Saudi female archaeologist goes back to the future with career ambitions

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Najla Al-Saeer and her team during their work at Wadi Matar excavation sites in the Farasan island of Jazan. (Photo/Supplied)
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Najla Al-Saeer's team during their work at Wadi Matar excavation sites in the Farasan island of Jazan. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 24 July 2019

Saudi female archaeologist goes back to the future with career ambitions

  • University sets up first women’s archaeology department to dig into Kingdom’s historical past

RIYADH: Najlah Salman Al-Saeer, one of Saudi Arabia’s top emerging female archaeologists, talks about her journey into the past and her career ambitions for the future.

A Saudi archaeologist is fast-becoming a leading light in the field for her work delving into the Kingdom’s cultural past.

Through her fascination for all things old, Najla Salman Al-Saeer has been digging back millions of years into the history of the country.

And she is hoping to expand her knowledge by continuing her education abroad to help unearth even more of the Kingdom’s treasures of the past.

After gaining a bachelor’s degree in arts (libraries and information) from Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, Al-Saeer began studying for a master’s degree in tourism and archaeology, graduating this year from King Saud University (KSU).

Najla Al-Saeer's team at work. (Photo/Supplied)

The KSU archaeology department was established in 1977 to be the Saudi center for graduated qualified national professionals in the subject and its diverse sciences, and to provide excellent scientific knowledge to serve the job market and provide homegrown experts in the field.

Al-Saeer specializes in material heritage, archaeological sites and everything related to documents and manuscripts. “I write in newspapers about my field visits to archaeological and heritage sites,” she told Arab News.

“Studying archaeology was based on my love of exploration in the first place, and consequent entry into the work field on archaeological surveys and excavations.

“The study of material findings gives the researcher a concrete conception of the first human settlements, successive civilizations, and the culture prevailing in communities up until the period they belong to.

“My studies in libraries and information also played a role in choosing archaeology. My interest in manuscripts, which I call cultural heritage, meant I studied them in an archaeological way so that I could be within the scope of professional archaeological work,” she added.

Najla Al-Saeer's team at work. (Photo/Supplied)

Al-Saeer completed her master’s research project on “The Archaeological Study of the Manuscripts in West Africa (such as Timbuktu),” and she is currently working on writing a scientific report related to her surveys and excavations of the Wadi Shami and Wadi Matar sites in the Farasan island of Jazan.

While working on a temple at Wadi Matar, she discovered objects dating back thousands of years. “I found a fragment of Nabati pottery, beads, pottery wares and other artifacts such as bones and shells.”

Al-Saeer is not alone in the Kingdom as a female archaeologist. In 1989, KSU established the first women’s department of archaeology to promote the roles of female students and researchers.

Dr. Samer Sahla, head of the university’s archaeology section, said the department offered a postgraduate program exclusively for female students.


While working on a temple at Wadi Matar, Najla Al-Saeer discovered objects dating back thousands of years ago. Al-Saeer is not alone in the Kingdom as a female archaeologist. In 1989, KSU established the first women’s department of archaeology to promote the roles of female students and researchers.

“The number of female students currently in the graduate program is approximately 75. We accept annually 15 to 20 female students in our masters and Ph.D. programs, and applications are generally increasing,” he added. 

Al-Saeer’s main aims at present are to work on her Ph.D. project in archaeology and participate in surveys and explorations of other key heritage sites in the Kingdom, and she is also hoping for the opportunity to work abroad.

She said that archaeologists usually located excavation sites by foot surveys or using aerial photography and metal detectors.

One of the oldest Saudi sites is in the village of Al-Shwaihtia, about 45 km from the city of Sakaka in Al-Jawf, where human settlements dating back to the Paleolithic era have been found.

Najla Al-Saeer and her team during their work. (Photo/Supplied)

Al-Saeer pointed to the important role played by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH). “The commission took the coverage on its behalf by holding lectures and symposia after each task in the archaeological sites of the Kingdom to discuss the most important results, in addition to holding conferences including the first Saudi Archaeological Conference in Riyadh, in 2017.”

