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Peter A. Hellyer papers

Call Number



1973-2022, inclusive


Hellyer, Peter


7.4 Linear Feet in 10 file boxes and 3 flat boxes, including 21 videocassettes.

Language of Materials

English .


Reports, correspondence, publications, news clippings, and audiovisual materials, chiefly related to the activities of British-born journalist, writer, archaeologist, and environmentalist Peter A. Hellyer in Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates from the 1980s onward. Included are materials from the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, the Emirates Natural History Group, and other similar organizations in which Hellyer played a leading role in developing policies and programs related to the environment, wildlife, and cultural heritage of the United Arab Emirates. Also includes material related to Hellyer's tenure as managing editor of the daily newspaper, The Emirates News.

Biographical note

Peter A. Hellyer (1947-2023) was born in London, England on 9 November 1947, the son of Arthur and Grace (Bolt) Hellyer. His parents, a horticultural journalist and a teacher, raised him and his two siblings in rural Sussex. After education at Oundle School, Northamptonshire, he attended the University of Sussex, graduating with a bachelor's degree in International Relations from that university's School of African and Asian Studies in 1968. For much of the next decade, he worked as a journalist, broadcaster, and documentary filmmaker, initially based in London. He was also politically active, campaigning for Liberal party candidates in the United Kingdom, as well as participating in the movements against apartheid in Southern Africa and in support of the rights of Palestinians.

During that period, he made his first trip to the Middle East in 1969, and his first visit to Abu Dhabi in 1975, when he accepted an assignment from the joint-venture film company, UPITN (owned by the British television network ITN and the United Press International press agency), to film the official foreign visits of the founding ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan. His first project was to work on a documentary film about the state visit of Sheikh Zayed to France in July 1975. Hellyer later accompanied the ruler on trips to Iran, Egypt, Yemen, and Sri Lanka, among other countries, and also filmed footage of the rapidly growing city of Abu Dhabi. Following that, he was asked by the UAE Ministry of Information and Culture to direct the foreign language services of the government-run Abu Dhabi Radio, as well as the newly-developed FM radio service, Capitol Radio. In 1979 he also helped launch the English-language service of the Emirates Press Agency, also known by its Arabic initialism of WAM, working closely alongside the Agency's founding director, Ibrahim al-Abed. He remained in this position until 1982, when he returned to London, where he continued to work frequently with government officials and other individuals from the UAE. During this period, he also took part in an official visit to the UAE by a delegation from the Liberal Party, which included a meeting with Sheikh Zayed.

In 1985, the Ministry of Information and Culture offered Hellyer the position of managing editor of the first English-language daily newspaper in the UAE, the Emirates News, and he returned to Abu Dhabi to assume that position in February of that year, remaining in that role for the duration of that newspaper's existence, until January 1999.

During the 1980s, Hellyer's interests in natural history and archaeology led him to become increasingly active in groups such as the Emirates Natural History Group, in which he served as chairman from 1989-1992, and the Emirates Bird Records Committee, which sought to document all bird species observed in the UAE. In 1992 he was called to serve as Executive Director of the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, or ADIAS, established by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and under the patronage of his son, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (who in 2022 became the ruler of the UAE). With the rapid development of many locations throughout the emirate of Abu Dhabi, whether through expansion of the transportation infrastructure or the development of sites for the drilling of petroleum, it became apparent that more work needed to be done to identify and survey potential archaeological sites before they were permanently lost. Hellyer supervised and coordinated dozens of such surveys, work that continued after the cessation of ADIAS in 2006 as well, and extending to other emirates, in particular Fujairah and Umm al Qawain. Between 2009 and 2012, Hellyer served as Project Director of the excavation of a pre-Islamic Christian monastery at Sir Bani Yas island, which had initially been discovered as part of an ADIAS survey in 1995, for the Tourist Development and Investment Company of Abu Dhabi.

From 1999 to 2004 Hellyer served as Advisor for Media, Environment and Heritage for the Ministry of Information and Culture, and following that he assumed the role of Advisor for External Communications for the National Media Council. Following the closing of the Council in 2021, he transferred to the Ministry of Culture and Youth, where he continued to work as an Advisor.

He authored or edited numerous books on the social, cultural, and natural history of the United Arab Emirates, and from 2008 until 2022 was a regular columnist for the Abu Dhabi-based English-language daily newspaper, The National. Maintaining a second home on the island of Jersey, in the Channel Islands, Hellyer was recognized for his work in building relations between the U.A.E. and the island of Jersey, and was awarded the Silver Seal by the Bailiwick of Jersey in 2012.

In 2010, Hellyer was given citizenship in the UAE by the then-President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, in recognition for his contributions to the state. He was also awarded the Abu Dhabi Medal in 2013.

Peter Hellyer died in Abu Dhabi on 2 July 2023.

