RIYADH: Archaeological digs in Saudi Arabia, according to Dr. Abdullah Al-Zahrani, General Director of Archaeological research Studies at the Saudi commission for Tourism and National Heritage, are increasing at an unprecedented rate.
“We discover new sites every day in Saudi,” he said, adding that there are over 100,000 sites of archaeological interest in the country. “Today we have more than 44 Saudi and international missions working in the Kingdom. Of those, 21 are from Germany, France, Italy, the US, the UK, Japan and China.”
It is a strange scenario, especially given that 10,000 of those sites have only been discovered in recent years. “The largest number of missions are from France,” Al-Zahrani added. “They are very interested in the history of the Arabian Peninsula.”
The Saudi-French archaeological mission in Jazan region, led by Dr. Soline Marion de Bros, an archaeologist from the French National Center for Scientific Research, is one of the most prominent – and successful – teams working in the Kingdom today. Working to uncover the past of the Arabian Peninsula, it has been carrying out archaeological excavations on Farasan Island since 2017.
So far, the team has revealed 30 sites dating back to pre-Islamic periods, including a number of settlements, animal remains including deer, cows, horses and turtles, and various finds including ancient Arabic inscriptions, and sites dating back to the Roman Empire.
“Our discoveries confirm that Farasan Island was inhabited by humans since prehistoric times,” said de Bros. “Since then, Farasan Island has been known for its cultural and commercial activities in the southern regions of the Red Sea, and in the northern part of the Great Farasan.”
The future of archaeology on Farasan Island is exciting. The next steps, according to de Bros, are to map the entirety of the island’s sites, creating a guide to its historical timeline and development. More local archaeologists, from academics to diggers, are also set for specialized training, to help uncover and preserve some of the Kingdom’s most precious new sites.
For Al-Zahrani, the progress is hardly surprising.
“Most of these missions have unanswered questions about our history and they know that the answers can be found here,” he said. “At the beginning of the 19th century, the Arabian Peninsula was a mystery to Orientalists, but they didn’t want to venture into the desert sands. However, in the late 19th century they came and got to know the lands and the people.
“Many sites were registered at that time, especially in the 1970’s, when a comprehensive archaeological survey was done. The results of that time provided a vast list of archeological sites,” he added.