Ancient site in Nefud Desert offers glimpse of early human activity in Saudi Arabia

The report notes that until now, detailed knowledge of the Acheulean in the region was limited to a single, well-documented site: Saffaqah, in the central Kingdom. (SPA)
The report notes that until now, detailed knowledge of the Acheulean in the region was limited to a single, well-documented site: Saffaqah, in the central Kingdom. (SPA)
Short Url
Updated 13 May 2021

Ancient site in Nefud Desert offers glimpse of early human activity in Saudi Arabia

Ancient site in Nefud Desert offers glimpse of early human activity in Saudi Arabia
  • An Nasim is the first Acheulean site to be dated in the Nefud Desert, say researchers
  • Evidence of diverse species of small-to-large mammals can be found at the sites of these palaeolakes in the Nefud

RIYADH: An important archaeological site showing signs of ancient human activity dating back 350,000 years has been discovered in the Hail region of northern Saudi Arabia.

According to a scientific report published in the journal Nature, An Nasim is the first Acheulean site to be dated in the Nefud Desert. Acheulean technology refers to the distinctive style of oval and pear-shaped stone tools believed to have been developed about 1.7 million years ago by the archaic humans that preceded modern homo sapiens. It is thought these “hand axes” remained in use until as recently as 130,000 years ago.

The report — titled “The Expansion of Acheulean Hominins into the Nefud Desert of Arabia” — notes that until now, detailed knowledge of the Acheulean in the region was limited to a single, well-documented site: Saffaqah, in central Saudi Arabia.

However, tools were also found in the Nefud Desert. Researchers at An Nasim discovered evidence of what was once a deep lake, probably freshwater, as well as features associated with the Middle Pleistocene era, which covers the period from about 780,000 to 130,000 years ago.

Jasir Al-Harbash, CEO of the Kingdom’s Heritage Commission, told Arab News: “Many sites have been discovered and are under study.”

HIGHLIGHT

According to a scientific report published in the journal Nature, An Nasim is the first Acheulean site to be dated in the Nefud Desert. Acheulean technology refers to the distinctive style of oval and pear-shaped stone tools believed to have been developed about 1.7 million years ago by the archaic humans that preceded modern homo sapiens. It is thought these ‘hand axes’ remained in use until as recently as 130,000 years ago.

However the discovery in the Nefud Desert is particularly important, he added, because it is “the oldest dated site of the Acheulean period in Saudi Arabia.”

Surveys by the Green Arabian Project (GAP) in the past 10 years have confirmed that the Arabian Peninsula experienced climate changes during the Pleistocene era that produced wetter conditions, which affected the movement and distribution of humans within and between continents. This is particularly true of Acheulean communities, who appear to have been more tethered to water sources than others.

An Nasim offers insights into the diverse stone tool assemblages used by Middle Pleistocene humans in the region, probably indicating their repeated return to the peninsula during the wetter “Green Arabia” climate phases.

The site includes a deep, narrow basin with outcrops in the central part, where several artifacts from the early Palaeolithic era were discovered. About 354 items were collected, primarily hand axes and stone “flakes” cut from a rock core. The survey found that the archaeological materials are closely associated with the lake. The report notes that the tools are similar to those found elsewhere in the Nefud Desert. The presence of some of the flaked pieces suggest that the raw materials were brought to the site and some discarded after testing. Other pieces had been partly shaped before being abandoned.

Broader surveys of the Nefud Desert have found that local quartzite rock was frequently used in undated Acheulean assemblages, including diverse sizes and shapes of hand axes.

The Acheulean tools at An Nasim have been dated to the late Middle Pleistocene era, about 350,000 to 250,000 years ago, when the formation of lakes was seemingly widespread in the Nefud Desert. In comparison tools found at the site at Saffaqah are more recent, dating back about 240,000 to 190,000 years.

The similarities between the Acheulean materials found at An Nasim and other undated Acheulean sites in the Nefud Desert indicates that the lakes that once existed in this region provided an important resource for the expansion of humans in the region, and a viable habitation environment for them and other mammals.

Evidence of diverse species of small-to-large mammals can be found at the sites of these palaeolakes in the Nefud, indicating the migration of animals to the region during wet phases and suggesting the availability of fauna as food sources at watering holes.

With the participation of Saudi experts, the Kingdom’s Heritage Commission has been working on the GAP scientific program in collaboration with counterparts from the Berlin-based Max Planck Institute for Human Development. It focuses on studying climate changes in the Arabian Peninsula over time, and the immigration of ancient humans into Arabia and their settlement there.

