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Ancient cave dwellings in Mada'in Saleh (Citie...

Image by Omar A. via Flickr

I stumbled upon this news piece in The Times regarding archaeology in Saudia Arabia. I wanted to share it with you all because of last week’s discussion of handaxes from the neighboring UAE. The article describes how archaeologists have been using Google Earth to survey for sites and have identified possibly 2,000 or so potential ones in Saudia Arabia. Now using Google Earth to do some armchair archaeology is nothing new really, there are examples from 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

But we all know how strict Saudia Arabia is. One of their many impositions has traditionally been against archaeology — fearing that discoveries may disrupt the foundation of it being a cradle for Islam. From the article,

David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Western Australia, used Google Earth satellite maps to pinpoint 1,977 potential archaeological sites, including 1,082 teardrop shaped stone tombs…

…But few archaeologists have been given access to Saudi Arabia, which has long been hostile to the discipline. Hardline clerics in the kingdom fear that it might focus attention on the civilisations which flourished there before the rise of Islam – and thus, in the long term, undermine the state religion.

In 1994, a council of Saudi clerics was reported to have issued an edict asserting that preserving historical sites “could lead to polytheism and idolatry” – both punishable, under the Kingdom’s laws, by death.

This is not surprising to many. What is surprising was this tid bit:

Saudi Arabia’s rulers have, in recent years, allowed archaeologists to excavate some sites, including the spectacular but little-known ruins of Maidan Saleh (Correction its really Mada’in Saleh), a 2,000 old city which marked the southern limits of the powerful Nabataean civilisation.

For the most part, though, access to ancient sites has been severely restricted.

There are a lot of examples where traditions, governments, etc. get in the way of phenomenal discoveries. However, there are few where objection relaxed. I’m hopeful we’ll see more archaeology conducted on the Arabian peninsula, but I’ll think we’ll be seeing more from the more liberal areas like the Emirates.

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