the site.
More recently, Sheikh Zayed was delighted by the discovery by ADIAS of major Late Miocene fossil finds in the Ruwais area, including two elephant tusks and other finds, and requested that he should be kept informed of further discoveries.
In the years since it was established, the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey has benefited much from the deep interest of His Highness Sheikh Zayed in our work. One of his most-quoted phrases was that "a people that does not know its past cannot deal with the present or face the challenges of the future."
He believed, deeply, that it was important that the people of the United Arab Emirates knew about their past, cherished it and learned lessons from it.
On his instructions, it has been the objective of ADIAS, since its establishment, to contribute to that process.
We are proud to have been able to do so.
ADIAS, and archaeology in the United Arab Emirates, owe him a great debt. Without his consistent interest in and support for the investigation of, and preservation of, the cultural heritage of the country, including its archaeology, much that is now known would have been lost, or would not have been discovered, and the country itself would have been poorer for the lack of it.
The people of the United Arab Emirates have lost a wise father.
The archaeology of the UAE has lost a champion, a supporter, an inspiration and a friend.

Peter Hellyer

Executive Director,
Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey

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