AlUla is furthering its position as a global place for culture and heritage this week with its invite-only AlUla World Archaeological Summit.
The three-day summit’s program of panels, discussions and excursions commenced yesterday at Maraya Concert Hall, the ancient region’s giant mirror-cladded multipurpose venue located amid a wealth of archaeological treasures stemming from the Neolithic era to the early 20th century.
Staged by the Royal Commission for AlUla and taking place through Sept. 15, the three-day summit brings together global art, culture and heritage experts from around the world who are among more than 80 speakers.
The first panel, titled “The Shape of Us: Archaeology, Identity,” asked the question of how, in the modern world, in which many conventional definitions are obsolete, can archaeology challenge and expand identities of self, family, communities and nations? How can archaeology collaborate with other disciplines to do so? The session also explored the various ways in which archaeology can be instrumental in shaping identities.
As Alessandro Sebastiani, associate professor of Roman archaeology and director of Graduate Studies, Department of Classics, University of Buffalo, said: “We want archaeology to remain accessible to everyone. Identity is about moving cultures. You create your identity.”
The exclusive event is part of RCU’s regeneration of AlUla as a leading global destination for cultural and natural heritage, of which archaeological research and conservation are key aspects of the project to attract 2 million visitors per year by 2035.
“The AlUla World Archaeology Summit is drawing great interest worldwide, with speakers spanning the globe from America and Australia to Jordan and Japan,” said Abdulrahman Al-Suhaibani, executive director of archaeology, conservation and collections at RCU, adding that they will be sharing knowledge on the summit’s four themes: Identity, Ruinscapes, Resilience and Accessibility. Their presence aligns with AlUla’s legacy as a crossroads of civilizations, “where people have exchanged ideas from far and wide.”
Rebecca Foote, director of archaeology and cultural heritage research at RCU, told Arab News: “We wanted the summit to be interdisciplinary and intersectorial.
“Rather than being about the specific data that everyone is finding to report, the summit concerns more the issues, challenges and opportunities that are faced by archaeologists worldwide and how other sectors can help to enhance our field or and transform it towards creating a better world.”
The summit includes archaeologists, artists and cultural practitioners from around the world, including the Kingdom, with visual artist Manal Al-Dowayan; Jasir Al-Herbish, CEO of the Heritage Commission; Daif Allah Al-Talhi, professor emeritus of archaeology, University of Hail; and Suleiman Al-Theeb, professor emeritus of ancient Arabian scripts and languages at King Saud University, in attendance.
Other luminaries scheduled to appear at the summit include Bettany Hughes, the British historian and presenter of numerous documentaries on ancient history, and Levison Wood, a world-renowned explorer, writer and photographer who has authored 11 bestselling books and produced several critically acclaimed documentaries.
Panel discussions range from those which focus on ancient heritage and discoveries to the use of technology and AI, such as “Archaeology Weaves an Interconnected World” and “Saving Archaeology One TikTok at a Time.”
Delegates will be able to take part in excursions throughout AlUla’s key heritage sites, many of which are also undergoing active archaeological excavation. These include the Nabataean tombs of Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site.
“We want the summit to address how archaeology can become more relevant to society,” added Foote. “How can it work for the global good across a variety of sectors by addressing key themes of identity, resilience, ruinscapes and accessibility.”
“There are people coming from around the world, Australia, Africa, Australia, Europe and from around the Middle East and Saudi Arabia,” said Foote.
The summit is about marrying the past with the present and using AlUla once again as an international cultural crossroads for intellectual discourse.