Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air

Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air
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Archaeologist David Kennedy during an air expedition to explore Saudi Arabia’s desert plains. (AN photo)
Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air
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Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air
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A helicopter view of the ancient stone structure used to trap animals. (AN photo)
Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air
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Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air
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Kennedy photographs stone gates and graves. (AN photo)
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Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air
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Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air
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Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air
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Kennedy examines the terrain ... a date with history
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Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air
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Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air
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A helicopter view of the ancient stone structure used to trap animals. (AN photo)
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Updated 19 December 2019

Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air

Saudi Arabia’s mysterious stone structures seen from the air

RIYADH: As the helicopter hovered above the Saudi desert, David Kennedy’s eyes lit up as he glimpsed what he had been searching for: A series of ancient, mysterious stone structures atop the desolate mountains.

The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world

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The archaeologist had been using Google Earth for years to explore Saudi Arabia’s vast desert plains, but it was not until last month that he visited the Kingdom in person.
“Seeing it from 500 feet is so much better” than on Google Earth, Kennedy told Arab News, which accompanied him for an exclusive view of the discoveries.
Online satellite images revealed 400 stone gates — thought to be used for trapping animals — and graves scattered across the lava fields known as Harrat Khaybar and Harrat Uwayrid.
The Royal Commission for Al-Ula invited the Australian archaeologist to Riyadh, from where he flew to Al-Ula and took aerial photographs.
“I was astonished and delighted when I got the invitation … They spoke to me on Saturday and here we are (in Saudi Arabia) on Thursday,” he told Arab News last month.
Arab News accompanied him on helicopter trips over three days, alongside Don Boyer, an Australian geologist who now works in archaeology; Eid Al-Yahya, Saudi anthropological researcher in the civilizational and humanitarian history of the Arabian Peninsula; and a representative of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula.
Kennedy was frequently seen hanging from the helicopter door while wearing a harness suit, with a camera in his hands.
There were also land tours as he was keen to land on one of the lava fields and see the structures on the ground.
“I’ve seen lava fields before and plenty of graves, but I’ve never seen ones like these. Absolutely amazing,” he said.
There are “so many wonderful sites. When we go back after refueling we’ll visit the best place,” he said, referring to Harrat Uwayrid. “The graves in this lava field are seen overlapping, which is very unusual.”