She added that the SCTH was able to develop global interest in Saudi archaeological finds through its longstanding partnerships with foreign teams including those from France, Germany and Japan.

She has benefitted from “working on different methodologies of archaeological research and practicing them in archaeological sites, in addition to benefiting from the diverse experiences within the work team, which includes individuals holding various specializations other than archaeology.”

Photo exhibition recalls 90 years of Saudi-Lebanon ties

Updated 26 min 36 sec ago

Photo exhibition recalls 90 years of Saudi-Lebanon ties

  • Thousands of photos on display
  • Ties ‘rooted’ in history, says Kingdom’s ambassador

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari and Lebanon’s Minister of Information Jamal Jarrah on Monday inaugurated a photography exhibition celebrating 90 years of bilateral relations.

The King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives and the Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain Cultural Foundation provided the embassy in Lebanon with historical documents and photos for the exhibition, which was launched on World Photography Day. Some of the material dates back more than 90 years.

Bukhari said the exhibition’s content proved that the countries’ relations were rooted in history and recalled the words of King Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman, who said: “Lebanon is part of us. I protect its independence myself and will not allow anything to harm it.”

Jarrah, who was representing Prime Minister Saad Hariri, said: “We need this Arab embrace in light of the attacks targeting the Arab region and we still need the Kingdom’s support for Lebanon’s stability, because Lebanon is truly the center from which Arabism originated.”

The exhibition starts with a document appointing Mohammed Eid Al-Rawaf as the Kingdom’s consul in Syria and Lebanon. It was signed by King Abdul Aziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Faisal Al-Saud in 1930 and states that the consul’s residence is in Damascus and that his mission is to “promote Saudi merchants, care for their affairs and assist them with their legal and commercial interests.”

Black and white pictures summarize milestones in the development of bilateral relations, while others depict key visits and meetings between leaders and dignitaries.

“The exhibition demanded great efforts because the pieces were not found at one single location,” former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told Arab News. “Circulating this activity in the Kingdom’s embassies in numerous countries is a great step and has pushed the Lebanese Ministry of Information to benefit from this archive. The Lebanese people remember the important positions the Kingdom has taken over the year to support their independence and sovereignty and in hard times.”

Lebanon, particularly Beirut, is a hit with Saudi travelers although the Kingdom had been advising citizens since 2011 to avoid the country, citing Hezbollah’s influence and instability from the war in neighboring Syria. 

But the easing of restrictions since February has led to a surge in Saudis heading to Lebanon.

Riyadh earlier this year released $1 billion in funding and pledged to boost Lebanon’s struggling economy. Another sign of warming ties was an anniversary event marking the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father that featured Saudi Royal Court adviser Nizar Al-Aloula as a keynote speaker.

“The exhibition highlights the unique model of Lebanese-Arab relations that should be taught in diplomatic institutes, starting with the Lebanese Foreign Ministry,” former minister Marwan Hamadeh told Arab News. “Over the course of 90 years, we have had brotherly ties and political support for independence, freedom, growth, economy and culture and then the Taif Accord (which ended the Lebanese Civil War). Even after that, when Lebanon engaged in military adventures, the Kingdom was there to help with reconstruction and we are proud of these relations.”

Highlights include a recording of King Faisal telling President Charles Helou about the need to strengthen “brotherhood in the face of the aggression targeting our countries without respecting the sanctity of holy sites and international, human and moral norms to extend its influence not only in the region but across the world.”

There are also photos from a recent meeting that brought together King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Lebanese officials. 

An old broadcast recording can be heard saying that the “tragedy of the Lebanese civil war can only be ended by affirming the Lebanese legitimacy and preserving its independence and territorial integrity.”

The exhibition is on at Beit Beirut, which is located on what used to be the frontline that divided the city during the civil war.