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Petra’s Saudi Arabian Sister City, Hegra, Opens to the Public

Petra’s Saudi Arabian Sister City, Hegra, Opens to the Public

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The deserts of Saudi Arabia may look desolate, but they hold many important archaeological sites. One of the most important of these is the vast archaeological site at Hegra which has been classified a UNESCO World Heritage site . For the first time, the public can visit the site without restrictions and view the remains of a remarkable and mysterious civilization.

Hegra, also is known as Mada'in Saleh, is in the deserts north of Al Ula in northwestern Saudi Arabia . Today the place is quiet, but it was once a thriving city located on a major international trade route. This remarkable city was the sister city of the more famous Petra in neighboring Jordan. Hegra was the second city of the Nabateans, who were nomads who controlled the spice trade and who built an astonishing civilization in the desert. The Nabateans were experts in hydraulics, they were able to channel rainwater from the mountains into cisterns that allowed them to build spectacular cities in some of the most inhospitable environments in the world.

Hegra, also is known as Mada'in Saleh, was once a thriving city on a major international trade route. (Sammy Six / CC BY 2.0 )

Nabateans: Empire in the Desert

These nomads became immensely wealthy due to their trade in frankincense and other spices. The Nabateans, in particular, created a huge empire in the desert from the 4 th century BC to the 1 st century AD, when Emperor Trajan conquered them and they became subjects of the Romans. They were later forgotten until the rediscovery of Petra in the 19 th century. Remarkably, Hegra was left forgotten by all but the Bedouin until recent decades.

  • Mada'in Saleh - Saudi Arabia’s Abandoned Nabatean City
  • Petra, Jordan: Gorgeous Rose-Red City and Wonder of the World
  • The Qasr al-Farid, the Lonely Castle of the Nabataeans

Despite their many achievements, we know extraordinarily little about the Nabateans. “The reason we don’t know much about them is because we don’t have books or sources written by them that tell us about the way they lived and died and worshipped their gods,” Laila Nehmé, an archaeologist who works at the Hegra Archaeological site, told the Smithsonian. That is why sites such as Hegra are so important. Much of what we know about this desert civilization comes from the study of their remarkable structures.

The best-known tomb at Hegra is Qasr al Farid tomb, dubbed the lonely castle of the Nabateans. (Richard.hargas / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Metropolis Turned Necropolis

Today “Hegra is a metropolis turned necropolis,” according to the Smithsonian. Here there are many tombs and funerary monuments from the 4 th century BC to the 1 st century AD. They are ornately decorated in a distinctive style that shows the influences of other cultures, including Greek. Some are decorated with sphinxes and Medusa figures. The Smithsonian quotes Nehme as calling the style of the tombs “Arab Baroque” because of the elaborate combination of motifs.

In total there are 111 tombs, of which over 90 are decorated, recorded at the location. Many of the tombs have inscriptions, written in an early form of Arabic that warn the living not to interfere with the tombs. According to the Smithsonian, one inscription reads:

“May the lord of the world curse upon anyone who disturbs this tomb or opens it.”

Perhaps the best-known tomb at the site is the Qasr al-Farid, dubbed the lonely castle of the Nabataeans, which was probably the final resting place of a member of a powerful family. Despite being unfinished, it is a monumental structure with evidence of great workmanship and is almost four floors high. At Ancient Origins , we reported that the Qasr al-Farid tomb “has four pilasters on its façade, one on each side, and two additional ones in the middle.” The rest of the tombs have only two pilasters. It appears that it was built from the top down and this was also the case with the other burial monuments at Hegra.

Engineering Genius

Many of the tombs belonged to the Nabatean elite. Some experts, based on a study of the tombs, believe that the Nabateans were not an ethnic group, but they were members of a multicultural state. A study of the inscriptions shows that some of the elite adopted Roman titles and they had close trading relations with the southern territories of Rome.

UNESCO reports that “the site also features some 50 inscriptions of the pre-Nabataean period and some cave drawings. They may have been made by the ancient people known as the Thamuds who are mentioned in the Quran or members of the Dedan culture. According to UNESCO, the site “bears witness to the development of Nabataean agricultural techniques using a large number of artificial wells in rocky ground.” Remarkably, many of these wells still supply water to the local people, a testament to the engineering genius of the Nabateans.

Hegra is also the site for the stunning Winter at Tantora Hot Air Balloon Festival which takes place in the skies above every year. ( hyserb / Adobe Stock)

Open to the Public

Despite being subjugated by the Romans, the city of Hegra continued to prosper until the 3 rd century AD. When the trade routes shifted, the caravans stopped passing through the city and it went into rapid decline. It was abandoned by the Middle Ages, but the Ottomans built a fort at the site during World War I during the Arab revolt which was instigated by Lawrence of Arabia.

In recent years, a joint Saudi and French project has excavated and restored the site. The Saudi government has now opened up Hegra to the public for the first time. Before this, special permission was needed to visit the sister city of Petra. Now it is possible to hop on a bus and visit the remarkable remains of the caravan city. Local storytellers (Al Rowah) have been employed to bring the history of Hegra to life. The opening of the archaeological site is part of a Saudi policy to diversify its economy.

The earliest fortifications of Bruges date back to the 1 st century AD and it is now famous for its traditional lace works and many historic structures that date to the Middle Ages. The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The first place of worship was built on this site in approximately 1134 as a private chapel adjacent to the official residence of the Count of Flanders, which now serves as the municipal hall in the city. It is known as the Upper Chapel in the basilica and was built by Thierry of Alsace (1128-1168).

In 1147 the Count of Flanders ‘took the cross’ and joined the Second Crusade. In 1150, it was reported that he returned to the city with a relic of St Basil, a phial that is said to hold a scrap of cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ.

Interior view of the Lower Chapel of the Basilica of the Holy Blood ( demerzel21 / Adobe Stock)

People from all over Flanders and beyond visited the basilica, especially after the Pope granted indulgences to anyone who visited the relic, freeing them punishment for their previously committed sins. The Bishop of Bruges presented the phial on certain feast days. During the Wars of Religion in the 16 th century, the relic was protected because it was feared that Protestant iconoclasts would attack the phial.

The basilica was extended in the 16 th century. During the French Revolution, the city of Bruges was occupied by revolutionary forces and the basilica was badly damaged. In the 19 th century, the basilica was renovated in the neo-Gothic style and in 1923 the basilica was granted the status of a minor Cathedral.

A New Look towards Tourism, Culture, and Entertainment in Saudi Arabia

In 2016, Saudi Arabia announced its vision to reduce the dependence of its economy on oil, develop and modernize its infrastructure and cities, and invest in industries like tourism, culture, and entertainment. Since then, these sectors have been the target of major new investments, an influx of tourists and local patrons, and new live entertainment acts. Following last year’s loosening of customs and regulations for visitors, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage officially announced that the doors are now open for “the fastest growing tourism sector on earth.”

New Opportunities and Attractions

From lost cities in the sand and prehistoric petroglyphs to modern entertainment centers, there is plenty to discover for anyone interested in the Kingdom’s thousands of years of history and future attractions. Saudi Arabia is certainly well-known for its vast, windswept deserts, but visitors and residents can explore snowy, forested peaks of the Asir mountains in the southwest, coral reefs and pristine beaches in the Red Sea, desert oasis towns, and winding backstreets of the historical market and old city of Jeddah, one of the country’s five UNESCO world heritage sites.

The modern country of Saudi Arabia holds countless ruins of cities and towns from thousands of years of cumulative history. The ancient city of Hegra, now called Mada’in Salih or Al-Ḥijr, is a 2,000-year-old UNESCO world heritage site that was once the largest city of the Nabatean Kingdom outside of Jordan’s famous Petra. Like Petra, it was carved entirely out of stone and hidden within the desert’s rugged cliffs and canyons. The greater Al-ʿUla region, home to Mada’in Salih, will also soon be home to luxury resorts in the nearby Sharaan Nature Reserve. The resorts will incorporate international ecotourism and sustainability standards to ensure that visitors can enjoy everything the rugged natural landscape and fascinating heritage sites can offer while keeping it pristine for future generations. The Royal Commission for Al-’Ula (RCU) is working with the Saudi Wildlife Authority to preserve and revitalize the local ecosystem by planting acacia trees and reintroducing ibex, gazelles, and ostriches in the hopes that the endangered Arabian leopard and Arabian wolf will return rehabilitating the local wildlife ecosystem also opens possibilities for safaris and wildlife tours. The Al-’Ula area is also home to the annual Winter at Tantora festival, an international event featuring classical music, cultural exhibitions, and hot air balloons. According to the RCU, the Sharaan resort and nature reserves will eventually be Saudi Arabia’s premier tourist attraction and will lead to a $32 billion increase in national GDP, draw over two million visitors, and create 38,000 jobs by 2035.

The Diriyah Gate project, an ongoing restoration of the 18 th century city that bore the title of the first Saudi state capital, is a fascinating bridge between the country’s old and new. The restoration of the original city walls and castle complex, heavily anticipated because of its status as a strong landmark of Saudi national identity, is just one part of the redevelopment of the city. Soon, the Diriyah Gate will be home to over 100 restaurants and attractions for tourists to enjoy after taking a walk through history. With plans to additionally open a racetrack and arena with a capacity for 15,000 people, all optimism for the Diriyah Gate to become a hotspot for tourists is surely a bet that will pay off beyond expectations. UNESCO has designated Diriyah as one of Saudi Arabia’s five world heritage sites in recognition of the significance of Diriyah to both Saudi and world history.

Diriyah Gate. Photo by: Nawaf alrajhi

Tourism Megaprojects and Future Opportunities

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 comprises 13 Vision Realization Plans (VRPs) and 96 strategic initiatives to achieve three overarching goals: to become a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation. One VRP aims to improve quality of life by boosting health, culture, and entertainment spending. A specific initiative realized from this plan is the launch of Saudi Arabia’s new film sector. New investment opportunities in entertainment infrastructure are attracting international and domestic attention, with key proposed projects including 16 new entertainment complexes.

At the center of Saudi Arabia’s diversification agenda is the country’s sovereign wealth fund, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF). In April 2020, the PIF invested $500 million in Live Nations Entertainment stock for a 5.7 percent stake in the world’s largest concert promoter, making the PIF Live Nation’s third largest shareholder. The timing of the purchase, after the initial shutdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a clear sign that the Kingdom is committed to long-term transformation. Under the planned initiatives of Vision 2030, the PIF established an entertainment investment company called Saudi Entertainment Ventures (SEVEN), to act as its operational and investment arm in the industry. Since its creation, SEVEN signed a groundbreaking deal with AMC and opened the Kingdom’s first movie theaters in over 35 years, with 50 more planned to open over the next decade. By 2030, the nascent film industry in Saudi Arabia is expected to contribute $24 billion to GDP, create 30,000 permanent jobs, and over 100,000 temporary jobs (with AMC’s contribution alone estimated to add 22,000 jobs and $2 billion to GDP by 2030). Another Western attraction that has made its way to Saudi Arabia is World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). WWE has held shows in the country since 2014, including the WWE Women’s Championship these shows have been massively popular among their Saudi audience. Theaters, sporting stadiums, concerts, restaurants with international cuisine, and Western chains like Starbucks have all been established in every region of Saudi Arabia and continue to be encouraged by the Saudi government.

WWE stars perform at the Royal Rumble in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Source: Arab News (AN photo by Mohamad Almana)

The ongoing gigaprojects NEOM and Qiddiya are the biggest news by far in the country’s entertainment and tourism sectors. NEOM, a $500 billion futuristic cross-border city in the Tabuk Province near the borders of Egypt, Israel, and Jordan, will incorporate cutting edge smart city technologies and run on 100% renewable energy. Qiddiya is an entertainment city with a Six Flags theme park at its core, planned to be the country’s capital of entertainment and sports.