Previous GAP studies have found evidence of hundreds of paleolakes, rivers and forests, and the animals they helped to sustain, around which successive civilizations emerged thanks to the mild climate at that time.

Late last year, the Heritage Commission announced that the footprints of humans, elephants, camels and predatory animals had been found at the site of what was once lake, dating back more than 120,000 years, in Tabuk. They are believed to be the oldest footprints of man and animals found in the Arabian Peninsula.

Through the GAP, the Heritage Commission carries out intensive surveys and systematic excavations to identify and gain insight into ancient climatic conditions and the nature of the prevailing environment in Arabia’s past, as well as the movement of humans. This is part of the Commission’s efforts to excavate, preserve and promote archaeological sites in the Kingdom as part of Saudi Vision 2030.

Al-Harbash highlighted the importance of cooperation between local and international teams in excavating and researching antiquities in the Arabian Peninsula. He added that joint projects are in progress with more than 20 of the most prestigious international institutes and universities involved in archaeological research and excavation.


Saudi minister Jubeir meets US climate envoy John Kerry

Saudi minister Jubeir meets US climate envoy John Kerry
Updated 6 min 32 sec ago

Saudi minister Jubeir meets US climate envoy John Kerry

Saudi minister Jubeir meets US climate envoy John Kerry

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir met on Tuesday US Climate Secretary John Kerry.

Kerry was on his first visit to the Kingdom after assuming the position of US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Since President Joe Biden was sworn in on Jan. 20, he has made several moves to emphasize the importance of mitigating global warming and reinstating America's role as a leader in that battle. This included appointing former Secretary of State Kerry to be the country's first Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, making him the administration's global face on the issue.

Biden also recommitted the US to the 2015 Paris Agreement, an international treaty on climate change through which 196 countries agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 


AlUla can become important aspect of local life, source of pride for Saudis, experts say

AlUla can become important aspect of local life, source of pride for Saudis, experts say
Updated 15 June 2021

AlUla can become important aspect of local life, source of pride for Saudis, experts say

AlUla can become important aspect of local life, source of pride for Saudis, experts say
  • AlUla is part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy, increase tourism and raise its international profile

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s AlUla has the opportunity to become a crucial aspect of local and regional life and an area for all Saudis to take pride in, a panel discussing how the ancient valley can foster change heard.

“AlUla, in my opinion, has the opportunity to become one of the most important aspects of local and regional life, and also an area for all Saudis to feel so proud of,” President Emeritus of the Guggenheim Foundation Jennifer Stockman told the panel discussion, “At the crossroads: The living museum as a barometer of social change.”

“The change will dramatically happen when the world realizes that this is a brand-new discovery and fills in that white spot on the map. An interest in tourism will absolutely follow,” Stockman said.

AlUla is part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy, increase tourism and raise its international profile.   

The city, in the Kingdom’s Madinah region, is home to 200,000 years of still largely unexplored human history, and plays a central role in its tourism strategy.

The panel discussed ways to ensure that the living museum fosters the changes that the Kingdom desires.

Director of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery Eike Schmidt agreed that there was an opportunity to discover the ancient city and its wonders that many people did not yet know about.

“If we look at AlUla, I think we have a huge opportunity here because it is still for many people . . . a relatively white spot on the map that needs to be filled,” Schmidt said.

The director praised the Kingdom’s dedicated efforts to make the cultural site a center of scholarship and to place the people of AlUla at the core of the city.

“I already know about this wonderful project to make it a center of scholarship and of the communication of arts, and not just of the time period but far beyond that. So I think I can only congratulate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to have undertaken this wonderful project and to bring it along,” Schmidt said. 

Scientific Director at the French Agency for AlUla Development (Afalula) Jean Francois Charnier was also keen for the world to learn about the “regional and international hub of influence” and place it back on the world’s map.

“This small city of AlUla was a door, a crossroad of cultural civilization around the world. We have to talk about that, we have to replace AlUla on the map of the world’s history,” Charnier said.

“The living museum is a wonderful gathering of exceptional assets. AlUla is already a living museum, an open-air living museum,” the scientific director said. “Currently more than 100 archaeologists are working on the site and it’s now the biggest archaeological cluster of the Middle East.”

Charnier detailed the scale of expertise involved in bringing alive the history of the cultural city. “There are not only archaeologists, there are anthropologists, biologists, archaeozoologists, archaeobotanists. We are here writing the narratives, writing the history of the place, and this narrative will also be the roots and the narrative of the assets and the museum.”

