Thus far, archaeological excavations in the Middle East have been focusing on the Nile Valley, the area of the Fertile Crescent, beside considerable attention dedicated to Yemen and Bahrain. However, the center of the Arab Peninsula has been neglected – apart from some humble and commendable efforts by local travelers and adventurers, foremost Al-Arabiya satellite channel TV’s documentary program of “Retracting Arab Footsteps,” a media contribution that has filled an urgent knowledge gap and awakened us to the grandeur of the very ancient history of our homeland. In the same vein, we should never underestimate the efforts exerted by some youtubers in spreading awareness on the geological and archaeological treasures of our country, and thanks to them YouTube is now full of very informative and exciting video reports on the archaeological wonders in the Arab Peninsula.
To sum up, the media footage and YouTube videos that have been published thus far about the history of the Arab Peninsula are quite astonishing in their historical significance and cultural richness, so that now we are experiencing a state of mass amazement and euphoria. However, I have no doubt that once these archaeological sites have been systematically and thoroughly studied and categorized, then we will face the need to rewrite the history of the entire human race, and to reestablish the cultures of the Arab Peninsula along with those of the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia, and the Arabia Felix.
The Arab Peninsula’s breathtaking topographical and natural formations, let alone the carvings and inscriptions coined on them, provide altogether a very wide and inviting range for exploration and studies in the history of that land, along with touristic amusement. Is it highly essential to specify the ages of these inscriptions, carvings, graffiti, and shapes that date back to very ancient times and constitute open-air museums that may be considered the largest, oldest, and most amusing in the world. The amount of rock constructions, auxiliary buildings, tombs, carvings, inscriptions, and stone depictions along the rocks of the Arab Peninsula could surpass all of that in the entire Middle East. Moreover, I am only discussing what has been discovered till the present moment by travelers, amateurs, media programs, and modest local archaeological efforts. Accordingly, and based on what seems to be the forthcoming phase, the future will bring extensive excavational efforts on the official level, especially after the formation of the Royal Commission for the Governorate of Al-Ula, and the elimination of some ideological reservations that were obstructing the enhancement of archaeological excavations.
A quite remarkable feature of the Arab Peninsula’s antiquities is their extensive, diverse, massive, and meticulous nature. The production of such gargantuan and splendid antiquities must have necessitated time, effort, food abundance, and the prevalence of a central authority that was powerful enough to recruit large numbers of human beings, beside a demographic surplus that could provide the manpower needed to build and produce those massive constructions with their sophisticated designs and elegant ornamentations that leave us in shock and awe.
The Archaeological Department at the King Saud University has thankfully carried out excavations in some areas, particularly in Al-Faw and Al-Ula. However, there is still a long way ahead, and the task is so massive that it needs joint international involvement, relentless and continuous efforts, manpower, and sufficient budgets, especially when one takes into consideration the vast geographical area, the rigid terrain, the far-reaching historical significance, and the number of kingdoms and cultures that prevailed upon this land. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a very vast country, and the amount of inscriptions and antiquities from all historical eras it contains is simply beyond imagination.
Hence, and in addition to the local expertise, we need to benefit from international cooperation and experience to be able to embark on this noble mission. It would be great if an annual international conference could be held in the Kingdom, where Arab and foreign experts and concerned people would meet up to exchange research papers, opinions, and expertise on the Arab Peninsula’s antiquities. Meanwhile, any individual efforts or financial contribution presented for that sake will have materialistic, historical, and psychological outcomes that surpass our imagination. When all of this coincides with how our country is now opening up on the entire world, then it would suffice to make us hold our heads high, and to elevate the Kingdom to exalted statuses among the civilized nations and peoples, based on the proverb “No past, no future”.
Some ideas have been frequently occurring to my mind, and I thought of proposing them to the Ministry of Culture. Anyway, I think that this article might be a suitable medium for clarifying them. For instance, I suggest establishing an association for people who own private collections of artefacts, and another one for Saudi travelers that would consolidate the efforts of all those explorers and people concerned with the heritage of the Kingdom, unifying and coordinating their efforts, and monitoring all their archaeological finds and their related information. That should form the basis for academic archaeological excavations and research that should unveil the treasures and secrets this land has been hiding beneath its sands. Moreover, the activities of those travelers should be legalized and supervised to assure that they will not turn to any kind of vandalism. Meanwhile, they should be also financially supported to help them achieve their mission, and this is not only the responsibility of the Saudi state, but also that of the rich citizens and the financial institutions of this country.
Additionally, and given the vast area of the Kingdom and the rough roads of the desert, we should consider enabling air tourism, either using balloon flights or slow-moving helicopters on low altitudes. Such methods would enable a tourist staying in the Kingdom for a couple of days to see the largest amount possible of the land’s antiquities, amazing landscapes, and human rock constructions that surpass those of Britain’s Stone Henges, let along the geological formations which exceed those of the Grand Canyon in the US State of Arizona.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi newspaper Okaz.