Just south of NEOM will also be AMAALA, a luxury tourism project. The 1,600-square-mile development will be located along the coast of the Red Sea and is marketed as “the heart of the Riviera of the Middle East,” as it will include not only luxury accommodations like wellness spas, sporting facilities, and beachside attractions, but also nature reserves and the preserved natural beauty of the area’s seaside landscape. In line with Vision 2030’s holistic development goals, the resort will be fully powered by one of the GCC’s largest solar farms and will be built according to sustainability guidelines, such as renewable-powered public transportation, recycling and wastewater management, and restaurants supplied by local organic farms.

Further south of AMAALA, comprising the remainder of the Riviera of the Middle East, is the Red Sea Development project. The Red Sea Development will encompass 11,000 square miles of islands, beaches, deserts, mountains, and volcanoes. The first phase of the project, construction of 3,000 hotel rooms along with an airport, marina, and recreation centers, is projected for completion by 2022. The Red Sea Development and AMAALA projects include resorts designed by the famous architect Jean Nouvel and operated by luxury hotel operators Banyan Tree and Aman, with international hospitality executives serving as advisors in the construction and operations.

Investment Goals

With the opening of tourist attractions and entertainment options comes immense opportunities for investment. One of Vision 2030’s goals for tourism is for 100 million annual domestic and international visitors by the year 2030 (from 41 million visitors in 2018), to make the Kingdom one of the top five inbound travel destinations. The Kingdom’s plans to increase tourism unrelated to the annual Hajj are part of these goals to do so, they have broken ground on the aforementioned megaprojects and are taking other measures to welcome visitors such as reforming regulations and easing travel restrictions. To streamline the process for tourists and visitors, the Saudi government launched a new e-visa program in 2019 delivering near-instant processing of 90-day multiple-entry tourist visas for visitors from over 49 countries, including the U.S. and most of the E.U.

The Saudi government expects that their growing travel industry, currently employing 600,000 people, will create more than a million more jobs for hospitality-related professions after their tourism megaprojects are realized. The average Saudi family is ready to take advantage of the country’s new entertainment amenities: on average, 2.1 percent of Saudi household income is spent on entertainment for a total of $8.3 billion spent annually on recreational and entertainment activities. Saudi GDP is expected to increase by $5.86 billion per year solely from the completion of the Red Sea Development resorts, driven by an estimated one million new annual visitors and 70,000 new local jobs.

The effect of the 2020 pandemic on 2021’s tourism industry is still yet to be felt, but pre-pandemic growth in tourism offers promising signs once conditions return to normal. In 2019, tourism comprised 3.3 percent of national GDP, generating $25 billion. Domestic tourism rose by 8 percent in 2019, with international tourism initially projected to grow by 5.6 percent annually for an overall 93.8 million tourist trips projected for 2023 (up from 64.7 million in 2018). Within the hospitality industry, Saudi hotels reported an 11.8 percent growth in room sales in the first nine months of 2019, an increase of 11.8 percent from the same period in 2018.

Saudi Arabia is opening its doors and taking a new look towards the future. For those looking to experience a fascinating new country or seeking to invest in the world’s fastest growing tourism, culture, and entertainment industries, Saudi Arabia encourages you to explore its many great opportunities.

  • AlUla Journey Through Time master plan symbolizes Kingdom’s commitment to preservation of cultural and natural heritage

LONDON: Until now few have been privileged to visit the ancient city of Hegra, hewn from the rocks of the Hijaz in northwestern Saudi Arabia over two millennia ago and lost for centuries in the mists of time.

Like its famous twin Petra, some 460 km north in modern-day Jordan, Hegra was created by the Nabataeans, a mysterious people whose Arabian empire of trade flared briefly but brightly more than 2,000 years ago.

But now, as Saudi Arabia increasingly opens its doors to the outside world, the Kingdom is poised to share with that world one of the great forgotten treasures of antiquity.

AlUla Old Town, the Historic Crossroads, would be the vibrant heart of AlUla. The District includes the Cultural Oasis, a cluster of visitor experiences being developed including living gardens, the Arts District, Old Town and the Perspectives Galleries.

After more than a decade of one of the most intensive archaeological investigations ever undertaken, Hegra is to be the jewel in the crown of a sensitive plan to transform the dramatic landscape and heritage of the AlUla region into a natural and cultural oasis that will once again see visitors from around the world drawn to this important ancient crossroads.

On Wednesday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), unveiled The Journey Through Time, the latest development rooted in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the nation’s future.

“Today, we embark on a journey to preserve the world’s largest cultural oasis and advance our understanding of 200,000 years of heritage. The Journey Through Time master plan is a leap forward to sustainably and responsibly develop AlUla, and share our cultural legacy with the world,” the Crown Prince said.

Over the next 15 years, the historic AlUla valley, home to Hegra and a multitude of other historic sites, will be transformed into a living museum designed to immerse visitors in 200,000 years of natural and human history.

The Journey Through Time master plan was developed under the leadership of the crown prince and the guidance of Prince Badr, the Saudi minister of culture and governor of the RCU. Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the RCU, told Arab News the master plan has been envisioned “as a way to capture the deep-rooted essence of what AlUla already is — an oasis of unique culture, heritage, nature and community — while curating a timeless legacy with stories of the past to inform the future and open new chapters in AlUla’s unfolding history.”

Large public spaces will be developed. No extensions to this area will be permitted in order to preserve the area’s urban character, with developments of hospitality, retail and community services welcomed.

Five districts, each focused on a particular heritage site and strung out along the spectacular AlUla valley, will together tell the story of the past two millennia.

The districts will be connected by a 20 km Wadi of Hospitality, a “green pedestrian spine” which, together with a 46 km low-carbon tramline that will connect the five sites to AlUla International Airport, will follow part of the route used for centuries by pilgrims and, in the early part of the 20th century, by the historic Hijaz Railway.

A network of trails snaking through the green valley will also allow visitors to explore on foot, or by bicycle or horse.

The Journey Through Time begins in the south of the valley at the Old Town district, the site of an abandoned mudbrick settlement 17 km south of Hegra. The Old Town was occupied until the 1980s, when the occupants abandoned it for the comforts of the newly built modern-day AlUla, a few kilometers to the south. Today it is an intriguing and haunting labyrinthine ghost town.

From AlUla Old Town, visitors will journey north toward District 2, site of the ancient city of Dadan, a predecessor to Hegra. Between 600 and 200 B.C. it flourished as the capital of the mysterious Dadanite and Lihyanite kingdoms, whose fortunes rested on their control of the incense trade routes that passed through the valley.

Dadan District, the Ancient Kingdoms of North Arabia, is set to become one of the cultural centers of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdoms Institute was constructed in this district.

District 3, Jabal Ikmah, an “open-air library” of petroglyphs, will give visitors a first glimpse of the thousands of ancient rock-art sites and inscriptions to be found throughout the valley and beyond.

The next stop on the Journey Through Time will be District 4, The Nabataean Horizon, a cluster of cultural assets mirroring Nabataean architecture and the perfect curtain-raiser for the last and most spectacular of the five districts: The ancient city of Hegra, which in 2007 became Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage site.

Dadan District, the Ancient Kingdoms of North Arabia is a physical continuation of AlUla Old Town. It is dominated by the main heritage site of Dadan, as well as the Umm Daraj mountain, another exceptional heritage site linked to the ancient Dadanite and Lihyanite Kingdoms.

Hegra is situated on a large plain southeast of the Hijaz Mountains, studded with hills of sandstone, isolated or grouped together to form massifs that have been dramatically sculpted by the northwesterly winds that have blown through the region every spring and early summer since the dawn of time.

The winds have also created strange and evocative shapes, such as the three-storey rock 10 km northeast of the modern town of AlUla, sculpted over millions of years to resemble an elephant.

In the center of the site, once served by the 130 wells driven into the rock that made possible the sprawling oasis that supported the ancient city, is the former residential area. Although very little remains above the surface of buildings that were made in antiquity largely from mud bricks, geophysical surveys have revealed tantalizing evidence of underground structures, while parts of the city wall can still be seen with the naked eye.

Jabal Ikmah, a library of languages inscribed in the ageless rocks of AlUla. A natural and monumental testimony of past times revealing the tracks and writings of the civilisations of AlUla.

But without doubt the stars of Hegra are the necropolises that surround the residential area — cities of the dead, featuring more than 90 monumental tombs carved out of the rocks surrounding and overlooking the former city of the living, and dating from about 1 B.C. to A.D. 75.

Of the four main necropolises, Qasr Al-Bint, home to 31 tombs dated from the year nought to A.D. 58, is the most visually dramatic — both from a distance and up close. The exterior facades of many of the tombs here feature carved monsters, eagles, other small sculpted animals and human faces.

As at Petra, which was also created by the Nabataeans, many of the tombs at Hegra feature spectacular carved facades. However, unlike at Petra, many of the facades also carry dated Nabataean inscriptions, in many cases naming the dead and offering unique insights into the lives of the people who once called Hegra home.

The Nabataean District encompasses three cultural anchors, one of which is the Nabataean Theatre, which will display exceptional performances in the open air.

The master plan envisages 15 “cultural assets” that will act as landmarks throughout the five districts. These will include galleries, museums, an oasis living garden and, in a salute to AlUla’s role as a crossroads of ancient trade routes, an incense road market.

Education and the acquisition of knowledge will play a key part in the development. In addition to research centers focused on the ancient sites of Dadan and Jabal Ikmah, a flagship component of the plan is The Kingdoms Institute, a global hub for archaeological knowledge and research dedicated to the cultures and civilizations that have inhabited the area for more than 7,000 years.

An ongoing archaeological survey of the entire 22,000 sq km AlUla region has already identified over 23,000 sites of archaeological interest.

Another key part of the development will be the revival of the Cultural Oasis at the heart of the AlUla valley.

“Through research and innovative solutions from water management to irrigation and land use, the replenishment of the Cultural Oasis will be a key element of the Journey Through Time master plan,” Al-Madani told Arab News.

The Cultural Oasis, blends heritage, nature and creativity, to the monumental legacies carved in rock at Jabal Ikmah, Dadan and Hegra – sites of ancient wisdom, power and memory.

“The most intense regeneration efforts will focus on the 9 km heart of the ancient oasis — the ‘green lung’ of AlUla connecting Old Town, Dadan, and Jabal Ikmah — and will trigger a major expansion of AlUla’s green and open spaces.”

With the revival of up to 10 million square meters planned, as “a direct response to the challenges of sustainably and responsibly developing a fragile desert environment,” the Journey Through Time master plan will be the world’s largest cultural oasis regeneration project, creating an enchanting haven for visitors and a unique opportunity for sustainable agricultural production.

In addition, 80 percent of AlUla county will be designated as nature reserves, with key flora and fauna to be reintroduced.

A new 46km low-carbon tram system, the AlUla Experiential Tram, will connect AlUla International Airport to AlUla central and Hegra Historical City. The tram will provide visitors with an exquisite journey through time.

Once complete, the RCU expects AlUla to attract two million visitors every year, boosting its goal of contributing SR 120 billion ($32 billion) to the national GDP and creating 38,000 new jobs in the area by 2035.

With a total of 5,000 “hospitality keys” planned as part of an overall target of 9,400 by 2035, many of those jobs will be in tourism and hospitality.

In each of the five districts visitors will be able to choose from a “tailored blend of living and hospitality options,” ranging from hotels and eco-tourism resorts to luxury lodges and “canyon farms” — carved out of the sandstone rocks that once tempted the Nabataeans to settle here.