On Sunday, the third and last day of the tour, a helicopter flew with eight people on board to Harrat Uwayrid, then to Mada’in Salih to see the site from above after taking a land tour the day before.
In 2008, Abdullah Al-Saeed, a Saudi medical doctor, wrote to Kennedy asking him to check out sites in the Kingdom that he had spotted.
“I was stunned because I hadn’t thought of looking up Saudi Arabia (on Google Earth) before, as I thought the quality of the imagery for most of the Middle East was poor,” said Kennedy.
He described the images he found as “absolutely astonishing,” similar to sites he had seen in Jordan but with different designs. “So most people with the same idea executing it in a different way,” is how he described it. Kennedy and Al-Saeed co-wrote an article about it for Saudi Aramco World Magazine.
While searching for more high-resolution imagery on Google Earth, Kennedy said he was particularly interested in Harrat Khaybar.
“There’s just so much there. I’ve been used to the lava field in Jordan, which is very rich, but Harrat Khaybar I think is richer. It’s an absolutely wonderful place.”
Kennedy has written a few articles about what he has seen in Saudi Arabia on Google Earth. “When I started looking at Harrat Khaybar, I found more and more good imagery there, and I was able to interpret the whole area,” he said.
It took him months to systematically analyze and catalogue the imagery, but “at the end of that process, we found almost 400 of these very strange structures that we’ve called gates,” he added.
“That gave us the opportunity to start an analysis or some sort of interpretation of the findings.”
Al-Yahya argued that he and his team found more than the 400 desert structures. “My team, consisting of two, and I started counting the graves on Google Earth, but we stopped at 1 million.”
The gates are among different stone structures in the lava fields. Some could be up to 9,000 years old, Kennedy said, adding: “They’re huge, and there are so many of them.” Al-Yahya said the densest concentration of such structures in the world is in Harrat Khaybar.
Kennedy said he has never been especially excited by grandiose sites. “They’re great to visit. Mada’in Salih is an amazing place. I like places like that, but I’m more interested in small sites of everyday life, not the great things that kings and emperors made,” he added. “There’s a lot of Roman material around Al-Ula. I’m excited about that.”
Kennedy said people do not often hear much about the archaeology of the Kingdom. “When people think of Saudi Arabia, they probably think of mountains and great sandy deserts. People are surprised when you tell them there’s a population of over 30 million people. They think it’s a desert and only 1 or 2 million people live there, riding camels.” That is probably why Saudi Arabia has caught people’s attention, he added.
Kennedy explored the lava field of Harrat Uwayrid during his three-day stay in Al-Ula. Visiting Mada’in Salih, he was able to see the Hijaz railway, part of which he photographed in Jordan last year and the year before. “It’s fascinating,” he said.
There is a big project in southern Jordan called the Great Arab Revolt Project, which is about the Arab revolt against the Ottomans during World War I, and those involved in it would love to come to Saudi Arabia, Kennedy added.
Google Earth is “hugely important because there’s so much high-resolution imagery and you can zoom in and look at sites,” but it will never replace aerial photography and archaeology, he said, adding that they complement each other.
“If you have Google Earth and aerial archaeology, you should also go on the ground. You really have to explore as many of these places as possible.”
Kennedy’s most recent paper is entirely about the stone gates. He has published other work about what he has seen on Google Earth over Saudi Arabia, including one on sites near Jeddah.
A paper in which he contrasts what he has seen in Jordan and Saudi Arabia could be published early next year.
“Everything (in Saudi Arabia) seems very clean, tidy and organized,” Kennedy said, laughing at how he has only just visited the Kingdom despite two of his brothers having worked there for decades, one as a flying instructor on contract with the Royal Saudi Air Force, and the other as a dentist.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” Kennedy said, adding that the Kingdom is developing rapidly.
“I went to an exhibition about five years ago called ‘Roads of Arabia’ in Washington, and I found it absolutely fabulous. The presentation was amazing. Such things are giving people a different impression of Saudi Arabia from just desert and camels,” he said, referring to an exhibition on ancient civilizations and cultures.
“Then there was a conference in Oxford about three years ago called ‘Green Arabia,’ which again surprised people as it contradicted the typical image of deserts.”
Tourism in the Kingdom could be boosted by heritage-oriented adventure holidays, he said, citing Mada’in Salih as an alternative to Petra in Jordan. “People would be astonished to discover this remarkable place (Mada’in Salih).”
Kennedy, who visited Syria long ago, expressed his wish to go back there. “It was wonderful visiting sites in Syria. I think it’s going to be a long, long time before I can do that again.”
His passion for archaeology started at the age of 10, when he was given a book as a Christmas present on sites in Britain. 

The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world

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Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17

Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17
Saudi Arabia’s flagship carrier is getting ready to fly on May 17. (SPA)
Updated 43 min 54 sec ago

Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17

Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17
  • Saudia was ranked among the top 10 airlines worldwide for its health and safety measures and received the highest certification by APEX Health Safety in January