Director of EPFL Pavilions Professor Sarah Kenderdine highlighted the significance of the archaeological programs at AlUla and the Kingdoms Institute.

The Kingdoms Institute is dedicated to the study of the history and prehistory of the Arabian Peninsula and is committed to becoming a world-class scientific center for archaeological and conservation research.

“The archaeological programs at AlUla and the Kingdoms Institute are so important; already the archaeological surveys are vast and complex and they cover 22,000 square kilometers of archaeological materials, including the oldest dog in the world. Researchers have found this dog’s bones in the burial site and that’s one of the earliest monumental tombs identified in Arabia,” Kenderdine said. 

“Therefore, AlUla plays this really pivotal role in the development of humankind across the Middle East and a global team is working at the Kingdoms Institute to give us the bridge that allows us to walk into deep time. The essence of historical consciousness is not just remembering what we see of their past, but also what we see in the present, and this link with the present is so vital at AlUla and it’s embodied in this rich vision for the living museum,” she said.


Young winners of Saudi tech challenge receive awards from Makkah governor

Young winners of Saudi tech challenge receive awards from Makkah governor
Updated 15 June 2021

Young winners of Saudi tech challenge receive awards from Makkah governor

Young winners of Saudi tech challenge receive awards from Makkah governor
  • As part of the Makkah Region Projects Digital Exhibition, students were tasked with developing ideas for projects to support digital transformation in Kingdom and beyond

JEDDAH: Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, the governor of Makkah region, on Monday presented awards to six winners of the Makkah Days for Programming and Artificial Intelligence contest.

The two-day event, which began on Sunday, is one of the leading initiatives of the Makkah Cultural Forum’s current season. It brought together more than 90 male and female students in 30 teams from 11 universities and colleges in the region.

Saad Al-Qarni, CEO of the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA) Academy, said that in recognition of the winners’ abilities, and in an effort to encourage and promote young talent, the authority will offer them support, training and jobs.

He added that the SDAIA is proud to be a strategic partner of a competition that aims to motivate young people to enhance their knowledge and make the most of their studies by developing innovative ideas for projects that can serve their country.

Under the theme of how to set an example in the digital world, the students were tasked with developing ideas for applications and programs to support digital transformation in the Kingdom and beyond in the fields of Hajj and Umrah, tourism, entertainment and other services.

The contest was part of the week-long Makkah Region Projects Digital Exhibition which opened on June 9 at the Jeddah Super Dome. To help them develop their ideas, the teams of students took part in panel discussions and seminars with experts covering a variety of topics.

For example, the session E-commerce: From Idea to Implementation looked at ways to introduce and enhance e-commerce, and increase its use as part of the shift toward virtual shopping.

Another session offered an introduction to the use of the Python programming language, which has become a popular option because it is considered easier to learn and use than many other languages.


Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children

Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children
The game targets children aged between five and 11 and consists of four levels lasting 15 to 20 minutes each. Players can still play, interact with characters, and complete tasks after the game is over. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 15 June 2021

Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children

Jeddah-based studio making online gaming educational for children
  • Hakawati offers alternatives inspired by Arab culture, history, and language

JEDDAH: Many parents worry over their children’s screen time and gaming habits, and debates over the damaging effects of video and online games on mental health, behavior and cognitive functioning have become a staple of social conversations.

The Jeddah-based game development studio Hakawati was set up to offer alternative educational games for Arab children inspired by their culture, history, and language, while also encouraging them to raise their aspirations.
“We cannot prevent children from playing games. Parents can no longer do that,” Hakawati founder Abdullah Ba Mashmos told Arab News. “So, offering a good alternative is the best solution.”
Ba Mashmos said that keeping children busy with games also offers parents time to relax. Trying to wean off children from playing games on their devices is impossible and tiresome.
As children’s experience with the world becomes increasingly virtual, the potential harm posed by violence in online games is a major concern for Ba Mashmos and his team.
“We oppose any manifestations of violence in games,” he said. “Entertainment does not need to be violent.”
Hundreds of media reports, posts, and videos calling on parents to pay attention to their children’s online gaming activities are circulating almost daily among parents across the region.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Through stories narrated in Arabic within the game, Hakawati is bridging the scientific heritage of Arabic culture with the present.

• The interactive storytelling game takes players on a series of adventures in a safe environment.

