The book that drew the world’s attention to Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric rock art 

Special The book that drew the world’s attention to Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric rock art 
Ancient rock art is Saudi Arabia’s greatest heritage treasure — and attests to a history of human culture that stretches back 10,000 years. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 November 2022

The book that drew the world’s attention to Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric rock art 

The book that drew the world’s attention to Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric rock art 
  • Rare first-edition copy of “Prehistoric Rock Art of Northern Saudi Arabia” was on sale at Sharjah International Book Fair
  • There was little or no recognition of the Kingdom’s ancient past before Majeed Khan’s book was published in 1993

LONDON: In May 1976, Majeed Khan, a young graduate of the University of Sindh, Pakistan, traveled to Saudi Arabia to join the Ministry of Tourism as an archaeological consultant, advising on the development of museums and the conduct of archaeological investigations in the country.

It was to prove an inspired appointment.

Back then, with Saudi Arabia riding the wave of the first great oil boom and focused necessarily on its rapidly evolving future, archaeology in the Kingdom was in its infancy.

But in Khan the country had found a champion for one of its greatest heritage treasures — ancient rock art, thousands of examples of which are strewn across the landscape and which attest to a history of human culture that stretches back 10,000 years.

Khan, who lives in Riyadh, and at the age of 80 still works as a consultant to the Ministry of Culture’s Antiquities Department, has devoted his entire working life to a subject that continues to fascinate and surprise him to this day.

He received another surprise last month when he learned that his seminal book, “Prehistoric Rock Art of Northern Saudi Arabia,” published by the Saudi Ministry of Education’s Department of Antiquities and Museums in 1993, was now considered a collector’s item.

A first-edition copy was offered for sale for £1,250 ($1,448) by a specialist London book dealer at the UAE’s Sharjah International Book Fair, which ran from Nov. 2 to 13.

That, Khan felt, was a lot of money. But on the other hand, “it was the first research book on rock art published in any Arab country,” he said. At the time it came out, “there was no rock art taught in any Saudi university and no real rock art research in Saudi Arabia.”

Furthermore, there was little or no recognition in the wider world of Saudi Arabia’s ancient past — a past that is now being embraced enthusiastically as the backbone of major tourism projects, such as AlUla and Diriyah, designed to bring in millions of visitors a year to the Kingdom.




A first-edition copy was offered for sale for £1,250 ($1,448) by a specialist London book dealer at the UAE’s Sharjah International Book Fair, which ran from Nov. 2 to 13. (Supplied)

For example, in the supposedly comprehensive 1998 Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art, published in 1998, there was not a single mention of Saudi Arabia — an oversight that would be dramatically exposed by Khan’s work.

To describe Khan as a pioneer in his field is to understate the impact he has had on the understanding of the extent and importance of the ancient past of the Kingdom.

Over the past four decades he has published dozens of research papers. The first, which he co-authored, was on “The Lower Miocene Fauna of Assarrar, Eastern Arabia,” published in Atlal, the Journal of Saudi Arabian Archaeology, in 1981.

His first book, which came out in 1993, shortly before his groundbreaking work on the prehistoric rock art of Saudi Arabia, was “The Origin and Evolution of Ancient Arabian Inscriptions,” also published by the Ministry of Education.

But it was to petroglyphs that he would devote the greater part of his energies, an academic commitment that in 2015 culminated in the rock art in the Hail region of Saudi Arabia being inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Along with two colleagues from the then-named Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, Jamal Omar and vice-president Prof. Ali Al-Ghabban, it was Khan’s name that appeared on the nomination text that saw the twin sites near Jubbah and Shuwaymis in the northern province of Hail recognized by UNESCO as being of “outstanding universal value.”




To describe Majeed Khan as a pioneer in his field is to understate. (Supplied)

As Khan told Arab News in January 2021, “it was for me the most emotional moment of my 40 years of research.”

Not that he is resting on his laurels. Hail is not the only region in Saudi Arabia where rock art can be found, and “these days I am working on the rock-art site of Hima, Najran, to see it, too, placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.”

