MAKKAH: Hidden beneath the sands of the Arabian Peninsula lie secrets dating back thousands of years that tell the story of the people of Arabia.
Ancient stone carvings and other discoveries in the peninsula show a land that once flourished with life and ancient civilizations. Like detectives, historians and archaeologists have found proof that the historical roots of the people of Arabia go back more than 120,000 years.
Dr. Salma Hawsawi, professor of ancient history at King Saud University, said in an interview with Arab News that the geographical location of the Arabian Peninsula, at the center of the ancient world — Asia, Africa, and Europe — provided ancient civilizations with an added advantage to connect East and West.
She explained that from the beginning of the first millennium BC, the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula witnessed the rise of several kingdoms and civilizations, such as Ma’in, Hadramout, Awsan, Qataban, Sheba, and Himyar. Due to their strategic locations, as trade flourished, so did the civilizations that controlled the land and sea trading routes.
The kingdoms of the north and northwest of the Arabian Peninsula such as Dadan, Lihyan, Nabatea, the Palmyrene Empire, Tayma, and Qedar flourished around the same period.
In the eastern region of the peninsula, the kingdoms of Dilmun and Magan, Gerrha and Thaj were active, while in the central region there was the Al-Magar civilization and Qaryat Al-Faw.
Hawsawi pointed out that the Kingdom, which occupies about a third of the Arabian Peninsula, is full of architectural and written proof, from buildings to inscriptions and rock drawings.
She noted that rock drawings can be found in Hail, the ancient fort in Tabuk dating back to 3500 BC, Fadak’s palaces and Khaybar’s forts, the Marid Castle in Dumat Al-Jandal dating back to the first century AD and ancient cemeteries. She also mentioned statues, some still intact, dolls, bas-relief decorations and pottery. “If the above mentioned items are not enough, we have the Holy Kaaba, which is the oldest place of worship on earth.”
She said: “The Kingdom realized the importance of this cultural heritage, so it established the Ministry of Culture in 2018.”
She went on to say that the Saudi Arabia and international archaeological missions are still excavating and constantly announcing their findings, the latest of which was a joint discovery by the international and Saudi archaeological missions of human, elephant and predatory animal footprints around a dry lake in Tabuk, in the northwest of the Kingdom, dating back more than 120,000 years.
Archaeological studies have also revealed many archaeological areas within the Arabian Peninsula, for example Dumat Al-Jandal, which was mentioned in ancient biblical sources.
Dr. Marwan Shuaib
Dr. Marwan Shuaib, professor of Ancient History at King Abdul Aziz University, said: “The ancient Near East region is considered the home of mankind’s first civilizations. Western scholars have been interested in studying it for more than two centuries, since the arrival of the French under Napoleon in Egypt and the Levant (1798-1801 AD). The need to study and explore this important region increased with the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, which made it easy for scientists to decipher hieroglyphics.”
The prevailing view was that the Nile River region and Mesopotamia were the oldest civilizations known to humanity, alongside the Chinese and Indian civilizations.
“Visits from Western travelers to the Arabian Peninsula increased: Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt who discovered Petra in 1812, the capital of the Nabataeans in southern Jordan, and English traveler Charles Doughty who visited the Arabian Peninsula between 1908 and 1909 and discovered the famous Tayma Stone, which contains important information about the stay of the Babylonian king, Nabonidus, in Tayma for 10 years. These discoveries have drawn the attention of scholars to the ancient history of the Arabian Peninsula.”
He said: “King Abdul Aziz led the way for Western scholars to study the archeology of the Arabian Peninsula. The English traveler John Philby, also known as Abdullah Philby later on, was friends with the founding king and was allowed to tour the lands of the Arabian Peninsula, where he visited the ancient village of Faw in 1949 AD, north of Najran. He mentioned in his writings that it is an archaeological area containing many important historical proofs. The Belgian scholar Ryckmans also visited the Arabian Peninsula in 1951-1952 and copied a large number of its inscriptions. Successive exploration campaigns, drillings and excavations later took place in the archaeological areas of the Arabian Peninsula.”
“Archaeological studies have also revealed many archaeological areas within the Arabian Peninsula, for example Dumat Al-Jandal, which was mentioned in ancient biblical sources as the fortress of Dumat Bin Ismail, meaning that it dates back to the 10th century BC.”
AlUla, in the northwest of the Kingdom, contains a large number of Dadanitic, Lihyan, and Thamudic inscriptions, in addition to a large number of residences with Nabataean features.
Scholars have found inscriptions and drawings dating back 10,000 years in AlUla and Hail, specifically in Jubbah and Al- Shuwaymis, which indicates that the people of the area developed a writing system earlier than archaeologists believed. He concluded by saying that these findings show the historical depth of the region.