A night on the town

I wake up to some American English chatter outside. I go out to a sunny but chilly afternoon and see two young men talking to the guy in the headscarf. We exchange pleasantries and I recognize them as two others at the airport nearly nodding off waiting for rental cars that morning. Justin, 40, works in California’s tech industry and Minh, who moved with his family from Vietnam to California when he was 4, is a counselor at University of California-Davis. Both live in Sacramento and resigned their jobs to travel the world. They’ve gone from Europe across Russia down through Mongolia, into Southeast Asia then to the Middle East. Five years ago they traveled for 14 months. Since before they were born, I’ve traveled to 107 countries. They’ve already been to 99.

The host gives them the address of the restaurant that delivers and they ask if I’d join them. Being tech wizes, they had all kinds of charger adapters they loaned me and had the best GPS on the market. In the middle of Northern Saudi Arabia, that’s as needed as extra water. But the problem with GPS is not every establishment exists on the radar, especially in the middle of an Arabian desert. This restaurant, called Sultana, is barely listed in the neighborhood. We see a red dot without a name in the area and we take off down dark, dirt roads with occasional patches of pavement. We come to what should be the restaurant. It’s someone’s home.


A tall, young, heavy-set man in a gray thobe comes out and introduces himself as Michel. Minh shows him the GPS. He agrees to take us. We pull up to this small, rough-and-tumble place with a wood oven where four guys in facemasks grill different meats and the short manager takes our orders behind the counter. This couldn’t be more local if we shared the table with goats.

We order the mixed grill: a huge plate the size of a symbol covered in rice then topped with sizable links of lamb, chicken and beef. It comes with sides of flatbread and hummus. I’m not that hungry but the meat is so tender I eat for 30 minutes.

Despite Michel not speaking a word of English, we have a lovely talk. Minh and Justin use Google Translator’s voice app to translate messages. Michel reads them, gives a delayed laugh, then says something in Arabic. We read and then laugh, always delayed.

Me and the staff at Sultana.

Michel is 24 and not working. He lives with his mother. He had spent that day at a commission looking for a job, somewhat shocking since developments in Al-Ula have left it with a negative-2 percent unemployment rate as recently as December. The pandemic has crashed the oil market and the Saudi government has cut back on social subsidies but before the virus hit I see no homeless and few beggars.

For years Saudis lived in luxurious isolation. Still, unlike most Americans, Saudis seem very interested in outsiders. Everywhere I go people ask me about life in the U.S. and my life in Rome. Michel asks us what we think of Saudi Arabia and our travels. He’s interested enough to invite us back to his place for tea. He leads us through the tiny roads and dusty trails and we stop at the same place where we got lost. It’s his house.

We follow him to an open-air lounge. It has a giant red, elaborately decorated carpet with cushions. We take off our shoes but I don’t take off my coat or stocking cap. The temperature is in the low 40s.

Me and Michel at his home.

He gives us a cup of Arabic coffee, which tastes almost as bitter as the country’s non-alcoholic beer, and Arabic tea which is sweet, hot and smooth. He passes around a tray of dates of which I’m beginning to grow quite fond. It seems raisins taste much better when they’re on steroids.

We talk via Google Translate and joke about how his mom may get upset at him bringing home three strangers. Soon his uncle comes through the fence. He’s right out of central casting. His big pot belly stretches his gray thobe and his white keffiyeh and salt-and-pepper beard make him look like one of Ali Baba’s 40 thieves. Michel said he likes playing soccer and has lived in this village his whole life. His uncle has walked this desert for more than 60 years.

I secretly hope lifestyles like Michel’s and his uncle’s remain. Under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, as I wrote three weeks ago, Saudi Arabia is changing as fast as any country in the world. His quest to diversify the economy away from oil has resulted in looser visa restrictions, more freedom for women, new roads and hotels and refurbished attractions. It’s all part of his Vision 2030, his quest to get 100 million visitors by 2030. If this coronavirus ever dies (Saudi Arabia has had 136,000 cases and 1,000 deaths compared to 2.2 million and 119,000 in the U.S., respectively) and Saudi Arabia gets its oil industry back on track, maybe Michel won’t have to spend a day at a commission looking for a job that isn’t there.

Maybe he’ll find one at the place I came here to see.

A night-time stroll near Rural tents.


  1. “Thamūd.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 09 May. 2010>.
  2. Arabian religion.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 18 Aug. 2007>.

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Petra: Could it be Al Hijr as mentioned in the Holy Quran
Petra declined rapidly under Roman rule, in large part due to the revision of sea-based trade routes. In 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vital water management system. The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Ages and were visited by Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the end of the 13th century. The first European to describe them was Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812.

Generally the term Al Hijr or Hegra is applied to the Madain Salih. Inhabitants of both, Petra and Madain Salih were part of the Thamud. The prophet Salih belonged to Madain Salih as is also mentioned in a Hadith. But, the term Al Hijr may be more applicable to Petra than Madain Salih. Whereas, Madain Salih was on an established route, that is why the Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him happened to pass by the place, Al Hijr as described by the Holy Quran is not on a main route. See the pictures of narrow entrance called ‘Siq,’ of Petra, in the Knol linked here. The Holy Quran states, as it talks about the people of Lot and then the people of the Wood and the people of the Hijr:

“Then the chastisement seized them (the people of Lot) at sunrise. We turned the city upside down, and We rained upon them stones of clay. Surely, in this there are Signs for people of intelligence. The city lies along a well known route. Surely, in this is a Sign for those who believe. The people of the Wood were also wrong doers and We chastised them also. Both these cities lie along an easily identifiable way. The people of the Hijr also rejected the Messengers as liars. We gave them Our Signs too, but they turned away from them. They used to hew out houses in the mountains, dwelling therein in security. The chastisement seized them in the morning and all that they had worked at availed them nothing.” (Al Quran 15:74-85)

In case of the people of Hijr there is no mention of ‘well known route’ additionally, there is mention of ‘dwelling therein in security,’ possibly alluding to the hidden entrance of Petra or Siq.

Additional verses about the Thamud in the Holy Quran
The Thamud (people) rejected the messengers.
Behold, their brother Salih said to them: “Will you not fear (Allah)?
I am to you a messenger worthy of all trust.
So fear Allah, and obey me.
No reward do I ask of you for it: my reward is only from the Lord of the Worlds.
Will ye be left secure, in (the enjoyment of) all that ye have here?
Gardens and Springs,
And corn-fields and date-palms with spathes near breaking (with the weight of fruit)?
And ye carve houses out of (rocky) mountains with great skill.
But fear Allah and obey me
And follow not the bidding of those who are extravagant,
Who make mischief in the land, and mend not (their ways).”
They said: “Thou art only one of those bewitched!
Thou art no more than a mortal like us: then bring us a Sign, if thou tellest the truth!”
He said: “Here is a she-camel: she has a right of watering, and ye have a right of watering, (severally) on a day appointed.
Touch her not with harm, lest the Penalty of a Great Day seize you.”
But they ham-strung her: then did they become full of regrets.
So the punishment overtook them. In that verily there is a Sign, but most of these would not believe.
And surely thy Lord — He is the Mighty, the Merciful.

The word and attribute, ‘Merciful,’ here implies that God punishes humans as a last resort only, after they have demonstrated that they are beyond reformation!

I appreciate your comments Zia H. Shah

Comparing and contrasting Petra and Madain Salih (Dedan)
According to Peter Parr:

“Seen in an Arabian perspective the settlement of the once-nomadic Nabataeans is just one more example of a process which had been characteristic of the region over the previous centuries Petra was as normal an Arabian phenomenon as was Tayma and Dedan. But it also obviously became something very different from Tayma and Dedan, and this for two reasons. The first is its location. Petra lies on the very edge of Arabia,just below the escarpment of the limestone plateau which the Arab geographers called the ‘brow of Syria.’ As already mentioned, the escarpment is fertile compared with the Hejaz, and well suited to agriculture, and probably well before the beginning of the Christian Era the Nabataeans had established farming villages all over what is now southern Jordan and the Negev, repopulating the abandoned kingdom of Edom. They were thus no longer dependent upon the incense trade or the products of pastoralismeconomically they had moved away from their Arabian background and become Levantine. And the second reason relates to time. Between the time when Tayma and Dedan were settled and Petra was settled, the Near East had become Hellenized. The Taymanites, the Dedanites, and the Lihyanites had absorbed and adopted foreign fashions, but they were the fashions of Mesopotamia and south Arabia. When, in the first century BC, the Nabataeans looked outside the confines of Petra for inspiration for the material culture that they now desired and could afford, it was above all in the Hellenized world that they found what they needed.”

Petra Rediscovered: Lost city of Nabataeans. Glen Markoe, General Editor. Harry N Abrams, Inc., Publishers, in association with the Cincinnati Art Museum, 2003. Page 35.

Photo gallery of Madain Salih
Madain Saleh, also known as al-Hijr, is one of the best known archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia, located near Ula (previously known as Dedan), some 400 kilometers north of Madina. Madain Saleh was once inhabited by the Nabataeans some 2000 years ago, Petra (located in Jordan) being the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. The Nabataeans are of Arab origin who became rich by their monopoly on the trade of incense and spice in particular between the East and the Roman, Greek and Egyptian empires. Madain Saleh has about 130 dwellings and tombs that extend over some 13 kilometers. This gallery is provided by Zubeyr Kureemun:

The Nabateans are the Arameans ,whose language and culture was Aramaic. When Thamud perished the remaining sons of Aram were known as Arman , they are the Nabateans.

When Thamud in turn was destroyed, the remaining sons of Iram were called Arman — they are Nabateans
from Prophets and Patriarchs)))
The origin of the Nabateans remains obscure, but they were Aramaic speakers, and the term “Nabatean” was the Arabic name for an Aramean of Syria and Iraq.
The story of Hud is mentioned several times in the Quran. To avoid repetition, we quote just one passage here (from the Quran chapter 46, verses 21-26):
Mention Hud, one of ‘Ad’s own brethren. Behold, he warned his people beside the winding sand-tracts. But there have been warners before him and after him, saying: “Worship none other than Allah. Truly I fear for you the chastisement of a mighty Day.”>>>>>>>>>>>>
They said, “Have you come in order to turn us away from our gods? Then bring upon us the calamity with which you threaten us, if you are telling the truth!”
He said, “The knowledge of when it will come is only with Allah. I proclaim to you the mission on which I have been sent, but I see that you are a people in ignorance.”
Then, when they saw a cloud advancing towards their valleys, they said: “This cloud will give us rain!” No, it is the calamity you were asking to be hastened! A wind wherein is a grievous chastisement!
Everything will it destroy by the command of its Lord! Then by the morning, nothing was to be seen but the ruins of their houses. Thus do We recompense those given to sin.
The life of the Prophet Hud is also described in other passages of the Quran: 7:65-72, 11:50-60, and 26:123-140. The eleventh chapter of the Quran is named after him.

MANY years passed by after the torment that befell the people of ‘Ad, and other generations came to succeed them. Among these were the Thamud people who were the successors of the believers who were saved with Prophet Hud. Once again, the people of Thamud, deviated from the right path and started to worship idols, and once again, Allah the Most Merciful decided to send them a prophet from amongst themselves to guide them back to the right path. This prophet was Prophet Saleh(SWS).