There are more than 2,000 rock-art sites around Saudi Arabia. But the greatest concentration of Neolithic petroglyphs, or rock carvings, and the oldest known examples, dating back 10,000 years, is to be found in the north of the country at two sites 300 kilometers apart in the Hail Province.

The ancient forebears of today’s Saudis had no paper, pens, or written language with which to record their time on earth.

But with the rocks of their dramatic landscapes as their canvas, thousands of years ago the ancient peoples of the land that would become Saudi Arabia found a way to leave their mark on history, with an astonishing pictorial representation of a now forgotten world, painstakingly pecked, chiseled and engraved out of the sandstone rocks of the region.

The first of the two Hail sites is at Jabal Umm Sinman, a rocky outcrop to the west of the town of Jubbah, some 90 kilometers northwest of the city of Hail and 680 kilometers from the capital, Riyadh.

The town’s origins date back to the dawn of Arab civilization, when the hills of Umm Sinman overlooked a freshwater lake, which eventually would be lost beneath the sands of the surrounding Nefud desert some 6,000 years ago.

It was on these hills, in the words of the UNESCO nomination document co-authored by Khan, that the ancestors of today’s Saudi Arabians “left the marks of their presence, their religions, social, cultural, intellectual and philosophical perspectives of their beliefs about life and death, metaphysical and cosmological ideologies.”

The rock art of Jubbah, said Khan, “represented all phases of human presence from the Neolithic, 10,000 years before the present, until the recent past,” and reflected a time when the climate and landscape were very different from today.

Etched upon the rocks, often at mysteriously inaccessible heights, are the trappings of a lost world: A parade of dancers, long-forgotten gods and goddesses, mythological figures, half-human, half-beast, and animals including sheep, ibex, camels, horses, wolves, ostriches and — reflecting a time when prey roamed abundant on the once lush plains of Arabia — lions.

“The type of animals (pictured) suggested changes in climate and environment,” said Khan. “Large ox figures indicated a cool and humid climate, while the absence of ox figures and the appearance of camel petroglyphs represented hot and dry conditions.

FASTFACTS

• Sharjah International Book Fair began in 1982 to realize the vision of Dr. Sultan Al-Qasimi, ruler of the eponymous UAE emirate.

• The festival this year ran from Nov. 2 -13.

“Both at Jubbah and Shuwaymis this change in fauna and flora clearly represented gradual but drastic change in society and climate in the prehistoric and pre-Islamic era.”

Importantly, he said, similarities in themes and depictions in other parts of the world, including Africa, India, Australia, Europe and America, showed that “Saudi Arabia was part of world heritage and cultural traditions.”

Like other peoples around the world, “ancient Arab artists were drawing the animals with which they were living and depicting their social activities, like dancing and religious rituals.”

The second of the twin Hail sites is at Jabal Al-Manjor and Raat, 220 kilometers southwest of Jubbah near the village of Shuwaymis. Remarkably, its treasures were discovered only 20 years ago, a remarkable story in which, naturally, Khan played a leading role.

In 2002, Aramco World, the magazine of the Saudi national oil company, reported that in March the previous year a bedouin grazing his camels had stumbled on strange marks on a remote cluster of rocks. He happened to mention his find to a teacher from the local town of Shuwaymis. He alerted the authorities and they called in Khan.

“Yes, the story is correct,” Khan said. “I met both the bedouin and Mr. Saad Rawsan, the director of archaeology in the Hail region, who took us to the sites for further investigations and research.”

Together, he discovered, the twin sites told the story of over 9,000 years of human history, from the earliest pictorial records of hunting to the development of writing, religion and the domestication of animals including cattle, horses and camels.

As the UNESCO documents record, these sites justify their inscription on the World Heritage List because they feature “large numbers of petroglyphs of exceptional quality attributed to between 6,000 and 9,000 years of human history, followed in the last 3,000 years by very early development of writing that reflects the bedouin culture, ending in Qur’anic verses.”

Furthermore, the Jubbah and Shuwaymis sites comprise “the world’s largest and most magnificent surviving corpus of Neolithic petroglyphs.”

