How Saudi Arabia can become a world leader in archaeology

'Extraordinary opportunity' for country full of cultural treasures, say heritage leaders

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Saudi Arabia will announce it has all the tools to become a global leader in archaeology during its first virtual Forum on Archaeological Discoveries on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Hosted by the country’s Ministry of Culture and its Heritage Commission, the forum will bring together archaeologists, scientists and researchers from Saudi Arabia and around the world to discuss excavation projects and studies in the country.

The kingdom is full of cultural and archaeological treasures, and is already home to six Unesco World Heritage Sites.

Earlier this year, the commission organised a virtual training programme focused on heritage crafts in cooperation with Google Skills. It held several virtual seminars for the community, led by regional and international heritage and preservation specialists.

Dr Jasir Alherbish, CEO of the Heritage Commission, told The National the commission wants to preserve Saudi heritage to “share this legacy with the world” by launching new initiatives.

He said an “extraordinary opportunity” exists to evolve the heritage sector into a major driver of economic and creative growth, he said.

The cultural sector is set to contribute more than US$23bn to the Saudi economy and more than 100,000 jobs over the next decade.

Dr Alherbish said educational and training programmes are being provided for young scientists and students, as well as employment opportunities.

“Investment in local talent and infrastructure will support the kingdom’s goals and ambitions to become a leader in the field of heritage and archaeology,” he said.

Under Vision 2030, a cultural transformation is already under way in the kingdom, said Dr Jasim. “The Ministry of Culture is supporting the growth of the sector and unlocking opportunities for everyone,” he said. “We are continuously sharing our studies and discoveries with the world and these have been recognised by major institutions and entities.”

A tourist visits the Abu Lawha, the largest Nabataean tomb at the desert archaeological site of Madain Saleh, north-west of Riyadh. AP

Last month, the Heritage Commission’s study of ancient lake sediments in Jubbah and Khel Amishan in Al Nufud AlKabeer Desert was published by Nature, a leading scientific journal.

The study, carried out by Saudi and international researchers, leveraged the latest technologies to study the history of human migrations in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Journal of Archaeological Science also published a study involving the commission, which proved that rock carvings at the Camel Site in Al Jouf date back to the Neolithic period — making it the oldest known surviving large-scale animal rock sculpture in the world.

Dr Jasim said: “Protecting and preserving our cultural and natural heritage is a key priority in Saudi Arabia. In the past few years, we have returned tens of thousands of national antiquities from inside and outside the kingdom that were illegally taken and recently added an additional 624 new heritage sites to the National Antiquities Register.”

“We have announced several ground-breaking archaeological discoveries and there are many hidden treasures that have yet to be discovered,” said Dr Jasir.

In September, the kingdom took part in Restoration Week 2021 in Italy, where Dr Jasir gave a lecture on the commission’s efforts to restore heritage sites and structures in Saudi Arabia.

The Forum on Archaeological Discoveries will host discussions on major discoveries, including the Camel Site in Al Jawf region, Kilwa Archaeological Project in Tabuk Province, antiquities of Dedan in AlUla, and antiquities in the ancient Oasis of Tayma in the Tabuk Province.

The forum will be streamed live on the Ministry of Culture’s YouTube channel.

Updated: November 02, 2021, 9:20 AM