New discovery shines light on Saudi Arabia’s ancient marine environment

The story of the origin of whales involves their evolution from a terrestrial ancestor, from where they adapted into a semi-aquatic marine inhibitor. (Supplied)
The story of the origin of whales involves their evolution from a terrestrial ancestor, from where they adapted into a semi-aquatic marine inhibitor. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 July 2021

New discovery shines light on Saudi Arabia’s ancient marine environment

The story of the origin of whales involves their evolution from a terrestrial ancestor, from where they adapted into a semi-aquatic marine inhibitor. (Supplied)
  • The findings include a graveyard of fossilized whalebones in the Saudi Arabia’s Jouf region

JEDDAH: The discovery of the fossilized remains of an ancient whale that went extinct 37 million years ago in Saudi Arabia’s Jouf region has revealed secrets about the Kingdom’s geology and ancient marine environments.

The findings, made public on June 29, include a graveyard of fossilized whalebones that were uncovered by a group of eight local and international geologists and paleontologists.
A Saudi Geological Survey (SGS) team has taken credit for the discovery, which has been hailed as highly significant to science. The fossilized whale was found in an area filled with sandy and rocky mountains belonging to the Priabonian period, known as Upper Eocene Era, which dates back 37 million years.
The discovery will shine light on the geographical distribution of ancient marine mammals in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

FASTFACTS

• The mammal is a small-sized whale measuring about three meters long.

• Fully aquatic, with an elongated body, the tail may have evolved a fluke, and it has a serpentine-like body motion.

In an interview with Iyad Zalmout, a US paleontology and geology technical adviser for the Saudi Geological Survey, and one of architects of the discovery, he told Arab News that the animal belongs to a rare species of archaic whale that is categorized under the extinct family archaeocetes.
The bone discovery includes a complete articulated vertebral column from the end of the tail to the upper chest, articulated forelimbs and shoulder blades, ribs, as well as parts of the skull and lower jaws.
Zalmout told Arab News: “This is one of the more derived whales than its earlier clans in having reduced rear limbs, forelimbs that are flattened to be more and less flip-like, a shortened neck, elongation of the trunk and a tail that is transformed into a fluke. The most important feature can be found in the skull, which shows very notable retreats of the nasal bones toward the forehead, and the reduction in the complexity of carnivorous-like cheek teeth.
“This new whale is similar in size and morphology to the partial skeleton of a small whale found back in 1902 and later in 1991 in the western desert of Egypt, called Stromerius nidensis. It was collected from the Upper Eocene rocks of the Fayum region. However, the new material from Saudi Arabia is more complete and will add more information to this group of whales,” he added. “At any rate, this whale is the smallest form of this whale family, half or maybe one-third the size of the Dorudon atrox.”
The mammal is a small-sized whale that measures about three meters long. Fully aquatic, with an elongated body, the tail may have evolved a fluke, and it has a serpentine-like body motion.
Scientists say that it would have weighed between 500 and 600 kilograms. “The weight is based on one specimen and rescaled from other whales found in the same geological time around the world,” Zalmout said.
The fossil was discovered in the Al-Rashrashiyah cliffs, a few kilometers north of the Qurayyat governorate, in the Kingdom’s northwest region near the Jordanian border.

DISCOVERIESIN KSA

• Discovery of Saadanius hijazensis. (2009-2010)

• Cretaceous dinosaur remains from the Tabuk region in 2014

• The discovery of the oldest human remains (85,000 years old) in Saudi Arabia from the ancient Al-Wusta lake in the Nafud Desert (2016-2018)

• The discovery of the Nafud extinct elephant (600,000 years old) (2014-2021)

Zalmout said that the area where the discovery was made is known to have high levels of rainwater accumulations, as “the fossil itself came from calcareous bituminous chalk and marl foothills.”
The Kingdom’s deserts are likely to contain many more aquatic mammal fossils, according to Zalmout.
“Whales and sea cows should be there, wherever Eocene and younger marine sediments are exposed. We have several Middle and Late Eocene rock units and formations exposed in Saudi Arabia (the Al-Rashrashiyah formation is one of these), and I am sure if you look and prospect carefully in these sediments, you will find marine mammals. According to my recollection, whales (archaeocetes) and sea cows (sirenians) were the only marine mammals that lived in the Eocene.”