The people of Thamud were Arab tribes that lived in the area between Madinah and Syria. Their land was made of rocky mountains and spacious fertile plains. They lived in huge houses that they carved out of the huge rocks in the mountains – and the remains of these houses are still visible in northwest Saudi Arabia. The Thamud people were arrogant and they oppressed the poor among them. The rich exploited the plains and water resources and seldom did they permit others to equally profit from the bounty of Allah. Prophet Saleh, whom they respected very much for he was the most righteous among them, was sent to them as a warner. He said to them: “O my people! Worship Allah, you have no other god but Him,”
On d/m/y 13/08/13 I dreamt the Assyrians are Adites successors of the Thamud
On m/d/y 10/01/13 I dreamt the Thamud mixed with the Assyrians

Historian and scholar, Ibn Khaldun also mentions the Thamud several times in his great universal history al-Kitābu l-ʻibār (“Book of Evidence”), but only in passing, seldom giving much information.

Some examples from the Muqaddimah (“Introduction”):

This can be illustrated by what happened among the nations. When the royal authority of ‘Ad was wiped out, their brethren, the Thamud, took over. They were succeeded, in turn, by their brethren, the Amalekites. The Amalekites were succeeded by their brethren, the Himyar. The Himyar were succeeded by their brethren, the Tubba’s, who belonged to the Himyar. They, likewise, were succeeded, by the Adhwa’. Then, the Mudar came to power.

—Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah Chapter II Bedouin civilization, savage nations and tribes and their conditions of life, including several basic and explanatory statements, 21 As long as a nation retains its group feeling, royal authority that disappears in one branch will, of necessity, pass to some other branch of the same nation ( note amalekites are the Imliq) “

According to Arab historians such as Ibn Khaldun and Ali ibn al-Athir, Amalek is a name given to the Amorites and the Canaanites. on 02/17/13 i dreamt all the imliq are from Ad

((((((According to Arab historians such as Ibn Khaldun and Ali ibn al-Athir, Amalek is a name given to the Amorites and the Canaaniteson 02/17/13 i dreamt all the imliq are from Ad)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))The Muslim historian Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (c. 915) recounts a tradition that the wife of Lud was named Shakbah, daughter of Japheth, and that she bore him “Faris, Jurjan, and the races of Faris”. He further asserts that Lud was the progenitor of not only the Persians, but also the Amalekites and Canaanites, and all the peoples of the East, Oman, Hejaz, Syria, Egypt, and Bahrein.wikipedia (( as I said the Imliq are Amorites and they mixed with Hamitic Canaanites)

.on 08/15/12 I dreamt there is no such thing as the 9amalekites the Imliq are from the Ad

I have also dreamt of the people of Lud in saudia arabia and i saw nur(light)… On 23/11/11 i dreamt the amlaq(imliq) were the giant people

On 07/23/13 I dreamt of North Syria area of Hatay and I see Thaqifi people who are from Hud AS and I see them and Banu Haashim standing together wearing white

According to Classical Arabic sources, it’s agreed upon that the only remaining group of the native people of Thamud are the tribe of Banu Thaqif which inhabited the city of Taif south of Mecca.Wikipedia

Nabi Hud is from Ad bin Aws bin Aram , he is Arami
02/11m/14 I dreamt the ARAMEANS ARE THE CHALDEANS

The Yemen, al-Bahrayn, Oman, and the Jazirah have long been in Arab possession, but for thousands of years, the rule of these areas has belonged to different (Arab) nations in succession. They also founded cities and towns (there) and promoted the development of sedentary culture and luxury to the highest degree. Among such nations were the ‘Ad and the Thamud, the Amalekites and the Himyar after them, the Tubbas, and the other South Arabian rulers (Adhwa) . ((((((There was a long period of royal authority and sedentary culture. The coloring of (sedentary culture) established itself firmly. The crafts became abundant and firmly rooted. They were not wiped out simultaneously with (each ruling) dynasty, as we have stated. ((((They have remained and have always renewed themselves down to this time, and they have become the specialty of that area. )))Such (special Yemenite) crafts are embroidered fabrics, striped cloth, and finely woven garments and silks.



According to Classical Arabic sources, it’s agreed upon that the(( only remaining group of the native people of Thamud are the tribe of Banu Thaqif))) which inhabited the city of Taif south of Mecca.Wikipedia

This makes the Thaqif Awsi people , Arami (irami) people.
You see the the Assyrians are the Imliq either
Royalty among Thamud are from Hud pbh or all of them it makes imliq Aws people. Also before Adites perished ,they were mixing with people it would make sense that thamud are the 2nd Ad thamud mixed with imliq the Assyrians are people of Aws and the royalty among Thamud mixed with royalty among Assyrians. Iraqi arabs and syrians

Age of the Assyrian Empire (2000 – 605 BC)
The Rise and Fall of the Assyrian Empire in Mesopotamia

Go to “History of Iraq” Interactive Map

Early Assyrian EmpireBeginning of Assyria (

2000 BC): The ancient Sumerian city of Assur came under Assyrian control by about 2000 BC, serving as the capital of the Assyrian Kingdom.

Amorites Conquer Southern Mesopotamia (

2000 BC): Amorites (a Semitic tribe) gain control over Southern Mesopotamia (blue), ending independent Sumerian rule in the region.

Assyria Conquered by Amorites (

1800 BC): Conquered by Amorites, another Semitic people. The Amorites constituted the ruling class, while the Assyrians comprised the general population, retaining their distinct identity.

Amorite DynastyBabylon Captured by Hammurabi of Amorites (1728 BC): The famed Babylonian king was an Amorite, who gained control of Babylon, initiating the First Babylonian Dynasty. Hammurabi would create the world’s first written civil law.

Central Mesopotamia Conquered by Hammurabi/Amorites (by 1715 BC): Hammurabi conquers the surrounding city-states (gray shading), extending his rule beyond Babylon.

Elam Conquered by Hammurabi/Amorites (1702 BC): The Iranian kingdom of Elam invaded Babylon in an attempt to expand its kingdom. The Babylonians defeated the invasion, and in turn invaded and conquered Elam (red).

Babylonian Rule of Assyria (

1700 BC): The Semitic-ruled Babylonian Empire (a competing Amorite dynasty) conquered the Amorite-ruled Assyrian territory after conquering Southern Mesopotamia in 1700 BC.

Southern Mesopotamia Conquered by Hammurabi/Amorites(1699 BC): Hammurabi proceeds to conquer Larsa as well, upset that the Amorite-ruled kingdom (blue) failed to live up to their promise in joining Babylon against the Elamites.

Northern Mesopotamia Conquered by Hammurabi/Amorites (by 1690 BC): Riding the momentum gained in its conquests to the south, Hammurabi directs his armies to the north, quickly submitting Assyrian territories to his rule. The further north traveled from Babylon, the less secure its rule, but Hammurabi extracted tribute from settlements as far north as central Anatolia (Turkey).((((the amorites are the Imliq

both the Imliq and akkadians carry the blessing it is not only the imliq

on 01/Tuesday/2015 i dreamt the imliq are from Nabi Saleh pbh and Akkadians are from Nabi Hud pbh

on 10/28/2012 i dreamt Nabi Hud is from Arfakhshaad and I also something to do with Nabi Saleh pbt although i dreamt this Nabi Hud is from tribe of Ad he is Awsi but there is no contradiction as nothing is mentioned about his mother

on 12d/11m/2014 i dreamt i was told the Imliq and Akkadians carried the blessings

also in Dec 2014 with date I dreamt the descendants of Hud and Saleh PBT going East like toward Afghanistan India area

on 01/12/15 I dreamt the Edomites are the Chaldeans and that the Kurds and Indians are from Chaldeans (In India has nothing to do with color whether fair or an actual brown color skin))

((((30/08/12 I dreamt the Greeks & Kurds are same & that the Kurds are from Edomites.))))) On 09/30/12 I dreamt the Kurds and Indians (Indians) are from Hittite royalty)))))))

On 08/26/13 I dreamt the Kurds in Jordan mixing with Nabateans I saw northern iraq.)))))

Arameans came out after the actual tribe of Thamud perished , Nabi Saalih and family remained Arameans (chaldeans) mixed with Assyrians.
After their expulsion from Mesopotamia, the Amorites of Syria came under the domination of first the Hittite Empire and from the 14th century BC, the Middle Assyrian Empire. They appear to have been displaced or absorbed by a new wave of semi nomadic West Semitic speaking Semites, the (((Arameans,))) from circa 1200 BC onwards, and thus disappeared from the pages of history. From this period the region they had inhabited became known as Aram (Aramea) Wikipedia

07/07/12i dreamt the Arameans absorbed the amorites

In a hadith reported in Sahih Muslim, Muhammad mentions that ‘Isa (Jesus) resembles Urwah ibn Mas’ud.[2] closest in appearance. He was very white with reddish cheeks,tall with dark black hair and eyes.wikipedia
The companion who most resembles ‘Eesaa (Jesus), may Allaah exalt hi mention, is’Urwah Ibn Mas’ood . The evidence is the narration reported by Imaams Muslimand At-Tirmithi that Jaabir narrated that the Prophet said: “I was shown the Prophets in front of me, and Moosaa resembles the men of the tribe of Shanu’ah, and I saw ‘Eesaa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), may Allaah exalt their mention, and the person who resembles him most is ‘Urwah Ibn Mas’ood, and I saw Ibraaheem and the person who resembles him most is your companion- referring to himself and I saw Jibreel (the angel Gabriel), and the person who resembles him most is Dihyah.”
I dreamt on m/d/y 10/05/12 the Thamud went into India and went into southern India
Gerrha came to existence because Aramaeans (Chaldaeans) moved to its location and built up the city as per their own needs as merchants this was quite typical of the Aramaeans. They used to setup new cities in diverse countries as example, they founded Kaine (”new”) city in Upper Egypt at a strategic location on the road that linked the Nile Valley with the Red Sea coast. Kaine survived down to our times as Qena, 60 km north of Luxor.
As the Aramaeans undertook and totally controlled the trade with Yemenites across the peninsula and other parts of the Asiatic landmass, they were the primary partners of the Sabaeans, the strongest Yemenite kingdom in land. In coordination with the Sabaeans, and in full understanding of their mutual, commercial — economic needs, the Aramaeans founded Gerrha. In fact, the city location should serve the needs of the Sabaean — Aramaean trade and the diffusion of East African and Yemenite merchandises to Mesopotamia, Iran, Caucasus, and Central Asia.
More specifically, the location of Gerrha would serve the Sabaean — Aramaean interests by being at the end of a road and at the beginning of a bifurcation. This means that products for Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Syria, Armenia, and Caucasus would be dispatched toward the West on the other hand, merchandises for Central Asia and India would be shipped toward the North and the East. Starting from the land of the Sabaeans and advancing to the North, one immediately understands that the bifurcation point (Gerrha) could not be located in any other land except the territory of the Emirates.
If Gerrha was located in the area of today’s Al Ehsa province of Saudi Arabia, its location would not serve the Sabaean — Aramaean interests, as it would expose the East African and Yemenite merchandises that were directed for Central Asia to Arsacid Parthian taxes and customs.
Worse, if Gerrha was located in the area of today’s Al Ehsa province of Saudi Arabia, there would not be any need for a city to be built there at all! Why building a city so close to the southern part of Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq and Kuwait), since the road from North Yemen would soon reach the confines of Mesopotamia? Caravans transporting goods from Yemen would not need to stop in any city if they had already reached the territory of Al Ehsa province of today’s Saudi Arabia they would simply advance and soon reach their destination.
So, to first search for a possible location of an ancient city located on the trade network between East and West like Gerrha, one must understand that it should be pretty far from Mesopotamia in order to have a reason to exist.

Assyrians would be from Thamud as they mixed Arameans mixed with amorite (imliq) Arameans get this all people of aws

The people of ‘Ad were tall in stature and were skillful masons. God had given them abundance of wealth, cattle, children and gardens. They had attained a considerable degree of civilization. Among them flourished the famous king Shaddad. He built a magnificent palace near ‘Aden. It was known as the Garden of Iram. He was a mighty king and his conquests extended to Syria, Iraq and the frontier of Sub- continent of Indo-Pakistan.