• Hakawati is encouraging children to explore their identity and learn new things about themselves and their culture.

These warning messages invariably spike after a tragic story related to popular video games finds its way to the media.
One of the latest stories to go viral concerned a 12-year-old Egyptian boy who died from a heart attack while playing an online game known as PUBG for hours without rest.
However, many parents worry constantly about their children spending too much time playing games on screens.

We oppose any manifestations of violence in games.

Abdullah Ba Mashmos, Hakawati founder

Screen time is often seen as harmfully addictive, triggering concerns about children’s physical and social health, as well as youth suicide, family violence, and bullying.
With experience in teaching game development and programming, Ba Mashmos said that he has seen how easily online games can normalize aggressive language among children.
Hakawati Game, the fledgling studio’s first offering, is expected to be released by the end of 2021. However, a demo version is available for free.
The interactive storytelling game takes players on a series of adventures in a safe and culturally inspired environment alongside original Arabic-speaking characters.
Ba Mashmos said that the studio aims to educate, strengthen values and spark curiosity in the young by helping them develop their creativity, strategic thinking, problem-solving, and research skills.
“In this game, we focus on values, Arabic language, and science,” he said, “We want to promote science among children.”

The talented team behind the idea, which aims to offer a safe alternative to violent online games.

Through stories narrated in Arabic within the game, Hakawati is bridging the scientific heritage of Arabic culture with the present by introducing influential Arab scientists from history, enhancing the player’s interaction with the Arabic language through the characters, their names, and their sophisticated backstories.
Ba Mashmos said that scientists used to be portrayed in films and cartoons as obsessive, introverted nerds who lacked social skills.
Hakawati wants to promote a more realistic and inspirational view of science among children. “We want them to understand that well-educated people are the ones who can do great things,” he said.
The game targets children aged between five and 11 and consists of four levels lasting 15 to 20 minutes each. Players can still play, interact with characters, and complete tasks after the game is over.
By creating an original game that matches children’s reality, Hakawati is encouraging children to explore their identity and learn new things about themselves and their culture.
“We are a community of scientists, ambitious and smart people, and we want to erase all kinds of negative stereotypes,” Ba Mashmos said.
The game also promotes diversity and inclusivity.
“Diversity was another major focus when developing our characters. We brought characters from different backgrounds and races with a special focus on the Arab region,” he said. “We also made sure to represent disabilities.”
Hakawati (@HakawatiAR) is believed to be the only studio in the Kingdom focused on developing games solely for children.  
Although game development is still in its infancy in Saudi Arabia, Ba Mashmos believes that his young and diverse team of different nationalities and backgrounds will help the studio prosper.
Hakawati’s developers, software engineers, designers, and artificial intelligence specialists are all based in Saudi Arabia, he said.
The studio relies mainly on and invests in Saudi-based talents, whether in building their team or allowing young members of the Saudi development, design, and animation community to take part in their work when needed.
Hakawati’s biggest goal is to be a Middle East pioneer in game development for children and also expand its audience around the world.
“Our biggest challenge is time — games and development take a lot of our time. At the same time challenges are also increasing quickly.”
Hakawati took part in MITEF Saudi Arabia this year, a program organized by MIT Enterprise Forum in collaboration with Bab Rizq Jameel, and was were among 15 semifinalists out of over 500 startup applicants.
The studio also among finalists competing at the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator staged by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.


Saudi Arabia launches health facility in Al-Mahra

Saudi Arabia launches health facility in Al-Mahra
SDRPY launches health facility in Al-Mahra. (SPA)
Updated 15 June 2021

Saudi Arabia launches health facility in Al-Mahra

Saudi Arabia launches health facility in Al-Mahra
  • SDRPY focuses on seven key sectors: Agriculture and fisheries, health, water, education, energy, transportation, and government and public sector infrastructure

AL-MAHRA: The Saudi Development and Reconstruction Program for Yemen (SDRPY) on Monday officially opened the Operations and Intensive Care Center in Al-Mahra governorate in Yemen.
The health facility will cater to the healthcare needs of the governorate’s population and it is equipped with all facilities to attend to emergency cases and treat people with chronic disease.
At the opening ceremony, Yemeni Health Minister Dr. Qassem Buhaibah thanked Saudi Arabia for its support of Yemen through different initiatives.
“We in the health sector consider the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the first supporter of this sector,” he said. SDRPY focuses on seven key sectors: Agriculture and fisheries, health, water, education, energy, transportation, and government and public sector infrastructure.