Neolithic rock art is found at many locations across Eurasia and North Africa, “but nowhere in such dense concentration or with such consistently high visual quality” as in this remote part of northwestern Saudi Arabia.

Peter Harrington, the London specialist book dealer that brought Khan’s book to Sharjah for the book fair, described it as “a pioneering monograph ... the first and sole edition of this seminal work, which addresses a hitherto neglected subject, challenges the received wisdom that influences in rock art in the region originated from Mesopotamia, the Levant, and the Nile Valley, helped to put the Kingdom’s ancient past on the map of modern knowledge, and paved the way to the listing in 2015 of the rock art of the Hail region as a UNESCO World Heritage site.”

“I am extremely surprised to see the cost of my book,” Khan said after Arab News broke the news to him of the price being asked for the out-of-print volume at the Sharjah International Book Fair, although he had some news of his own.

“The ministry is printing it again.”

That, however, is unlikely to prove a deterrent for collectors always keen to snap up rare first editions of books dealing with the region’s history — and there are few histories as fascinating as that of the rock art of Saudi Arabia, and few books as significant in the growing appreciation of the Kingdom’s past as Khan’s 30-year-old volume.


HRDF redesigns support programs to keep pace with labor-market changes

HRDF redesigns support programs to keep pace with labor-market changes
Updated 12 sec ago

HRDF redesigns support programs to keep pace with labor-market changes

HRDF redesigns support programs to keep pace with labor-market changes

RIYADH: The Human Resources Development Fund announced on Sunday that it has redesigned its support programs under its three main pillars of guidance, training and empowerment.

The HRDF’s eight programs are now training support, work-based training, e-training, vocational guidance, functional alignment, income support, empowerment, and jobseekers assistance. 

The revamp is part of the HRDF’s new strategy, which is based on three key objectives: supporting the development of human resources in line with the needs of the labor market, increasing the efficiency of matching supply and demand for jobs, and enabling groups facing challenges to enter, or remain in, the labor market.

In an earlier statement, the HRDF explained that the new strategy will strengthen and develop its relationship with the private sector as a “key pillar to promoting development and achieving sustainability through cooperation in various areas that serve the labor market and contribute to its growth and prosperity.”

The statement continued: “We have been eager to develop our strategy, programs, and services to maintain continuous communication with business sector members.” 

According to data from the National Labor Observatory, the HRDF supported the employment of 277,000 Saudis in private sector facilities during the first nine months of 2022 at a cost of SR3.75 billion ($997.4 million).

Oqab Al-Thaqafi, an HR expert, noted that localization is one of the primary goals of Saudi Vision 2030.

“We have a large number of young Saudis who want to be a part of the transformation led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” Al-Thaqafi noted. “Human resources are both a critical asset and a critical challenge in Saudi Arabia. The market (for Saudi talent) is quite competitive, which has resulted in an increased turnover in several areas in which Saudis have already reached the required level.

“Many jobs demand competitive talents rather than a specialized degree. These skills can be discovered after we have adequate programs in place,” he said.

Fuad Fallatah, a former recruiting adviser at “national labor gateway” TAQAT, said, “Human resources officers and executive directors must sustain staff” to avoid job burnout.

“It is critical for businesses to organize workshops for their employees and provide incentives to measure the impact of workshops on the quality of staff performance,” he said, noting that one option for developing staff performance was to rotate them carefully so that each employee had appropriate knowledge and skills in more than one section.

Fallatah believes that current employees should not rely on specific skills but should “constantly develop skills and take advantage of colleagues’ experiences, in addition to developing skills of their own and this should be reflected in the enterprise’s growth.”

Fallatah encouraged job seekers to research the requirements of the labor market and consider how they can increase their professional value through learning and personal development.