My personal experience on 05/02/12 I am from Bani and I am a descendant of Prophet Hud and then I said Saalih ,then I saw faces of the Iraqi Kurds and Indians (India) kurdish


DEFINITION: A land in southern Babylonia (modern southern Iraq) frequently mentioned in the Old Testament and first described by Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (reigned 884/883-859 BC). Its more important rulers were Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar, and Nabonidus, who ruled an empire from the Persian Gulf between the Arabian desert and the Euphrates delta. Nabopolassar in 625 became king of Babylon and inaugurated a Chaldean dynasty that lasted until the Persian invasion of 539 BC. The prestige of his successors, Nebuchadrezzar II (reigned 605-562) and Nabonidus (reigned 556-539), was such that Chaldean” became synonymous with “Babylonian” and Chaldea replaced Assyria as the main power in the Near East. “Chaldean” also was used by several ancient authors to denote the priests and other persons educated in the classical Babylonian astronomy and astrology and to the Aramaean tribe named for Kaldu which first settled in this area in the 10th century BC.”

DEFINITION: Iron Age city in Hejaz, Arabia. Nabonidus (reigned 555-539 BC) was the last king of the Neo-Babylonian empire and lived there for 10 years. There is a series of large walled compounds and a small mound in the center of town. There is a cultic area and carved scenes with an iconography derived from the Mesopotamian world. Stelae with Aramaic inscriptions of the 1st millennium BC have been found. As early as the 6th century BC, the Chaldean kings of Babylon maintained Tayma as a summer capital.

Correction My personal experience on 05/02/12 I am from Bani Ad and I am a descendant of Prophet Hud and then I said Saalih ,then I saw faces of the Iraqi Kurds and Indians (India)

Reason 5: Having a freshly squeezed juice at Al Ula Fresh

Image Credit: Multiple Sources

Al Ula Fresh is a beautiful little oasis owned by a local Saudi farmer and business man, who opened up his farm to the public during Winter at Tantora for visitors to tour. The point of Al Ula Fresh is to go around and explore the different kind of fruits and vegetables that grow in Saudi Arabia. It is not just dates. They have delicious oranges, lemons, pomegranates, apples and more. They even managed to grow cotton, which is quite difficult to grow. We got to walk through the farm, pick our own fruits in a basket then we take the fruits we picked to a juice bar, to get a freshly squeezed juice that you can drink on the spot.

Cost: Dh180 per person, kids under 12 can enter for free.

Saudi Arabia discovers 9,000 year-old civilization

Saudi Arabia discovers 9,000 year-old civilization | Reuters

(Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is excavating a new archaeological site that will show horses were domesticated 9,000 years ago in the Arabian peninsula, the country's antiquities expert said on Wednesday.

The discovery of the civilization, named al-Maqar after the site's location, will challenge the theory that the domestication of animals took place 5,500 years ago in Central Asia, said Ali al-Ghabban, Vice-President of Antiquities and Museums at the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities.

"This discovery will change our knowledge concerning the domestication of horses and the evolution of culture in the late Neolithic period," Ghabban told a news conference in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.

"The Maqar Civilization is a very advanced civilization of the Neolithic period. This site shows us clearly, the roots of the domestication of horses 9,000 years ago."

The site also includes remains of mummified skeletons, arrowheads, scrapers, grain grinders, tools for spinning and weaving, and other tools that are evidence of a civilization that is skilled in handicrafts.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, is trying to diversify its economy away from oil and hopes to increase its tourism.

Last year the SCTA launched exhibitions in Barcelona's CaixaForum museum and Paris's Louvre museum showcasing historic findings of the Arabian Peninsula.

The SC


The Majestic Arabian Horse

A more recent ancient civilisation Nabateans From KSA and Jordan




Al-Magar civilization

Map showing location of Al Magar site in Saudi Arabia
Location In the southwestern central part of the Arabian Peninsula
Region Najd
Coordinates 19.744213°N 44.620447°E
Type Ancient
Part of Central Arabia
Founded c. 8000 BC
Abandoned c. 7000 BC
Periods Neolithic

Al-Magar was a prehistoric culture of the Neolithic whose epicenter lied in modern-day southwestern Najd in Saudi Arabia. Al-Magar is possibly one of the first cultures in the world where widespread domestication of animals occurred, particularly the horse, during the Neolithic period.[1]

The inhabitants of Al-Magar were also one of the first communities in the world to practice the art of agriculture and animal husbandry before climate changes in the region resulted in desertification and lived in stone houses built with dry masonry.[2]Radiocarbon dating of objects discovered indicate an age of about 9,000 years.[3]

The inhabitants of Al-Magar were thus likewise among some of the first communities in the world to practice the art of agriculture and animal husbandry before climate changes in the region resulted in desertification. The people of Al-Magar lived in stone houses built with dry masonry.[4]

  1. ^ Sylvia, Smith (26 February 2013). "Desert finds challenge horse taming ideas". BBC. BBC. Retrieved 13 November 2016. John, Henzell (11 March 2013). "Carved in stone: were the Arabs the first to tame the horse?". thenational. thenational. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  2. ^"Al-Magar Civilization". scta. scta. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  3. ^"Al-Magar Civilization Domestication of Horses in Saudi Arabia?". New Public Scientific Portal for: Paleolithic & Neolithic Rock Art Cave Paintings & Rock Engravings - Thomas Kummert. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  4. ^"Al-Magar Civilization". scta. scta. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  5. ^"These may be the world's first images of dogs—and they're wearing leashes". Science Magazine - David Grimm. Retrieved 18 June 2018.

These may be the world’s first images of dogs—and they’re wearing leashes
By David Grimm Nov. 16, 2017 , 8:00 AM

Carved into a sandstone cliff on the edge of a bygone river in the Arabian Desert, a hunter draws his bow for the kill. He is accompanied by 13 dogs, each with its own coat markings two animals have lines running from their necks to the man’s waist.

The engravings likely date back more than 8000 years, making them the earliest depictions of dogs, a new study reveals. And those lines are probably leashes, suggesting that humans mastered the art of training and controlling dogs thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

“It’s truly astounding stuff,” says Melinda Zeder, an archaeozoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. “It’s the only real demonstration we have of humans using early dogs to hunt.” But she cautions that more work will be needed to confirm both the age and meaning of the depictions.

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The hunting scene comes from Shuwaymis, a hilly region of northwestern Saudi Arabia where seasonal rains once formed rivers and supported pockets of dense vegetation. For the past 3 years, Maria Guagnin, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany—in partnership with the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage—has helped catalog more than 1400 rock art panels containing nearly 7000 animals and humans at Shuwaymis and Jubbah, a more open vista about 200 kilometers north that was once dotted with lakes.

Starting about 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers entered—or perhaps returned to—the region. What appear to be the oldest images are thought to date to this time and depict curvy women. Then about 7000 to 8000 years ago, people here became herders, based on livestock bones found at Jubbah that’s likely when pictures of cattle, sheep, and goats began to dominate the images. In between—carved on top of the women and under the livestock—are the early hunting dogs: 156 at Shuwaymis and 193 at Jubbah. All are medium-sized, with pricked up ears, short snouts, and curled tails—hallmarks of domestic canines. In some scenes, the dogs face off against wild donkeys. In others, they bite the necks and bellies of ibexes and gazelles. And in many, they are tethered to a human armed with a bow and arrow.

The researchers couldn’t directly date the images, but based on the sequence of carving, the weathering of the rock, and the timing of the switch to pastoralism, “The dog art is at least 8000 to 9000 years old,” Guagnin says. That may edge out depictions of dogs previously labeled the oldest, paintings on Iranian pottery dated to at most 8000 years ago.

“When Maria came to me with the rock art photos and asked me if they meant anything, I about lost my mind,” says co-author Angela Perri, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Perri has studied the bones of ancient dogs around the world, and has argued that early dogs were critical in human hunting. “A million bones won’t tell me what these images are telling me,” she says. “It’s the closest thing you’re going to get to a YouTube video.”

The ancient hunting dogs of Saudi Arabia (bottom) may have resembled the Canaan breed of dog (top).

The dogs look a lot like today’s Canaan dog, says Perri, a largely feral breed that roams the deserts of the Middle East. That could indicate that these ancient people bred dogs that had already adapted to hunting in the desert, the team reports this week in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Or people may even have independently domesticated these dogs from the Arabian wolf long after dogs were domesticated elsewhere, which likely happened sometime between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago.

But Zeder notes that the engravings may not be as old as they seem. To confirm the chronology, scientists will need to link the images to a well-dated archaeological site—a challenge, she says, because “the archaeological record in this region is really spotty.”

Paul Tacon, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Gold Coast, Australia, agrees that “dating rock art is often a guestimate.” But based on his nearly 4 decades of studying such images around the world, he says, “Their chronology is sound.”

Even if the art is younger than Guagnin and her colleagues think, the leashes are by far the oldest on record. Until now, the earliest evidence for such restraints came from a wall painting in Egypt dated to about 5500 years ago, Perri says. The Arabian hunters may have used the leashes to keep valuable scent dogs close and protected, she says, or to train new dogs. Leashing dogs to the hunter’s waist may have freed his hands for bow and arrow.

But Tacon cautions that the lines in the engravings could be symbolic. “It could just be a depiction of a bond.” Either way, he says, that bond was clearly strong, as the artists appear to have depicted dogs they actually knew, with particular coat patterns, stances, and genders. “These creatures were very important, beloved companions.”

Such a relationship would have been critical to helping people survive a harsh environment. Dogs could take down gazelles and ibexes too fast for humans, Perri says. Details of the images also suggest that the ancient hunters tailored their strategies to the landscape, Zeder says. At Shuwaymis, where the dogs may have been used to drive prey into the corners of uneven terrain, the art depicts large packs. At Jubbah, the images show smaller groups of dogs that may have ambushed prey at watering holes. “People were able to venture into these inhospitable areas by strategically marshalling dogs to survive,” Zeder says. “And now we’re seeing a real picture of how it happened.”

When Mutlaq ibn Gublan decided to dig a birka (pond) to keep his camels watered, he arranged for a backhoe and drums of diesel fuel to be driven from the road to the site on his ancestral grazing lands in southwest Saudi Arabia. The spot he had chosen, amid finger-like valleys that cut through low sandstone hills, was near traces of an ancient waterfall, which hinted that, in millennia past, nature itself supplied more than a mere birka.

His pond was never completed. As he supervised the excavation, he says, "I spotted a smooth, shaped stone sticking out of the ground. I recognized it was an old and important object." He could tell at once it was a statue of an animal. It was buried upright, head toward the surface, he says. "I paid off the operator and told him to follow his tracks back to the road."

Above and top: The largest, and to date the most significant, of more than 300 artifacts found so far at al-Magar is a sculpture fragment whose head, muzzle, nostrils, arched neck, shoulder, withers and overall proportions resemble those of a horse, though it may represent an ***, an onager or a hybrid. Eighty-six centimeters (34") long, 18 centimeters (7") thick and weighing more than 135 kilograms (300 lbs), it is provisionally dated to about 7000 bce.
Over the next few years, Ibn Gublan unearthed some 300 objects there. Though none was as large as the first, his finds included a small stone menagerie: ostrich, sheep and goats what may be fish and birds a cow-like bovid (Bovidae) and an elegant canine profile that resembles one of the oldest known domesticated breeds, the desert saluki. In addition, he found mortars and pestles, grain grinders, a soapstone pot ornamented with looping and hatched geometric motifs, weights likely used in weaving and stone tools that may have been used in leather processing, as well as scrapers, arrowheads and blades—including an exquisitely decorated stone knife in the unmistakable curved design of the traditional Arabian dagger.