Evolutionary timeline
The story of the origin of whales involves their evolution from a terrestrial ancestor, from where they adapted into a semi-aquatic marine inhibitor, and finally became fully aquatic.
Zalmout explained the three scenarios of marine mammal adaptation. “This history of great transformation and adaptation into fully aquatic life is a spectacular example of change, due to climatic change, which affects the surrounding ecosystems and the environments, and in turn will affect the food and reproduction cycle in these marine occupants.




The fossil was discovered in the Al-Rashrashiyah cliffs, a few kilometers north of the Qurayyat governorate.

“This may drive these animals through a number of different scenarios, including extinction, change of habitats and feeding behaviors and sources through adaptation, but not full adaption into marine life, and then finally going fully aquatic.”
He added: “I think marine mammals went through all three scenarios. Some early forms showed by the early Eocene quickly went extinct, some survived into semi-aquatic lives, and most of the living form whales are fully aquatic and will not return to land unless for a final destiny.”
The new discovery is the only Eocene whale discovered in the form of an almost complete skeleton in the Kingdom, Zalmout said.
“The SGS paleontology team is very optimistic that this will be a complete skeleton and will make appealing scientific research, and replicas of its skeleton will be displayed in local and international museums around the world.”
He added: “We are greatly thankful for the newly appointed SGS CEO Abdullah Al-Shamrani, and the past presidents for their effort and support to study the deep history of the Kingdom.”
The SGS is a specialized Saudi governmental agency empowered by an experienced and skilled paleontology team. Equipment, tools, and material used in SGS paleontology laboratories combine traditional paleontology methods and more advanced technology.
The group has contributed to several groundbreaking discoveries in paleontology in the past 15 years with the help of experienced local and international paleontology advisers, and scientific societies, including the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and the Paleontological Society.


Saudi education minister, Egyptian envoy discuss cooperation

Saudi education minister, Egyptian envoy discuss cooperation
Updated 22 sec ago

Saudi education minister, Egyptian envoy discuss cooperation

Saudi education minister, Egyptian envoy discuss cooperation

RIYADH: Saudi Education Minister Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Sheikh met with the Egyptian Ambassador to the Kingdom, Ahmed Farouk Tawfiq, to enhance joint cooperation between the two countries in the education field.
The two sides also discussed the development of scientific and research partnerships between the countries’ universities along with the exchange of expertise and experiences in educational technologies.
The talks focused on joint cooperation between the Kingdom and Egypt in educational programs and ways to benefit from the development plans and programs implemented by educational institutions in both countries.
Saudi Ministry of Education’s undersecretary for international cooperation, Saleh Al-Qassumi, undersecretary for public education, Mohammed Al-Muqbil, undersecretary for university education, Mohammed Al-Adib, general supervisor of the general administration of media and communication, Ahmed Al-Jumaiyah, and supervisor of the public relations department, Saleh Al-Thubaiti, also attended the meeting.


Pilgrim services in the spotlight at GITEX Dubai

Pilgrim services in the spotlight at GITEX Dubai
Updated 3 min 26 sec ago

Pilgrim services in the spotlight at GITEX Dubai

Pilgrim services in the spotlight at GITEX Dubai

DUBAI: As part of the Saudi Ministry of Interior’s pavilion at GITEX Technology Week 2021 in Dubai this week, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah showcased the state-of-the-art technologies it employs to deliver the services the Kingdom provides to pilgrims and other visitors.
They include artificial intelligence technologies that are used as part of the ministry’s digital platform to help pilgrims.
They access the platform using smart cards that contain key information, including the details of their visit and medical data. This is used to organize their journeys.
The ministry’s aim in adopting the latest technology is to provide upgraded services and develop the work of the pilgrim-services system as a whole.