JEDDAH: The Kingdom’s flagship carrier is preparing for full-capacity operations ahead of the lift of the travel ban next month, with Saudis eager to safely return to traveling during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Saudi Minister of Transport Saleh Al-Jasser chaired a meeting with the Saudia airline board of directors to discuss preparations for the return of international flights on May 17.
The date will mark the end of the suspension of international travel for Saudi citizens by land, air, and sea.
The minister expressed his thanks for the efforts made to safely continue domestic flights by limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Saudia was ranked among the top 10 airlines worldwide for its health and safety measures and received the highest certification by APEX Health Safety in January.
Saudis are feeling more comfortable with the idea of traveling abroad again.
Ismail Ayoub, 30, said he will travel as soon as the opportunity strikes, with Dubai being his first choice due to their high safety standards. “Safety is one factor, another reason is I have good contacts in Dubai and in the region, so this is an opportunity to reconnect with them,” Ayoub told Arab News.
“The closeness of Dubai to the Kingdom makes it very convenient as well,” he added.
Ayoub said he will travel to countries where tourism offerings follow the strict COVID-19 safety guidelines. “I would avoid countries with unmanaged crowds. I want to enjoy my trip while staying safe.”

Saudis are feeling more comfortable with the idea of traveling abroad again. (SPA)

Software engineer Alia Al-Sadat, 27, said she is glad to have the option to travel but would rather postpone her international flight plans until the global cases drop.
“I feel very safe in the Kingdom. I’m happy to simply travel between Jeddah and Riyadh, or even go and explore AlUla,” Al-Sadat told Arab News.
She highlighted that the travel restrictions were a good opportunity to explore the Kingdom.
“Many people do not know it, but Saudi Arabia has some spectacular destinations. This year made me want to explore places like Abha, Taif and of course Umluj,” she added.


Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan

Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly. (SPA)
Updated 12 April 2021

Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan

Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan
  • There are 8,360 active cases, 915 of them are critical

JEDDAH: With a few days to go before the start of Ramadan, Saudi health authorities are warning the Kingdom’s residents to remain vigilant and stick to safety precautions put in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
During a press conference on Sunday, Ministry of Health (MoH) spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly reminded residents of the importance of following the precautions.
“Last year’s Ramadan was unlike any other Ramadan that we have experienced,” he said, adding that visitors to mosques would need to follow set guidelines, such as bringing their own prayer mats, attending prayer on time, socially distancing and staying clear of overcrowding.
He also highlighted the importance of following precautions during family gatherings. “We are used to family gatherings during Ramadan — they are special and bring the family together — but we must limit the number of visitors in gatherings.”
On Saturday, the MoH announced it would be postponing second doses of COVID-19 vaccines in order to ensure more people receive their first dose.
“The challenges are a race against time. We want to ensure that the most vulnerable are prioritized and receive their first vaccine to gain immunity,” Al-Abd Al-Aly said, adding that cancelled slots would be rearranged automatically.
“The second dose acts as a booster to the immunity one develops after the first dose,” he said.

INNUMBERS

398,435 Total cases

383,321 Recoveries

6,754 Deaths

8,360 Active cases

A total of 799 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the Kingdom on Sunday, meaning 398,435 people in Saudi Arabia have now contracted the disease.
There are 8,360 active cases, 915 of them are critical.
In addition, 548 new recovered cases were announced, taking the total number of recoveries to 383,321. The Kingdom’s recovery rate is holding steady at 96.2 percent.
Seven new COVID-19 related deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 6,754.
Saudi Arabia has administered more than 6.25 million COVID-19 vaccine doses so far. A total of 58,897 PCR tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of tests conducted in the Kingdom to 15,797,442.
Elsewhere, 30,054 violations of precautionary and preventive measures were reported over the past week. The highest numbers of violations were in Riyadh (11,162), Makkah (5,883), and the Eastern Province (4,183). Jazan (155) and Najran (132) had the lowest number of reported violations.
The Ministry of Interior stressed that citizens and residents must continue to adhere to the preventive measures and instructions issued by the authorities for their own safety and the safety of fellow citizens and residents.