People with disabilities take the stage at Gulf Theatre Festival

People with disabilities take the stage at Gulf Theatre Festival
Updated 48 min 59 sec ago

People with disabilities take the stage at Gulf Theatre Festival

People with disabilities take the stage at Gulf Theatre Festival
  • Ahmad bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi said: “The initiatives, programs and projects offered to people with disabilities in the Kingdom reflect our wise leadership’s interest in this group … and the achievement of equal opportunities for them”

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is currently hosting the sixth Gulf Theater Festival for People with Disabilities at the Princess Noura bint Abdulrahman University Conference Center in Riyadh.

The nine-day festival, organized by the Authority for Persons with Disabilities, began on Friday, Dec. 2 and will feature six theatrical performances from the GCC alongside interactive events and theater workshops.

Eng. Ahmad bin Sulaiman AlRajhi, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, caressing a child with disability during the opening ceremony of the Sixth Gulf Theater Festival for People with Disabilities organized by the Authority of People with Disabilities in Riyadh. (SPA)

The festival aims to promote inclusivity, and boost awareness, of people with disabilities.

Ahmad bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi, minister of human resources and social development, said: “The initiatives, programs and projects offered to people with disabilities in the Kingdom reflect our wise leadership’s interest in this group … and the achievement of equal opportunities for them.”  

The Kingdom is hosting this session for the first time, with the aim of discovering and developing the talents of our sons and daughters with disabilities in the GCC in the fields of arts and increasing their participation in cultural events.

Ahmad Al-Rajhi, Saudi minister of human resources and social development

He added: “The Kingdom is hosting this session for the first time, with the aim of discovering and developing the talents of our sons and daughters with disabilities in the GCC in the fields of arts and increasing their participation in cultural events.”

Alanoud Alfaqeer, the supervisor of the sixth Gulf Theatre Festival for People with Disabilities, General Manager of Partnerships and Cooperations at APD. (Supplied)

Alanoud Al-Faqeer, the supervisor of the festival, said: “Theater is one of the mechanisms through which the awareness of the public can be raised. Theater helps showcase talents and motivate people with disabilities to integrate into society.”

“Saudi Arabia welcomes all people with disabilities … all arrangements have been made to contribute to the festival’s success and provide support to all participants to showcase their performances in an amazing manner,” she added.

The director of the executive office of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Dr. Amer Al-Hajri, called for greater efforts to empower people with disabilities by providing them with appropriate opportunities of all kinds to show their talents.

 


Saudi culture, ‘generous’ people major attraction for Polish family

Saudi culture, ‘generous’ people major attraction for Polish family
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi culture, ‘generous’ people major attraction for Polish family

Saudi culture, ‘generous’ people major attraction for Polish family
  • Paweł Juchniewicz has 2 locals as best friends
  • Enjoys wearing national dress, visiting old sites

RIYADH: A Polish man and his family have developed a considerable affinity to Saudi Arabian culture, particularly the country’s language and historical sites.

Polish national Paweł Juchniewicz, who recently attended a camel show with his family, said that he enjoys visiting two of his best friends who are Saudis.

Juchniewicz was invited to the festival by Abdulaziz Al-Otaibi, a young Saudi whom he befriended in 2018. “Several weeks ago, he invited me to visit the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival. I welcomed the idea because I love getting to know new places related to traditions, in addition to establishing business contacts,” Juchniewicz told Arab News.

“At the festival I saw, for the first time, many wonderful camels that are not popular in Europe. They are very beautiful animals and I learned a lot of interesting facts about the Hagen camels racing business.

“Arabs have used camels for different purposes such as riding, during combat, movement, as well as for transporting water and in farming. My family and I are pleased with the visit where we learned about the ancient culture,” he said.

Juchniewicz said he was “amazed” by the organization of the event in a desert area where there are paved roads, markets and uninterrupted internet access.

This was his fourth visit to the Kingdom since 2018, but he has hosted many Saudis in Poland from 2012. “For 10 years I have been helping Saudis who come to Poland for treatment, work or tourism purposes. I can say that two of my best friends are from Saudi Arabia,” he said.

One of Juchniewicz’s best friends is Abdullah Al-Ghosson whom he met in 2012, when the latter was just 17 years old and in Poland for rehabilitation. “I helped him … showed him Poland, taught him about life and Europe and he taught me Arabic words and (the) language.”