Top KSrelief official represents Saudi Arabia at Geneva talks

Top KSrelief official represents Saudi Arabia at Geneva talks
Updated 7 min 14 sec ago

Top KSrelief official represents Saudi Arabia at Geneva talks

Top KSrelief official represents Saudi Arabia at Geneva talks

GENEVA: King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center Assistant Supervisor General for Planning and Development Aqeel Al-Ghamdi said Saudi Arabia is fully prepared to share its experiences regarding humanitarian and relief issues with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 
Al-Ghamdi represented the Kingdom at a meeting of donor countries of the UN OCHA held in Geneva on Wednesday in order to develop and support humanitarian efforts.

At the meeting, a report from the Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network, known as MOPAN, on the performance of the UN OCHA was also discussed. 
Al-Ghamdi thanked MOPAN for preparing the report as Saudi Arabia viewed it as a positive step to support the office and address the challenges facing the implementation of humanitarian initiatives.


Saudi Arabia launches nationwide search for talented students

Saudi Arabia launches nationwide search for talented students
Updated 14 min 29 sec ago

Saudi Arabia launches nationwide search for talented students

Saudi Arabia launches nationwide search for talented students
  • National Project for Gifted Identification targets students from third to 11th grade and started on Wednesday in various regions of the Kingdom
  • Strategic partnership between Mawhiba and Ministry of Education pays off as innovative projects continue for a 12th consecutive year

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has launched a nationwide search for talent, pursuing its strong belief in the role creative and innovative youth can play in the country’s development and prosperity.

The 12th annual National Project for Gifted Identification started on Wednesday in various regions of the Kingdom and includes students from third to 11th grade.

The inauguration ceremony was held at the headquarters of the Mawhiba Foundation. It also marked the launch of the largest annual trip in Saudi Arabia to discover gifted and talented students in scientific fields from various regions of the Kingdom through the Mawhiba Foundation.

The launch was also a result of a strategic partnership between the Ministry of Education and the ETEC.

The launch took place under the patronage of Education Minister Hamad bin Mohammed Al Al-Sheikh. Saud bin Saeed Al-Mathami, secretary-general of King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba), Saad Al-Fuhaid, acting deputy minister of education, and Abdullah Al-Qatai, executive director of the National Center for Assessment — known as Qiyas — which is an affiliate center of the Education and Training Evaluation Commission, were also present at the event.

“The wise leadership aspires a better future for its people,” Al-Mathami said.

“The leadership’s support for Mawhiba was a motive for not accepting anything other than the first place so that Saudi Arabia remains a reference and support for everyone who seeks to improve their performance in the field of talent and creativity.”

 

Acting Deputy Minister of Education, Dr. Saad Al-Fuhaid delivering his speech.

Al-Mathami highlighted Mawhiba’s keenness to build bridges of cooperation and partnership with its strategic success partners the Saudi Education Ministry and the ETEC.

“The National Project for Gifted Identification is a model for integrative work between state institutions,” he said.

“This model has worked through the strategic partnership between Mawhiba, the ministry of education and the ETEC-Qiyas, in discovering and nurturing talent in the Kingdom.”

Mawhiba has directed its goals toward investing in talented youths to develop them as future leaders who will be job creators and technology producers, Al-Mathami said. He added that the national program is one of the starting points for identifying gifted youths in addition to other identification measures.

Those measures include the Mawhoob Competition, an annual event that targets students from the sixth grade to 10th grade; the Kangaroo Mawhiba Math Competition, which targets students from the third grade to 12th grade; and the Bebras Mawhiba Informatics Competition, an international initiative that aims to promote computer science and computational thinking among school students of all ages.

The secretary-general said more than 630,000 male and female students have applied for the programs since Mawhiba was launched 11 years ago.