"I recognized it was an old and important object," says Mutlaq ibn Gublan, who canceled excavation of his camel-watering pond when the excavator's backhoe struck the Neolithic sculpture. "I am happy that in the footsteps of my grandfather and his long line of ancestors I have found something from the heart of Arabia that goes deep into our history and helps connect us with the past."
Two years ago, he loaded it all up in his Jeep, drove it to Riyadh and donated it to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (scta).

"When I first saw the pieces, I just could not believe it. It was, how can I say, incroyable," recalls Ali al-Ghabban, head of antiquities at the scta, his French-accented English giving away his years at the University of Provence. "This is Neolithic material," he states, from "a sophisticated society possessing a high level of art and craftsmanship that we have not previously seen." Al-Ghabban had a laboratory run a radiocarbon analysis on trace organic remains found later alongside some of the objects. That dated the material to between 6590 and 7250 bce, he says.

The discovery has been named "the al-Magar civilization" after its location, a name that means "gathering place" or "headquarters" in a tribal context. It is the carvings of animals—far more numerous, and some larger, than anything previously found in the western Arabian Peninsula—that are the most intriguing. Among them, the largest, the one that prompted Ibn Gublan to stop the backhoe, has sparked the most curiosity of all.

Eighty-six centimeters (34") long, 18 centimeters (7") thick and weighing more than 135 kilograms (300 lbs), the carving has a rounded head, arched neck, muzzle, nostrils, shoulder, withers and overall proportions that clearly resemble an equid—a horse, an ***, an onager or some hybrid. But what makes it so very curious are its two distinctive tooled markings—one in relief from the shoulder down toward the forefoot, and the other carefully, even delicately, incised around the muzzle. The question fairly leaps out: Were the people who inhabited al-Magar putting early forms of bridles on such animals? If so, they were doing it millennia before experts believe it was done elsewhere.

The discovery at al-Magar and the electrifying question it raises come as Saudi Arabia experiences a resurgent pride not only in its archeological heritage but also, particularly, in the legacy and culture of the desert-bred Arabian horse. The discovery also coincides with recent advances in analytical technologies that can help address important questions: When and where did humans begin to move from hunting wild horses (Equus ferus) for food, bone, hide and hair toward the capture, taming and exploitation of horses for meat, milk and transport—a process that gave rise to the subspecies (Equus ferus caballus) that is today's domesticated horse? This pivotal historic development revolutionized transport and trade, allowed people to connect over much larger distances, speeded migrations and changed conquest and warfare. Yet despite more than a century of archeology and the latest in genetic technology, it remains an open question exactly when, where and how domestication occurred. The discovery at al-Magar shows again just how very open a question it is.

When Ibn Gublan removes from a document case a sheaf of neatly clipped and plastic-protected press clippings, in both Arabic and English, and fans them out in the tented majlis(salon) of his brother's home, it is the picture of the banded and incised equid-like statue that takes pride of place. In a scholarly manner, he adjusts his thick-rimmed glasses and peers at a photograph of Saudi King Abdullah bin 'Abd al-'Aziz examining the objects last year, when the discovery was announced and the finds were first displayed to dignitaries and high government officials.

With mint tea brewing on the hearth and Arab coffee deftly served by his young nephew Saud, attention turns to this prize statue. It is the centerpiece of a new archeological discussion, and its initial interpretation is as challenging and contentious as it is intriguing.

A wet epoch in Arabia, starting after the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago, and enduring for about 5000 years, allowed widely varied flora and fauna to flourish. Evidence of this is abundant in rock art throughout the western Arabian Peninsula, where depictions of various equids appear along with other species, such as cheetah, hippo, hyena and giraffe, which disappeared as the climate dried to desert. How and when the horse appeared is a matter of both emerging science and Saudi cultural pride—this latter evidenced not only by today's pride in Arabian horses, but also by the rich legacy of poetry and legend, going back deep into pre-Islamic times, that surround and celebrate the desert-bred Arabian horse.

The sculptures from al-Magar "might be" equids, says David Anthony, author of The Horse, The Wheel, and Language and a leading authority on the domestication of the horse. "The local equid in southern Mesopotamia was the onager, and another was the ***, introduced probably from Egypt. No Equus caballus specimens have been found, to my knowledge, anywhere near Saudi Arabia before 1800 bce." For anything conclusive, he continues, "there need to be finds of definite Equus ferus caballus bones in a good stratified context dated by radiocarbon."

In March 2010, the scta flew Saudi and international archeologists and pre-historians to al-Magar for a brief daytime survey. The team fanned out and, in a few hours, collected more stone objects, including tools and another horse-like statue. They also sifted out four samples of burned bone, which were later used for radiocarbon dating of the site. The date, about 9000 years before the present, coincides with the period when the inhabitants of the first known settlements in Arabia and the Levant, already starting to cultivate crops, were also beginning to domesticate animals.

With the area now monitored to prevent illicit digging, the scta is preparing for detailed surveys and excavations expected to take years. "This impressive discovery reflects the importance of the site as a cultural center and could possibly be the birthplace of an advanced prehistoric civilization that witnessed domestication of animals for the first time during the Neolithic period," says al-Ghabban. "We now need to know more."

All current evidence points to the Eurasian steppe, and probably not much earlier than around 4000 bce," as the place and time the horse was first domesticated, says zooarcheologist Sandra Olsen, head of anthropology and director of the Center for World Cultures at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Olsen has studied the roles of horses in human cultures since 1975 and pioneered research on horse domestication. She and her colleagues have documented the oldest evidence for domestic horses known to date: It comes from about 3500 bce, in northern Kazakhstan.

In 2010 and 2011, Olsen joined Majid Khan, a specialist on Arabian rock art, in Saudi Arabia for a kingdom-wide survey of known rock art that shows equids—and a quest for new finds. Khan has spent the last three decades investigating Saudi petroglyphs, and he estimates there are more than 1000 that portray equids as hunted, ridden or draft animals. He believes the earliest among them date back into the Neolithic era—though assigning accurate dates is notoriously challenging.

Al-Magar lies amid the low hills and sandy valleys of southwestern Saudi Arabia, which until 4000 or 5000 years ago was as verdant as African savannah today.
Given the limitations of the archeological record, how can archeologists make progress in identifying where and when the long process of domestication actually began? Olsen describes her team's approach as "holistic," or simply, "piecing together as much evidence as possible, whether direct or more circumstantial." In the steppes of Asia, she adds, "we also take an 'upside-down' approach: If the prehistoric horse bones are difficult to decipher, then why not look at the settlement and at traces of the human lifestyle for evidence that they were affected by horse domestication?"

According to al-Ghabban, it is just such a multidisciplinary approach that will be applied at al-Magar, where specialists will include zooarcheologists, geoarcheologists, archeobotanists, paleoclimatologists, petrologists, paleontologists, authorities on the domestication of flora and fauna, and archeogeneticists, who will likely be enlisted to use relatively new mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis. What makes mtDNA analysis particularly useful is that—unlike nuclear DNA—mtDNA resides outside a cell's nucleus, which means it is inherited exclusively through the maternal line, unshuffled from generation to generation. MtDNA studies comparing a range of domestic horse breeds reveal high diversity among maternal lines, or matrilines. This diversity, Olsen says, supports the theory that horse domestication took place in a number of different places at different times. "There was no one ancestral mare that was the 'Eve' of all domestic horses," she says.

Supporting this view is a study published in January in the journal of the us National Academy of Sciences that examines the rate of mutation of equine mtdna. It not only concludes that communities in both Asia and Europe domesticated horses independently, but also suggests how far back in time domestication events may have taken place. Alessandro Achilli, assistant professor of genetics in the Department of Cellular and Environmental Biology at the University of Perugia in Italy, collected maternally inherited mitochondrial genomes from living horses in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. Because mtDNA mutation occurs at a known rate, these samples allowed him to trace maternal ancestry using a kind of "molecular clock."


Equid species known to Neolithic humans in Africa and Asia included the African wild ***, Equus africanus somalicus, above the onager, Equus hemionus onager, right and the early wild horse, Equus ferus, opposite, from which today's domestic horse species are descended.
His team identified maternal lines descending unambiguously from different female ancestors. "This means that multiple female horse lines were domesticated throughout the Neolithic period—during the last 10,000 years—in multiple locations of Eurasia, possibly including western Europe," says Achilli. "The very fact that many wild mares were independently domesticated in different places testifies to how significant horses have been to humankind. Taming these animals could generate the food surplus necessary to support the growth of human populations and the human capability to expand and adapt to new environments, or could facilitate transportation." Achilli adds that "unfortunately, we have no idea about the exact location of the domestication events," a question that only archeological dna sampling can answer.

Olsen, though inclined to agree, cautions against accepting this as any kind of last word. She argues that humans and wild animals, as well as horses, all have different maternal lines. "I think that these multiple matrilines are the result of ancient horse herders occasionally catching and adding wild mares to their breeding populations," she says. And, she adds, in the other direction, "domesticated mares can be 'stolen' by wild stallions and incorporated into their harems."

However it took place, the generally accepted scenario of multiple, separate domestication events does open the tantalizing possibility that the Arabian Peninsula had its own horse-domestication event, and the Peninsula's last wet climatic period would seem like an ideal epoch for that to have occurred, if indeed it did. While Arabian domestication implies that there would have been wild horses roaming a then-verdant, savannah-like landscape, Olsen believes that picture is not supported by the petroglyphs she has seen in the country, nor by any skeletal remains, which have yet to be found. Although she accepts that wild asses or onagers are shown being hunted in Neolithic Saudi petroglyphs, she contends that the earliest horses she has seen on the Peninsula are those depicted with chariots, and those, she says, are "no older than at the most 2000 bce." That shows "why I believe it is imperative to distinguish between wild asses and hemiones [onagers] versus horses."

As in all detective work, one of the great dangers is flawed evidence. Nearly half a century ago in the Ukraine, a Soviet archeologist uncovered the skull and lower leg bones of a young stallion at Dereivka, near the banks of the Dnieper River. Radiocarbon analysis dated the find at 4200 to 3700 bce, and the stallion's premolars showed signs of wear by a bit. Soviet archeologists confidently pronounced that the site was evidence of horse domestication. But the find's importance collapsed when more detailed radiocarbon dating showed that the remains were what archeologists call "an intrusive deposit" placed there by Iron Age Scythians in the first millennium bce.

This simple, even crude, petroglyph near al-Magar may show a mounted rider.
Subsequently, studies have looked not only for evidence of horses being ridden but also for evidence of their being herded. Attention shifted east, over the Ural Mountains, to the northern marches of Kazakhstan, where in the 1980's, near a small village called Botai, Viktor Zaibert of Kokshetau University unearthed horse bones—300,000 of them.

Zaibert, collaborating with American and British archeologists, found traces of bit wear on lower-jaw teeth, revealing that around 3500 bce some Botai horses were indeed probably harnessed, either for draft purposes or for riding, or both.

Olsen was among Zaibert's collaborators, and she identified in Botai traces of corrals and of roofing material that contained horse manure, as well as signs of ceremonial sacrifices. She also found tools used to make leather straps that may have served as bridles or hobbles. This is parallel to some of the stone tools found at al-Magar, which also point to the likelihood of leather or fiber processing, which could be associated with items of horse tack. But however significant indirect evidence may be, one of the lessons from Botai is that if al-Magar is to inform us, then it is not only reliable taxonomy of the statuary, or interpretation of artifacts, that is required, but also organic remains.

Wild, Tame or Domesticated?