Together, the duo visited Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE. “He is a very strong Saudi man as he wasn’t able to walk since birth, but he has (shown) other people with disabilities how to live a normal live in a wheelchair. He is also a businessman as he sells the best honey in Saudi Arabia produced by his family.”

In the Kingdom, Juchniewicz and his family have visited many sites and institutions including the historic Masmak Fortress, the Riyadh Center for Cultural Heritage, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, in Dhahran, the Buraidah Winter Festival, and the Al-Musawkaf Market in Unaizah.

“During my recent stay in Saudi Arabia during the month of Ramadan in May 2022, I wore traditional clothes on a daily basis. I attended feasts and visited a mosque. I really like wearing Saudi clothes.”

Juchniewicz said his wife and children are similarly in awe of the Kingdom’s culture. “I love the Arabic language very much. I love greetings such as ‘asalamu aleikum,’ ‘sabah alkhayr,’ and marhaba.’ I also like vocabulary of a religious nature such as ‘insha’Allah’ or ‘alhamdulilah.’ I love people’s respect for each other and I love hearty food and great Saudi cuisine.”

“Saudi people are open minded, friendly, love to help people, and have a desire to learn about other cultures around the world, they are very generous. Here, I met many learned people, but even the simple ones were kind, I like people who stick to tradition a lot,” he said.

Juchniewicz feels “comfortable and safe” in Saudi Arabia where he has “lots of friends.”

“I was (at) the Saudi-Polish match in Qatar and despite the loss, the Saudis were very polite to my family. I have met people I didn’t know on the border with Qatar, they invited me to visit Alkhobar (in eastern Saudi Arabia) for dinner,” he said.


Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action
Updated 03 December 2022

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action

Best-selling Saudi novel ‘HWJN’ turns into live action
  • The idea of adapting the novel has been tickling the ambitious mind of the producer-turned-director Yasir Al-Yasiri after he was gifted the book in 2017 by his friend, Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari

JEDDAH: A panel discussion was held today in Jeddah during the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, titled “Hawjan: From the Novel to the Screen,” to shed light on the journey of transforming the best-selling novel “HWJN” into a movie.

From written words to the screen, the speakers explained the success of the famous fantasy novel and the complexities of transforming it for the big screen.

The book, pronounced Hawjan, was the number one best-selling novel in the history of Saudi Arabia when released in 2013. It is the first book of a series of metaphysical and supernatural novels that depict the results of interacting with the unknown realm of the jinn, which co-exists with the human world.

Translator Yasser Bahjatt, Actress Al Anood Saud, Director Yasir Al-Yasiri, Actress Nour  Khadra, Actor Baraa Alem. (AN photo)

Written by Ibraheem Abbas and translated into English by Yasser Bahjatt, the action-romance story details the interaction of two worlds and the unity of two different species to stop the evil of their worlds from slipping into each other.

It also sheds light on good jinns and shows the world from their perspective, with humans haunting their homes, and shows how some humans are more evil to each other than jinn are to them.

The idea of adapting the novel has been tickling the ambitious mind of the producer-turned-director Yasir Al-Yasiri after he was gifted the book in 2017 by his friend, Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari.

At first, Al-Yasiri did not take an interest in the book, until his friend insisted he reads it. “I read it overnight and I was actually like: Woah, this is something I want to work on,” said Al-Yasiri in a press release at The Ritz-Carlton Jeddah on Saturday.

He added that he decided to work on it because it “tackles a genre that is rarely addressed in the Arab world” and to “break the norm and bring something fresh.”

The two men immediately started working on the script and started the casting and filming process in 2018 with Al-Ansari as a director and Al-Yasiri as a producer. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic restricted Al-Ansari from coming to Saudi Arabia, leading Al-Yasiri to become the director, and he proceeded with filming.

The story introduces Sawsan, a medical student from the world of humans, and Hawjan, a curious man from the realm of the jinn, which humankind cannot see. The jinn man takes an interest in knowing Sawsan and her family after they move to a new house, where Hawjan and his family have been living for years.