Sources: [accessed June 2022]

Daniel, Kavitha. "Future Perfect." Gulf News, Nov. 22, 2002 [accessed online in July 2022]


The collection is arranged into eight series: I. Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey, II. Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, III. Natural History and Wildlife Conservation, IV. Newspapers and Media, V. Publications andn printed material, and VI. Research and subject files, VII. Correspondence, and VIII. Videocassettees. Materials are usually arranged in each series alphabetic order by folder title, or sometimes within the series in chronological order. The system of arrangement was created by the processing archivist, to correspond with areas of activity in Hellyer's life as represented in these records.

Content Description

The Peter A. Hellyer papers are grouped into series related to his activities, while based in Abu Dhabi, in the fields of archaeology, environmental advocacy, natural history, and the media.

The first series, titled "Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey", or ADIAS, records Hellyer's role as director of that organization between 1992 and 2006, including such functions as organizing site surveys, coordinating visits of archaeologists to the emirate of Abu Dhabi in order to work on specific surveys and excavations, and reporting to Mohammed al-Bowardi, who acted on behalf of the patron of ADIAS, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan. The series of memoranda that Hellyer sent to Bowardi are especially informative about the range of activities and projects that Hellyer supervised under the aegis of ADIAS, but also contain references to projects that were part of the activities of ERWDA, or the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency of the UAE, which Bowardi also oversaw. In addition to the memoranda for Bowardi, this series also contains many of the reports that resulted from archaeological site surveys conducted by ADIAS staff or contractors, in particular those in which ADIAS served as a consultant for various companies prior to construction or development on such sites. In addition to the reports, several files define the nature and scope of such consultancy work.

In addition to his role at ADIAS, Hellyer also had an active interest in archaeology represented by the second series, "Archaeology and Cultural Heritage," which contains reprints of scholarly articles presented to Hellyer by their authors, publications, archaeological surveys conducted outside of the functions of ADIAS, efforts to receive special recognition for specific sites from UNESCO, and the drafting of governmental policy related to archaeology and cultural heritage in the United Arab Emirates. The topics and dates of some of the archaeology reports overlap with Hellyer's activities in ADIAS, but were included in this series since they had no indications that they were conducted by Hellyer or others as part of their official roles within ADIAS.

The series "Natural History and Wildlife Conservation" documents Hellyer's longtime interests in the fields of ornithology, the environment, natural history, and wildlife conservation. The series consists chiefly of reports or publications from organizations such as the National Avian Research Centre, the Emirates Natural History Group, the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Arabia, and ERWDA. A few reports were authored or co-authored by Hellyer, while others were collected by him. Of note in this series are files related to the Al Ain Zoological Park, the mismanagement of which was highlighted in editorials written by Hellyer and published in the Emirates News, leading to a thorough investigation of that institution in 1998.

The series "Newspapers and media" reflects some of Hellyer's activities as editor of the Emirates News and as an advisor to the Ministry of Culture and Information in matters pertaining to the media. Of note in this series are files of clippings related to the trial of the Filipina domestic worker Sarah Balabagan, for the alleged murder of her employer in 1994, and the coverage of her trial in the international media. A small selection of news cuttings from Hellyer's editorials in the Emirates News are also included in this series. Also included are full sections of newspapers from Abu Dhabi commemorating National Day, the annual commemoration of the formation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971, as well special editions of newspapers following the death of the country's founding ruler, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan in 2004.

The "Publications" series contains printed material collected by Hellyer, and not classified in the other series. Chief among these are publications of the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO), including a substantial run of that company's annual reports, from 1978-1997. In addition, this series also contains material about books authored by Hellyer.

A small selection of letters to and from Hellyer are grouped in the "Correspondence" series, includings letters from the British Liberal Member of Parliament David Steel.

The "Videocassette" series consists of VHS cassettes related chiefly to the natural and cultural history of Abu Dhabi. Both professionally produced and distributed videos, and copies provided to Hellyer of privately filmed footage are included. Among the latter are videos of film footage of Abu Dhabi from the 1960s that were transferred to VHS cassette in the 1990s, and the former include documentaries about wildlife, the desert, and other related topics, produced by oil companies (ADCO, Shell) or local agencies (ERWDA, Cultural Foundation). Also included are lectures given by Hellyer at local venues, such as the Emirates Natural History Group, or at an event organized by the United States Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Conditions governing access

The collection is open for use in the Reading Room of the Archives and Special Collections department of the NYU Abu Dhabi Library.

Conditions governing use

This collection is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use materials in the collection in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Preferred citation

Identification of item, date; Peter A. Hellyer papers; MC.068; box number; folder number or item identifier; Archives and Special Collections, New York University Abu Dhabi Library.

Immediate source of acquisition

Acquired from Peter Hellyer in multiple accretions, 2020-2023.

Related materials

Material about Hellyer's activities with the observation and recording of bird species in the UAE can also be found in the Emirates Bird Records Committee records, MC.057, at the NYU Abu Dhabi Library.

Collection processed by

Brad Bauer

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-09-04 21:43:57 +0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is written in: English, Latin script.

Processing information

Processed by Brad Bauer, June-July 2022, August 2023.


NYU Abu Dhabi, Archives and Special Collections
NYU Abu Dhabi
New York University Abu Dhabi, C-2
P.O. 129188
Abu Dhabi