Of the planet's roughly 5500 mammal species, only one, Homo sapiens, over the last 15,000 years or so has selected and controlled the breeding of other species for food, transport, worship, companionship and other purposes. Exactly how many species have been so controlled depends on the definition of "domestication," a word derived from the Latin domus, meaning home.

"What domestication is not," says Alan Outram, "is taming wild animals." For example, he says, although reindeer are hunted and herded for meat and are used to pull sleds, attempts to manage their breeding for specific desirable traits has so far been unsuccessful. That makes them "tame" rather than "domesticated," he maintains.

Dogs, our first successful domestication, are a dramatically different story. Current theory places the process in Russia, possibly as far back as the Upper Paleolithic. The hypothesis is that some feeble gray wolf pups, runts ejected from the pack, gravitated toward humans for survival. As subordinate creatures that could help a hunter retrieve wounded prey, they earned their adoption, and Canis lupus familiaris evolved.

At the other end of the time line is the horse, which is our penultimate major domestication. (Bactrian and dromedary camels followed around 3000 bce.)

Only 14 species account for more than 90 percent of the world's domesticated livestock. By controlled breeding, humans have developed some 4000 varieties from only nine of those species: In order of their domestication, they are sheep, goat, pig, cattle, chicken, ***, horse, buffalo and duck. Horses account for some 300 of those breeds.

And what is the most common of all the domestic animals? The answer is the chicken—population 19 billion—followed by cattle at 1.4 billion and dogs at 500 million. Horses? There are about 65 million in the world today.

It was Alan Outram, a professor of archeological science at Exeter University, who found fat residues absorbed in Botai pottery that were later determined to be from milk rather than meat. The overwhelming proliferation of horse bones on the site logically suggested mare's milk, which to this day remains a popular traditional drink throughout Central Asia. The thousands of horse bones, found in 150 house pits, show these horses were slender, like later Bronze Age domestic horses, distinct from the more robust wild horses that once roamed the Eurasian lands from the steppe to Iberia. Nevertheless, "in our science it is very difficult to determine whether the horse was domesticated or not. The answer to this question is based on a complex study of all contexts of the material culture," says Zaibert.

Olsen homes in on the bones: "Hunters abandon heavy bones of low utility at faraway kill sites, whereas herders slaughter domestic animals in or near their village. In the latter case, all of the bones of the skeleton are found at the home site, and that is exactly what appears at the Botai sites." Soil analysis in enclosures at one Botai site identified high levels of phosphate and sodium, indicating that manure and urine were present inside what were likely corrals, and Olsen has found signs of postholes around some, reinforcing the idea that at Botai, people corralled some of their horses. These enclosures, as well as houses set in circles and rows, all point toward a kind of social organization that could lend itself to horse domestication.

Just as Botai included developed settlements, the discovery at al-Magar includes traces of stone structures. Abdullah al-Sharekh, an archeologist at King Sa'ud University, was among the first experts on the site. He was impressed with the large number of scattered stone structural remains connected with settlement and with signs of agricultural activity that he saw around the site, as well as along the tops of surrounding hills, including walls erected along the slopes. The buried statues were all found within the remains of a building. "Nothing this size has been found in Arabia before, and the stratigraphic evidence will make this perhaps the most significant site in Saudi Arabia," says al-Sharekh. "In a regional context, a find of such variety must have significance. It can tell us about social aspects and the culture of the people who lived here, domestication, trade and migration, and perhaps any early ritualistic importance," he says, adding that "a pause is needed before we can make judgments."

Also present on the scta's initial survey team was Michael Petraglia, a specialist in Paleolithic archeology and stone-tool technologies of the Arabian Peninsula. He quickly found at al-Magar a far older historical horizon. Adjacent to the Neolithic finds, he found flaked stone tools, such as scrapers, that he estimates exceed 50,000 years in age. Al-Magar "was an attractive environment for human activity over multiple periods," he says. "This is very important not only for the more recent site, but also for what it can tell us about past climatic fluctuations between dry and humid periods."

It also makes al-Magar all the more intriguing as a possible site of early horse domestication. The equid-like sculpture's prominent bas-relief band, which could represent a halter, is not unique: Other, smaller, equid-like statues from the site also have bands across the shoulder. There is also on this largest piece the incision around the muzzle to the middle of the upper jaw, which resembles a noseband. Do these features portray tack, or do they represent natural aspects of the animal itself, such as musculature or coat markings? (The question has been posed before: In the 1980's, analysts of Paleolithic paintings in French caves advanced claims that certain markings on horses indicated halters and consequently suggested that domestication in Europe dated back as far as 25,000 years. World authorities, including Olsen, debunked this by showing that the markings portrayed body features and hair patterns, not halters.)

Alan Outram hopes for the chance to examine horse teeth that may be found at al-Magar to see if they would show characteristic effects of wear caused by leather bits.

Before the use of metals, halters, reins and other tack were made entirely from natural materials, and among the al-Magar finds are stone implements that may have been used to produce long strips of leather from the hides of sheep, goats or equids. Al-Ghabban is particularly intrigued by a semi-spherical black stone with a deeply cut, rounded cleft worn smooth. Curious lines are scored on either side of the gap. "We have not seen anything like this before, and we need to carefully study this piece and what it tells us about processing leather and making rope and cord," he says.

Outram explains its potential significance. "As a culture develops away from hunting and gathering and toward such activities as horse herding, the tool kit people use changes. We find more scrapers than pointed projectiles, as well as entirely new processing tools," he says, pointing to such similar tools at Botai sites as leather thong smoothers carved from horse jawbones. Outram has conducted laboratory simulations using tools recreated from horse mandibles, processing thongs that could have been used as tack or tethers.

Sandra Olsen, top, has found the oldest firm evidence for domestic horses known to date, circa 3500 bce, at Botai in northern Kazakhstan, where organic remains at house sites, above, help patches of vegetation grow thicker and greener.
Tack made from organic materials rarely survives in the archeological record, and thus stone tools, petroglyphs and equine dental wear must provide the evidence of pre-metal-age bits on equids. To establish whether soft bits leave dental wear patterns, and what those might look like, David Anthony pioneered experiments with bits made from leather, hemp and horsehair rope, which he kept in place with cheek pieces made with flint tools. Comparing before-and-after equine dental mouldings, he found that the organic bits created beveled wear that indeed differs from the abrasion patterns known from metal bits.

"The date when Equus caballus was introduced into northern and eastern Arabia has been debated since the 19th century," says Michael Macdonald, a research associate at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford. Writing 15 years ago on the horse in pre-Islamic Arabia, he explains that controversy is to be expected until considerably more research is carried out. "It will be many years before a coherent picture emerges," he says.

But there is no controversy that al-Magar constitutes a significant discovery. To Khan, it represents the earliest known Neolithic settlement in the Arabian Peninsula and provides "solid and undeniable evidence of the presence and domestication of horses in Arabia." He backs up his claim not only with the statuary but also with the discovery, within a few minutes' walk of the site, of petroglyphs showing ostriches, dogs and ibex. One image, deeply pecked into the rock and with a heavy patina of oxides built up over millennia, hints at a figure mounted on an animal. Khan is convinced it portrays a rider and a horse, and he considers it Neolithic, contemporary with the oldest rock art he has studied so thoroughly at Jubbah, near Hail in northern Saudi Arabia.

Others remain cautious. Juris Zarins, chief archeologist of the expedition that in 1992 discovered the "lost" city of 'Ubar, and who worked in the early days of archeology in Saudi Arabia in the 1970's, says that he is "not surprised" at the finds because al-Magar belongs to a region that is "an archeological hotbed," and that it is "not out of the realm of possibility" that the markings could be the first hints of domestication. "There has not been enough exploration carried out in Arabia," he says, "and new discoveries like this could change things." Whatever the species the sculptures represent, he agrees the nose marking in particular could be significant. "In Arabia in the Neolithic period, we have tethering stones, which archeologists say represent the first attempts at domestication. I think it is Equus asinus [African wild ***]. They may have been trying to do something with it, based on the head. The earliest suggested Equus asinus domestication in the Levant is generally regarded as 3500 bce. If so, this could mark the start of a much longer-than-expected domestication process."

Olsen argues for careful study. The upstanding band could, she says, represent natural features of the animal, or it might even be a tang for attaching the carving to a wall. "And where's the mane?" she asks, elaborating that she would expect equid statuary to show the feature, whether upright as on wild horses or floppy like those on domesticated ones. "What is clearly needed now," she suggests, "is a detailed and expert anatomical analysis of all of the animal heads in order to assess their taxonomic identification."

Beyond this, the discovery of al-Magar, she says, "is extremely important in shedding light on an apparently new culture that existed at a sophisticated level in a local region previously not known for this."

Mutlaq ibn Gublan draws on a lifetime spent with domesticated herds, including, of course, camels. He sips his coffee and says, "When I saw the piece, and the large marking on it, I first thought it was an ox. But then its face told me this is a horse. I am happy that in the footsteps of my grandfather and his long line of ancestors I have found something from the heart of Arabia that goes deep into our history and helps connect us with the past." Just what that thing is will, for now, remain a mystery.

Peter Harrigan ([email protected]), a frequent contributor to this magazine, is a visiting researcher at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University and commissioning editor of four books on Arabian horses. He lives on the Isle of Wight.
This article appeared on pages 2-9 of the print edition of Saudi Aramco World.

Check the Public Affairs Digital Image Archive for May/June 2012 images.


Mecca has been referred to by many names. As with many Arabic words, its etymology is obscure. [15] Widely believed to be a synonym for Makkah, it is said to be more specifically the early name for the valley located therein, while Muslim scholars generally use it to refer to the sacred area of the city that immediately surrounds and includes the Ka'bah. [16] [17]

The Quran refers to the city as Makkah in Surah Al Imran (3), verse 96,

"Indeed the first House [of worship], established for mankind was that at Makkah. " – Quran 3:96

This is presumed to have been the name of the city at the time of Abraham (Ibrahim in Islamic tradition) and it is also transliterated as Baca, Baka, Bakah, Bakka, Becca, Bekka, among others. [18] [19] [20]

Makkah, Makkah al-Mukarramah and Mecca

In South Arabic, the language in use in the southern portion of the Arabian Peninsula at the time of Muhammad, the b and m were interchangeable. This is presumed to have been the origin of the current form of the name. "Makkah" is the official transliteration used by the Saudi government and is closer to the Arabic pronunciation. [21] [22] The government adopted Makkah as the official spelling in the 1980s, but is not universally known or used worldwide. [21] The full official name is Makkah al-Mukarramah (Arabic: مكة المكرمة ‎, romanized: Makkat al-Mukarramah, lit. 'Makkah the Honored'). [21] "Makkah" is used to refer to the city in the Quran in Surah Al-Fath (48), verse 24. [15] [23]

The word "Mecca" in English has come to be used to refer to any place that draws large numbers of people, and because of this some English-speaking Muslims have come to regard the use of this spelling for the city as offensive. [21] Nonetheless, Mecca is the familiar form of the English transliteration for the Arabic name of the city.