Hajj Ministry announce Ramadan guidelines for Umrah and prayers

Hajj Ministry announce Ramadan guidelines for Umrah and prayers
The ministry reminded people for the need to follow the preventive measures to ensure the safety, health and security of those visiting the two holy mosques. (SPA)
Updated 12 April 2021

Hajj Ministry announce Ramadan guidelines for Umrah and prayers

Hajj Ministry announce Ramadan guidelines for Umrah and prayers
  • Taraweeh, Qiyam prayers should not exceed 30 minutes in all mosques

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has set guidelines and protocols for issuing Umrah and prayer permits for the month of Ramadan. 
Vaccinations are at the top of the priority list as no worshippers are allowed into either Makkah’s Grand Mosque or Madinah’s Prophet’s Mosque without having received at least one dose of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.
Permits will only be allowed through the Tawakkalna and Eatmarna apps, and will not be provided for unvaccinated individuals, as the latest Tawkkalna update has designated each category with a color code and barcode specific to their health status.
Unauthorized vehicles will not be allowed in the central region around Makkah, and visitors must arrive on time or risk losing their time slot.
Children will not be allowed to enter either mosques, nor the courtyards around the mosques.

HIGHLIGHT

Permits will only be allowed through the Tawakkalna and Eatmarna apps, and will not be provided for unvaccinated individuals, as the latest Tawkkalna update has designated each category with a color code and barcode specific to their health status.

The Ministry of Interior issued a warning that a SR10,000 ($26,671) fine will be issued to pilgrims wishing to perform Umrah without permits, and a SR1,000 fine for worshippers trying to enter the mosques without one.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance issued a statement saying that Taraweeh and Qiyam prayers should not exceed 30 minutes in all mosques in the Kingdom. This comes after King Salman issued a decision to permit Taraweeh prayers in the two holy mosques and reduce them to five tasleemat.
The ministry reminded people for the need to follow the preventive measures to ensure the safety, health and security of those visiting the two holy mosques.


Saudi rights body to support sexual harassment victims

Saudi rights body to support sexual harassment victims
Dr. Awwad bin Saleh Al-Awwad. (SPA)
Updated 11 April 2021

Saudi rights body to support sexual harassment victims

Saudi rights body to support sexual harassment victims
  • Psychological, educational, and legal consultations are provided to the beneficiaries in cooperation with a number of specialists at the HRC

JEDDAH: Dr. Awwad bin Saleh Al-Awwad, president of the Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC), has launched a specialized group to support victims of sexual harassment and their families with psychological counseling and educational, social, and legal guidance with strict confidentiality.
The group will enhance protection for victims of harassment and raise awareness about its impact on individuals and society.
Al-Awwad said the launch is part of the measures and regulations that the Kingdom has adopted to protect and support victims of harassment, including the anti-harassment law, child protection system, and law on protection from abuse.
The group will address these effects to help victims overcome trauma, to ensure it does not occur again, and to inform families and the relevant authorities in the event of a new exposure to harassment.
The group is supervised by HRC board member Dr. Sarah bint Omar Al-Abdulkarim, in cooperation with consultant psychiatrist Dr. Meshal Al-Aqeel and Dr. Amal Bannunah, a professional adviser in protection and sex education expert. Psychological, educational, and legal consultations are provided to the beneficiaries in cooperation with a number of specialists at the HRC. 


Saudi Supreme Court: No evidence of Ramadan moon sighting

Saudi Supreme Court: No evidence of Ramadan moon sighting
Updated 12 April 2021

Saudi Supreme Court: No evidence of Ramadan moon sighting

Saudi Supreme Court: No evidence of Ramadan moon sighting
  • Supreme Court says it will hold another session on Monday evening

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s moon sighting committee said on Sunday that the crescent for the month of Ramadan could not be seen from the Tamir and Hawtat observatories in Sudair, due to the weather conditions. 
Following a meeting on Sunday, corresponding to Shaban 29, according to the Umm Al-Qura lunar calendar, the Supreme Court said that it had not received any evidence of the crescent sighting in the evening.
The Supreme Court said it would hold another session on Monday evening, and issue a decision on the start of Muslim fasting month.