Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Saudi Arabia digs around Makkah and Madina without Archaeologists
In the last decade the Saudi's have allowed archaeologists to zone in on the southwestern areas of the Kingdom. But Saudis have ignored the Islamic areas of Makkah and Madina where archaeologist are most needed to preserve Islamic artifacts. It's no wonder that the largest Islamic Museum is in London.
I have been trying to build on this story for a few weeks but I am amazed at the lack of information available on archeology and the holy cities.
Saudi authorities have started an ambitious project of building an infrastructure in the cities of Makkah and Madina to accommodate millions of pilgrims that visit the holy sites every year ! But what is astonishing that they started digging and construcion of buildings all around Makkah without Archaeologists. Is all that history under all those new sky scrappers gone for ever ? What's mind boggling that 75 to a 100 new buildings are being built. This requires digging upto 75 feet for the foundations unless they are building a basement. What we have lost is lost for ever.
Strangely enough there are no Makkahologists like we have Egyptologists. None of the Saudi Universities have academics to study Makkah and Madina like we have Egyptologists. An Egyptologist is any archaeologist, historian, linguist, or art historian who specializes in Egyptology.
But in a recent development the Saudis did allow archaeologists from the US and else where to dig up the past to excavate in the southwestern region but nothing around the holy sites of Makkah and Madina.
Saudi authorities also restricted foreign archaeologists to giving technical help to Saudi teams. Starting in 2000, they began a gradual process of easing up that culminated last year with American, European and Saudi teams launching significant excavations on sites that have long gone lightly explored, if at all.
At the same time, authorities are gradually trying to acquaint the Saudi public with the idea of exploring the past, in part to eventually develop tourism. After years of being closed off, 2,000-year-old Madain Saleh is Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site and is open to tourists. State media now occasionally mention discoveries as well as the kingdom's little known antiquities museums.
"It's already a big change," said Christian Robin, a leading French archaeologist and a member of the College de France. He is working in the southwestern region of Najran, mentioned in the Bible by the name Raamah and once a center of Jewish and Christian kingdoms.