While trying to maintain the boundaries between his life in both worlds, Hawjan discovers that he comes from a royal bloodline and tries to reclaim his right to the throne.

The script, written by both Al-Ansari and Al-Yasiri, ensures that the story has the necessary changes for the screen, but does not drift away from the book.

One of the biggest challenges the crew faced was creating a city that exists in the jinn world —Milaj City, which no human has seen. Al-Yasiri said they had to bear in mind the civilizational scenery of the jinn world, which existed before humans.

Casting the actors was a bit tricky, trying to find characters in the actors rather than actors who could portray them. This led to the casting of the brilliant Saudi actor Baraa Alem as Hawjan, Nour Khadra as Sawsan, Nayef Al-Dhufary as Zanan, and Al-Anood Saud as Jamara.

As the book became a major hit in 2013, the publishing houses were ordered by the religious police to stop selling it 11 months after its release, as it stirred controversy among parents who started complaining that their children were learning black magic, and how to call upon jinn.

One month later, the book was back on shelves after the editors, and the reviewing committee, made sure it was clear of the claims.

A teaser trailer was released earlier today by Vox Cinema, giving a glimpse into the world created by Al-Yasiri. Produced by Image Nation, MBC, and Vox Cinema, the movie will be out in 2023.

 


Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch

Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch
Updated 03 December 2022

Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch

Asir governor, ministers attend Aseer Investment Forum launch
  • The forum seeks to achieve the national strategic investment goals by attracting investments to the promising sectors, namely tourism, agriculture and sports

ABHA: Asir Gov. Prince Turki bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, who also heads the region’s development authority, sponsored the launch of the Aseer Investment Forum at King Khalid University in Al-Qaraa on Saturday.

The ceremony saw the participation of Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih and Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb, along with  Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization Zurab Pololikashvili.

In his opening speech, Prince Turki said: “The Asir region is of great interest to the wise leadership and benefits from its continuous support to promote all of the developmental projects and underline its strong points and uniqueness in all its fields. The forum was held after the region’s infrastructural development was completed and the economic studies, which will provide accurate information regarding the investment opportunities, were conducted.

“The forum seeks to achieve the national strategic investment goals by attracting investments to the promising sectors, namely tourism, agriculture and sports. These sectors would, in their turn, contribute to the achievement of the objectives of Asir’s development strategy, stimulate local and foreign direct investments and turn the region into a global tourist destination all year round, while also expanding the investment radius to cover all of the region’s provinces, characterized by the diversity of their environments,” he added.

Al-Khateeb stressed the leadership’s keenness to develop the Kingdom’s tourism sector, utilize the attraction elements and benefit from available opportunities by raising the sector’s contribution to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product from 3 to 10 percent. “The launch of Asir’s strategy has helped the ministry implement several of its initiatives and projects, which are aimed at developing the tourism sector as well as locally and internationally promoting the region’s tourism sector,” he said.

“The Kingdom has allocated SR450 million ($119.7 million) to train 100,000 young Saudi men and women with the aim of providing tourism facilities with trained employees. More than 70,000 young men and women have received the necessary training, including 7,000 who were sent abroad to be trained according to international standards,” he added.

Al-Falih said that “the ministry is working to support economic projects in Asir and encourage businessmen to establish services and tourism projects in order to develop the region and stimulate investments through the privatization and partnership system in place between the private and public sectors.

“The ministry is also keen to receive suggestions, listen to the investors and work on resolving all the difficulties they might face,” he added, lauding Asir’s strategy for “what it has achieved in terms of establishing an investor-attracting environment, inviting the investors and providing them with all the information and data that would help them set the region’s investment compass.”

Pololikashvili commended the Kingdom for “the qualitative leaps it has achieved when it comes to tourism, developing tourist destinations and facilitating the required procedures to visit the country,” recognizing how rich Saudi Arabia’s various regions are “in terms of natural elements and environmental diversity, which support its aim of becoming a global tourist destination.”