Posted on August 27, 2014

Recent analysis of graffiti found by archaeologists in 250 years old buildings at Al Zubarah Archaeological Site demonstrates that Qatar was a centre for international trade in the 18th century. The majority of the etchings are of boats, with European, Indian and locally-made vessels among them.

Ancient graffiti at Al Zubarah shows 2 [].jpg

Working alongside Mr Faisal Al Naimi, head of archaeology at Qatar Museums and Mr Tom Collie of the University of Copenhagen, specialists at the University of Exeter Dr John Cooper and Professor Dionisius Agius have spent a year studying the enigmatic depictions of boats found etched on the wall plaster of buildings at the site. The team studied fifteen different images and concluded that they represent boats from across the world including a probable European war vessel, a locally made fishing vessel and trade dhows traditionally made on the Malabar Coast of India.

In a presentation at the British Museum in London, Dr Cooper demonstrated that the etchings were made on dry plaster, within finely plastered buildings at the site. Although some of the images are only rudimentary outlines of hulls, others show enough detail to identify their type. These tend to depict large ocean-going ships which were used for trade in the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean region.

Ancient graffiti at Al Zubarah shows 3 [].jpgThe technical detail of the rigging, rudders and other aspects of the etchings show that the graffiti artists must have had an intimate knowledge of these vessels, emphasising their close relationship with the sea. Some of the dhow etchings have already been removed from the site by specialist plaster conservators for consolidation and further treatment in the laboratory, while others have been re-buried to protect them from the elements. A plaster impression of one of the removed etchings can be seen in the temporary exhibition at Al Zubarah.

Al Zubarah Archaeological Site became Qatar’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 and is open to the public every day 9am-4:30pm. A new exhibition on pearling and seafaring opened in Al Zubarah Fort in May 2014; for more information please visit