Author Topic: Animal sacrifices and astral tombs: The mysteries still emerging from the Saudi  (Read 87 times)


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What happens when several hundred archaeologists gather in a “glass box” in the desert?

It’s an odd kind of question, but this actually occurred last week when experts from all over the planet converged in the shimmering mirror-covered Maraya cultural center near the ancient oasis town of AlUla in Saudi Arabia, for the inaugural World Archaeological Summit.

The result was an event that gave fresh perspectives on some of the ancient mysteries that are being unearthed in Saudi as it invests billions of dollars in opening up its long-hidden past to global tourism.

Created by the Kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and sponsored by his Royal Commission of AlUla, the conference opted for discussion panels, not academic papers, and invited a diverse range of archaeological experts.

The aim, in part, was to help map Saudi Arabia’s path to sustainable heritage tourism.

Most attendees were cautious about what to expect in a country where the event sponsor has a reputation for both shocking brutality and high-speed reform. They certainly weren’t bored. “We didn’t expect so much conversation and I don’t think the organizers did either,” one attendee told me.

An offbeat conference was only part of the pull. The experts were given rare access to a trove of ancient discoveries that, until the past few years, have been off the beaten archaeological trail for all but a handful of hardy enthusiasts.

Archaeology is both a passion for MBS and a gateway to his vision of diversifying the Saudi economy by bringing in tourists to enjoy heritage sites alongside luxury resorts.

For him, it’s also a useful vehicle to marginalize Saudi minority conservative Islamists’ contempt for the sites, which they consider to be un-Islamic.

By reversing decades of cultural isolation, developing the AlUla oasis and opening up vast millennia-old Nabatean grave complexes in nearby Hegra – as well as exploring myriad other sites – Saudi Arabia is seeing fascinating ancient discoveries being made.

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