Archaeology graduates and students attending AlUla World Archaeology Summit in Saudi Arabia say they are excited by the opportunities given to “learn more about their country” as part of Vision 2030.
Young archaeologists from AlUla at the summit spoke about the kingdom's efforts to empower its youth in new areas of expertise and academia.
Sulaiman AlMutlaq, 24, a graduate from AlUla, studied archaeology in the US.
“Archaeology is part of our lives. To know our future, we must know our past,” he told The National. Mr AlMutlaq wants to develop the scope of archaeology in Saudi Arabia and around the world.
He said his father sparked his interest in archaeology at an early age.
“My father was an archaeologist. So I used to visit sites with him as a child all the time. I was interested in stories and mythology about AlUla, but from an archaeological perspective.”
“AlUla has the oldest civilisation. We want to show people our history, our rich past and civilisation, as well as Arab hospitality, which is all part of Vision 2030, and we want to support that,” he said.
“We are excited to share this with people. We want to show people what we are able to do, in the future and also now.”
He aims to pursue his master's degree in archaeology from the UK.
Coincidentally, all of them said their love of archaeology stems from the rich cultural history of their city.
Mohammed AlHusayni, 22, an AlUla native, is studying heritage and archaeology in the UK.
“I developed an interest in archaeology at a very young age. I remember walking alone in the Old Town and Hegra, between houses and tombs. I heard stories, but they're not all true and I couldn't find answers,” he said.
“So I decided to pursue archaeology to find the answers for myself. I want to discover more. I would love to be a museums specialist in the future.”
Mohammed AlKadi, a 24-year-old Saudi graduate from AlUla, studied archaeology from the US.
“I grew up observing sites like Hegra and Old Town to connect with them. I knew I had to study archaeology to understand it better,” he told The National.
“My studies made me even more curious about my hometown, which is most fascinating to me. I am going to obtain my master's degree and hope to specialise in archaeology.
He said seeing tourists in AlUla is “beautiful”.
“The place has come alive. When you see people connecting with history it's beautiful and makes me really happy.”
“The people in AlUla are very hospitable. When I was young, I saw my father invite tourists from the US into our home for tea, even though he couldn't speak English and communicate through words. We welcome everyone,” he added.
Bandar Alanazi is a 22-year-old AlUla native who is studying archaeology in the UK.
“I chose to study archaeology to get answers to my questions about my home city, and where I grew up, in Hegra”, he said.
Since the announcement of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has opened up tourism, hospitality, and archaeology studies to both men and women, to help create awareness as well as job opportunities for locals.
“It's very important to train young Saudis in heritage conservation, not only archaeology, but heritage in the broader sense. And it's conservation for future generations,” Giorgia Cesaro, programme manager of cultural heritage at the Royal Commission for AlUla, told The National.
Last year, Saudi Arabia's Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan unveiled the Young Explorers initiative under the kingdom's Heritage Commission.
As part of the programme, the kingdom aims to educate children, aged six and above, about the significance of archaeological excavations as well as preservation of national heritage.
The summit’s Future Forum featured workshops and talks on youth and digital engagement to discuss, study and promote archaeology. Fifty youth delegates from around the world participated in the forum.
Pratibha Sharma, Punjab University, Chandigarh, a speaker at the youth panel, said summits such as this are “essential” for young archaeologists, adding that inclusivity is important.
During a panel discussion, Sparsh Ahuja, a multimedia producer from Australia, said that social media content needs to connect with audiences for it to have a big effect.
Paul Christians, senior manager of cultural heritage research at the RCU, told The National that the summit was aimed at highlighting Saudi Arabia's efforts in archaeology.
“We wanted people to come here and discover AlUla … to see the work done in the past five or six years. But we want to be a part of the bigger conversation as the country has not had historic visibility on this issue.”
“Archaeology isn’t just academic, it’s also about industry and government policy. Saudi Arabia is working through all those decisions right now with the RCU working as a vehicle for that,” he said.
Current projects to promote gender equality in archaeology
During the closing of the summit, Abdulrahman Alsuhaibani, executive director of archaeology, conservation and collections at the RCU, announced The AlUla World Archaeology Summit Award of Excellence.
“This summit was exceptional. It was unique. We discussed topics vital to the future of archaeology with a broader perspective – and I hope we will continue the discussion,” he said.
This summit was a “broader reflection in the field, lessons learnt from basic themes, and collaborating with people from diverse fields including medicine and media,” Rebecca Foote, director of archaeology and cultural heritage research at RCU, said.
A new project with Centro Conservazione e Restauro Venaria Reale, an institution in Turin, Italy, aims to raise awareness of heritage conservation by training 12 young people from AlUla and the neighbouring regions.
“And there is also gender balance, because there are six men and six women,” Ms Cesaro said.
The pilot project started in February this year, and RCU is working to define a longer-term agreement with the institution.
“There will be a number of workshops held directly in AlUla, (for the students) so they can understand how to conserve these materials on the ground, and also to meet our experts.”
“We started a few years ago by engaging six youth from AlUla, involving them in the protection of sites like Hegra by cleaning graffiti, and sites that were vandalised.”