Ancient Boat HeritageLab

Dhakira’s current maritime research is focused on the Ancient Boat HeritageLab, an ongoing initiative implemented on the New York University Abu Dhabi campus in 2018.

ID CARD - Heritage and Society; Heritage and Science; Shared Heritage; Practices of Conservation, preservation and management; Connected Landscapes and Seascapes


Má I

Through a review of available archaeological, textual, iconographic and ethnographic data, the REF funded Ma I Bronze Age Boat Project systematically explored the use of Bronze Age materials, tools, and techniques, and then replicated the evidence to experimentally construct a full-size hypothetical model of a reed boat that would have traded in the Gulf and western Indian Ocean between 4000 and 2000 years ago.

Research has focused on archaeological evidence from Magan, the ancient name for what is now the UAE and Oman, specifically Ras Al Jinz in Oman and Umm an-Nar in the UAE. Barnacled bitumen impressions of woven matting provided evidence for construction and waterproofing techniques and materials used in ship construction in the Bronze Age, while bitumen and stone ship models from the archaeological excavations at Ur, Iraq, offered insights into ship design. Iconographic evidence, cuneiform texts and ethnographic studies provided further insights into construction methods and materials.

By analyzing the experiences of previous experimental reconstructions, investigators could consider, propose, and test construction methods to identify a construction methodology that resulted in a design focused on hull integrity balancing rigidity, flexibility and strength.

Conventional research methodologies were counterbalanced by tapping into indigenous knowledge systems associated with western Indian Ocean shipbuilding traditions. This was achieved by including expert shipwrights, skilled in building modern equivalents of Bronze Age boats, in the research and construction teams. These individuals brought essential practical knowledge and ethnographic data that was outside of the experience of the Dhakira Principal Investigators to the project. These traditional skills and knowledge were critical to construction and at the same time allowed researchers to investigate “authenticity” by comparing contemporary expertise with the historical and archaeological records.


In the Ma II project, Dhakira and its partners from Zayed University are constructing an 18 meter Bronze Age ship for display in the central atrium of the Zayed National Museum. The ship will offer visitors a unique glimpse of the earliest forms of maritime technology in the Arabian Gulf. The ship is a reconstruction of a hypothetical trading vessel from the Umm an-Nar period in the late 3rd millennium BCE.

It is constructed using wooden components for its keel and internal framing and reed bundles sealed with animal hides coated in bitumen for its outer hull. It is being built under the direction of both Zayed University and Dhakira at New York University Abu Dhabi by professional shipwrights, international experts, and students from both universities. The vessel’s design and construction methodologies rely on a variety of historical evidence, including archaeological boat remains, iconography, and cuneiform texts from the Bronze Age. It is being constructed using authentic materials that were available in the region at the time.

Although a variety of similar vessel types have been constructed prior to this, a composite Bronze Age ship reconstruction of this length has never been built before. This has necessitated the design of a series of experiments aimed at materials and construction features to ensure the strength and stability of the ship.

The Ma II project expands on research questions raising out of experimental evidence produced during previous construction projects, such as the refinement of construction techniques, and focuses on new questions, including: What are the exact dimensions of the hull of a 120-gur Bronze Age vessel from the Umm an-Nar period? What impact will reed bundle quality have on the long-term integrity of the hull? And, what techniques for parceling and lashing will ensure that the fastening method is the most suitable for long-term display in the museum?


The project was designed to actively engage students in current research in heritage and related fields. Students taking the Shipwrecks and Seascapes classes in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 worked on the recording and research elements of the project, while student volunteers participated in construction and record-keeping. Research and participation continues to be linked to ongoing courses in NYUAD’s Heritage Studies curriculum and ZU’s archaeology program.

Experimenting with the Past: Cultural Heritage Connections in the Gulf and Western Indian Ocean

Project findings of Shipwrecks and Seascapes' Class 2020



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