More than 430,000 of these applicants have been tested as more than 144,000 students qualified for the services of the programs, he said.

According to Al-Mathami, the number of applicants saw a significant increase since the national program started in 2011 as there was another notable rise seen in 2020.

The secretary-general said that Mawhiba succeeded in overcoming challenges such as curfews during the COVID-19 pandemic, making use of modern technology, and providing the students with the needed programs — all while keeping their safety as a top priority.

Al-Mathami said Saudi youths were able to win 53 prizes during the current year, which set the Kingdom’s overall score of international prizes to 453. He attributed the achievements to 20 enrichment programs, quality competitions, classrooms, and advanced curricula.

“Nurturing talent has a great impact on scientific and technological progress,” Al-Fuhaid said during the ceremony.

“Joint efforts have attracted talented inventors to develop their creative capabilities, resulting in a creative generation with new concepts and innovative ideas.”

Al-Qatai said that the national program for nurturing the talented is the most important investment in human resources.

“Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to invest in human resources,” he said. “Statistics that we see today are the best evidence of the quality of this kind of investment.”

Nazeeh Al-Othmani, Mawhiba’s deputy secretary-general for corporate relations and business development, said the talented students underwent various scientific enrichment programs during their nurturing process.

He told Arab News the programs provided to students depended on their scores on the Qiyas test, but all of them received the Mawhiba enrichment programs.

Students who are found to be talented underwent a special program, called “Student’s Trip,” which was designed for their needs and talents, Al-Othmani said.

The foundation provides enrichment programs in more than 20 scientific tracks, he said, as these include mechanical engineering, aviation, robots, electrical engineering, outer space, and more.

Al-Othmani said Mawhiba is the only institution in the world that offers talent identification programs while nurturing and empowering its members. The results are paying off as Mawhiba has won 83 prizes at the International Science and Engineering Fair, considered to be the largest science competition for students in the world.

“Mawhiba has set a unique global example,” he said.


Saudi Arabian entrepreneur brings a taste of Riyadh to the US with California Shawarma 

Saudi Arabian entrepreneur brings a taste of Riyadh to the US with California Shawarma 
Updated 59 min 6 sec ago

Saudi Arabian entrepreneur brings a taste of Riyadh to the US with California Shawarma 

Saudi Arabian entrepreneur brings a taste of Riyadh to the US with California Shawarma 
  • Food lover Azzam Alkraiji started his business after failing to find decent Shawarma in the US

ANAHEIM, United States: Every evening there’s a line of people around the block hungry for the delicious food at the Saudi owned and operated restaurant California Shawarma.

“I’ve heard a lot of good things about California Shawarma, so you know I’m very excited to give it a try,” customer Mossab Hammadi said.

After leaving college, Saudi entrepreneur and food lover Azzam Alkraiji, started a journey to begin sharing his favorite food with others after he realized he couldn’t find authentic shawarma in the US.

“So originally I decided to go back to Saudi Arabia because I mean I couldn’t find any way for it in the states,” Alkraiji shared. “So from a shawarma chef there I decide to learn it, and I learned it from him. Then we decide to come back to the states and start it here.”    

Alkraiji went on to work in professional kitchens and started a food truck, serving shawarma around Los Angeles and at major events such as National Saudi Day all to prepare for eventually opening his restaurant. He now runs California Shawarma in Anaheim, Southern California.

“People like our chicken shawarma because it's halal. It's very clean and fresh chicken, never frozen. We make sure it's high quality,” he said. “Also the other ingredients, the spices, anything we do for the shawarma. We make sure it’s high ingredient quality.”

“It just reminds me of the olden days when I would just go back home and visit,” Hammadi said when we checked in with him after his meal. 

“I would just go around and get the shawarma. That’s how it reminds me of. A lot of my friends do not believe that we actually have shawarma here, so I will tell them ‘no we definitely have shawarma here in the US.’”