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Arish: Palm-Leaf Architecture

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Arab Today, arab today Arish: Palm-Leaf Architecture

Dubai - Arabstoday

It isn\'t the most prepossessing of images. The pit is rectangular and not terribly deep. A line of circular holes, roughly a metre apart, arcs across its base. There is a smattering of pale shards of plaster that look for all the world as if they need to be swept up and disposed of. No matter how long it is puzzled over there is little hope of making sense of the picture without expert guidance or some sort of key, because the significance of this image, of the pit and the holes and the shards, doesn\'t really lie in the scant offerings on view. Archaeological site D11 on Delma Island is the location of the earliest evidence of the use of date palms in building in the history of south-east Arabia. The holes cut into the sediment once housed date trunks, packed round with plaster to fix them in place, while mats of tightly woven palm leaves - known as daan mats - were strung between these wooden anchors. This was where a community settled during that portion of the year when they cut pearls. These remnants are the architectural DNA they left behind, its traces still discernible 7,000 years on. To all intents and purposes all that is visible is the negative image of a picture, and a life, long lost to history. But to Sandra Piesik this marks \"the beginning of the story\" that she has worked for years to tell. Truth be told, her effort has converted the subject into much more than a story. For this Polish-born architect it has become a cause to champion for which she has travelled across the seven emirates in a campaign that has lasted more than six years. Last month saw the publication of Piesik\'s book on the subject, Arish: Palm-Leaf Architecture. This month she will appear at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, discussing the work described by publishers Thames & Hudson as \"the first comprehensive publication dedicated to recording the special place of date palm-leaf architecture in the UAE\'s cultural heritage\". Site D11 is central to the work. By Piesik\'s own admission the subject matter is \"niche\", yet she believes it touches on something fundamental and far reaching. To her it speaks of culture and heritage, history and identity and the transfer of knowledge key to maintaining a valuable - and ecologically sustainable - connection between human expansion and development and the environment. \"This is the core of the Emirati nation,\" she explains. \"But it is in danger of being lost. A culture dies and becomes extinct if you fail to transfer learning from one generation to the next. This is the case with arish. \"The people who used to live in these houses are still alive but they are getting old and they are dying. The younger generation has maybe 10 years to learn the skills before it\'s too late. Because once it is gone that\'s it. It is gone forever. If you don\'t transfer the knowledge, and find a contemporary use for this material that is so bountiful here, then this will be extinct.\"

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