The historic consensus in academic scholarship has long been that "Macoraba", the place mentioned in Arabia Felix by Claudius Ptolemy, is Mecca. [24] More recent study has questioned this association. [25] Many etymologies have been proposed: the traditional one is that it is derived from the Old South Arabian root "M-K-R-B" which means temple. [25]

Another name used for Mecca in the Quran is at 6:92 where it is called Umm al-Qurā [26] ( أُمّ ٱلْقُرَى , meaning "Mother of all Settlements". [23] The city has been called several other names in both the Quran and ahadith. Another name used historically for Mecca is Tihāmah. [27] According to Arab and Islamic tradition, another name for Mecca, Fārān, is synonymous with the Desert of Paran mentioned in the Old Testament at Genesis 21:21. [28] Arab and Islamic tradition holds that the wilderness of Paran, broadly speaking, is the Tihamah coastal plain and the site where Ishmael settled was Mecca. [28] Yaqut al-Hamawi, the 12th century Syrian geographer, wrote that Fārān was "an arabized Hebrew word, one of the names of Mecca mentioned in the Torah." [29]

Prehistory Edit

In 2010, Mecca and the surrounding area became an important site for paleontology with respect to primate evolution, with the discovery of a Saadanius fossil. Saadanius is considered to be a primate closely related to the common ancestor of the Old World monkeys and apes. The fossil habitat, near what is now the Red Sea in western Saudi Arabia, was a damp forest area between 28 million and 29 million years ago. [30] Paleontologists involved in the research hope to find further fossils in the area. [31]

Early history (up to 5th century CE) Edit

The early history of Mecca is still largely disputed, as there are no unambiguous references to it in ancient literature prior to the rise of Islam [32] and no architecture from the time of Muhammad. [33] The Roman Empire took control of part of the Hejaz in 106 CE, [34] ruling cities such as Hegra (now known as Mada'in Saleh), located around 800 km (500 mi) north of Mecca. Even though detailed descriptions of Western Arabia were established by the Romans, such as by Procopius, there are no references of a pilgrimage and trading outpost such as Mecca. [35]

The 7th Century Geography of Ananias of Sirak (The Long Recension) mentions Mecca in the following words,

It (Arabia) has five small districts near Egypt: Tackastan, the Munuchiatis Gulf by the Red Sea, and Pharanitis, where the town of Pharan [is located], which I think the Arabs call Mecca. [36]

However there is a possibility that the text may have gone through 'updates' in early Islamic period. [37]

The first direct reference to Mecca in external literature occurs in 741 CE, in the Byzantine-Arab Chronicle, though here the author wrongly places it in Mesopotamia rather than the Hejaz. [35] Given the inhospitable environment, [38] and lack of historical references in Roman, Persian and Indian sources, historians including Patricia Crone and Tom Holland have cast doubt on the claim that Mecca was a major historical trading outpost. [38] [39] However, other scholars such as Glen W. Bowersock disagree and assert that Mecca was a major trading outpost. [40] [41] [42]

Potential ancient references

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus writes about Arabia in his work Bibliotheca historica, describing a holy shrine: "And a temple has been set up there, which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians". [43] Claims have been made this could be a reference to the Ka'bah in Mecca. However, the geographic location Diodorus describes is located in northwest Arabia, around the area of Leuke Kome, closer to Petra and within the former Nabataean Kingdom and Roman province of Arabia Petraea. [44] [45] [46]

Ptolemy lists the names of 50 cities in Arabia, one going by the name of "Macoraba". There has been speculation since 1646 that this could be a reference to Mecca, but many scholars see no compelling explanation to link the two names. [47] Bowersock favors the identity of the former, with his theory being that "Macoraba" is the word "Makkah" followed by the aggrandizing Aramaic adjective rabb (great). The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus also enumerated many cities of Western Arabia, most of which can be identified. According to Bowersock, he did mention Mecca as "Geapolis" or "Hierapolis", the latter one meaning "holy city", referring to the sanctuary of the Kaaba, well known already in pagan times. [48] Patricia Crone, from the Revisionist school of Islamic studies on the other hand, writes that "the plain truth is that the name Macoraba has nothing to do with that of Mecca [. ] if Ptolemy mentions Mecca at all, he calls it Moka, a town in Arabia Petraea" [49] (in northwest Arabia near present-day Petra).

Mecca is mentioned in the following early Quranic manuscripts:

  • Codex Is. 1615 I, folio 47v, radiocarbon dated to 591-643 CE.
  • Codex Ṣanʿāʾ DAM 01–29.1, folio 29a, radiocarbon dated between 633 and 665 CE.
  • Codex Arabe 331, folio 40 v, radiocarbon dated between 652 and 765 CE.

In the Islamic view, the beginnings of Mecca are attributed to the Biblical figures, Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael. The civilization of Mecca is believed to have started after Ibrāhīm (Abraham) left his son Ismāʿīl (Ishmael) and wife Hājar (Hagar) in the valley at Allah's command. [ citation needed ] Some people from the Yemeni tribe of Jurhum settled with them, and Isma'il reportedly married two women, one after divorcing the first, on Ibrahim's advice. At least one man of the Jurhum helped Ismāʿīl and his father to construct or according to Islamic narratives, reconstruct, the Ka'bah ('Cube'), [50] [16] [51] which would have social, religious, political and historical implications for the site and region. [52] [53]

Muslims see the mention of a pilgrimage at the Valley of Baca in the Old Testament chapter Psalm 84:3–6 as a reference to Mecca, similar to the Quran at Surah 3:96. [16] In the Sharḥ al-Asāṭīr, a commentary on the Samaritan midrashic chronology of the Patriarchs, of unknown date but probably composed in the 10th century CE, it is claimed that Mecca was built by the sons of Nebaioth, the eldest son of Ismāʿīl or Ishmael. [54] [55] [56]

Thamudic inscriptions

Some Thamudic inscriptions which were discovered in the south Jordan contained names of some individuals such as ʿAbd Mekkat ( عَبْد مَكَّة , "Servant of Mecca"). [57]

There were also some other inscriptions which contained personal names such as Makki ( مَكِّي , "Makkahn"), but Jawwad Ali from the University of Baghdad suggested that there's also a probability of a tribe named "Makkah". [58]

Under the Quraish Edit

Some time in the 5th century, the Ka'bah was a place of worship for the deities of Arabia's pagan tribes. Mecca's most important pagan deity was Hubal, which had been placed there by the ruling Quraish tribe. [59] [60] and remained until the Conquest of Mecca by Muhammad. [ citation needed ] In the 5th century, the Quraish took control of Mecca, and became skilled merchants and traders. In the 6th century, they joined the lucrative spice trade, since battles elsewhere were diverting trade routes from dangerous sea routes to more secure overland routes. The Byzantine Empire had previously controlled the Red Sea, but piracy had been increasing. [ citation needed ] Another previous route that ran through the Persian Gulf via the Tigris and Euphrates rivers was also being threatened by exploitations from the Sassanid Empire, and was being disrupted by the Lakhmids, the Ghassanids, and the Roman–Persian Wars. Mecca's prominence as a trading center also surpassed the cities of Petra and Palmyra. [61] [62] The Sassanids however did not always pose a threat to Mecca, as in 575 CE they protected it from a Yemeni invasion, led by its Christian leader Abraha. The tribes of southern Arabia asked the Persian king Khosrau I for aid, in response to which he came south to Arabia with foot-soldiers and a fleet of ships near Mecca. [63]

By the middle of the 6th century, there were three major settlements in northern Arabia, all along the south-western coast that borders the Red Sea, in a habitable region between the sea and the Hejaz mountains to the east. Although the area around Mecca was completely barren, it was the wealthiest of the three settlements with abundant water from the renowned Zamzam Well and a position at the crossroads of major caravan routes. [64]

The harsh conditions and terrain of the Arabian peninsula meant a near-constant state of conflict between the local tribes, but once a year they would declare a truce and converge upon Mecca in an annual pilgrimage. Up to the 7th century, this journey was intended for religious reasons by the pagan Arabs to pay homage to their shrine, and to drink Zamzam. However, it was also the time each year that disputes would be arbitrated, debts would be resolved, and trading would occur at Meccan fairs. These annual events gave the tribes a sense of common identity and made Mecca an important focus for the peninsula. [65]

The Year of the Elephant (570 CE)

The "Year of the Elephant" is the name in Islamic history for the year approximately equating to 550-552 CE, when, according to Islamic sources such as Ibn Ishaq, Abraha descended upon Mecca, riding an elephant, with a large army after building a cathedral at San'aa, named al-Qullays in honor of the Negus of Axum. It gained widespread fame, even gaining attention from the Byzantine Empire. [66] Abraha attempted to divert the pilgrimage of the Arabs from the Ka'bah to al-Qullays, effectively converting them to Christianity. According to Islamic tradition, this was the year of Muhammad's birth. [66] Abraha allegedly sent a messenger named Muhammad ibn Khuza'i to Mecca and Tihamah with a message that al-Qullays was both much better than other houses of worship and purer, having not been defiled by the housing of idols. [66] When Muhammad ibn Khuza'i got as far as the land of Kinana, the people of the lowland, knowing what he had come for, sent a man of Hudhayl called ʿUrwa bin Hayyad al-Milasi, who shot him with an arrow, killing him. His brother Qays who was with him, fled to Abraha and told him the news, which increased his rage and fury and he swore to raid the Kinana tribe and destroy the Ka'bah. Ibn Ishaq further states that one of the men of the Quraysh tribe was angered by this, and going to Sana'a, entering the church at night and defiling it widely assumed to have done so by defecating in it. [67] [68]

Abraha marched upon the Ka'bah with a large army, which included one or more war elephants, intending to demolish it. When news of the advance of his army came, the Arab tribes of Quraysh, Kinanah, Khuza'a and Hudhayl united in the defense of the Ka'bah and the city. A man from the Himyarite Kingdom was sent by Abraha to advise them that Abraha only wished to demolish the Ka'bah and if they resisted, they would be crushed. Abdul Muttalib told the Meccans to seek refuge in the hills while he and some members of the Quraysh remained within the precincts of the Kaaba. Abraha sent a dispatch inviting Abdul-Muttalib to meet with Abraha and discuss matters. When Abdul-Muttalib left the meeting he was heard saying, [ citation needed ]

"The Owner of this House is its Defender, and I am sure he will save it from the attack of the adversaries and will not dishonor the servants of His House."

Abraha eventually attacked Mecca. However, the lead elephant, known as Mahmud, [69] is said to have stopped at the boundary around Mecca and refused to enter. It has been theorized that an epidemic such as by smallpox could have caused such a failed invasion of Mecca. [70] The reference to the story in Quran is rather short. According to the 105th Surah of the Quran, Al-Fil, the next day, a dark cloud of small birds sent by Allah appeared. The birds carried small rocks in their beaks, and bombarded the Ethiopian forces and smashed them to a state like that of eaten straw. [71]

Camel caravans, said to have first been used by Muhammad's great-grandfather, were a major part of Mecca's bustling economy. Alliances were struck between the merchants in Mecca and the local nomadic tribes, who would bring goods – leather, livestock, and metals mined in the local mountains – to Mecca to be loaded on the caravans and carried to cities in Shaam and Iraq. [72] Historical accounts also provide some indication that goods from other continents may also have flowed through Mecca. Goods from Africa and the Far East passed through en route to Syria including spices, leather, medicine, cloth, and slaves in return Mecca received money, weapons, cereals and wine, which in turn were distributed throughout Arabia. [ citation needed ] The Meccans signed treaties with both the Byzantines and the Bedouins, and negotiated safe passages for caravans, giving them water and pasture rights. Mecca became the center of a loose confederation of client tribes, which included those of the Banu Tamim. Other regional powers such as the Abyssinians, Ghassanids, and Lakhmids were in decline leaving Meccan trade to be the primary binding force in Arabia in the late 6th century. [65]

Muhammad and the conquest of Mecca Edit

Muhammad was born in Mecca in 570, and thus Islam has been inextricably linked with it ever since. He was born in a faction, the Banu Hashim, of the ruling Quraysh tribe. It was in Mecca, in the nearby mountain cave of Hira on Jabal al-Nour, that, according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad began receiving divine revelations from God through the archangel Jibreel in 610 AD. Advocating his form of Abrahamic monotheism against Meccan paganism, and after enduring persecution from the pagan tribes for 13 years, Muhammad emigrated to Medina (hijrah) in 622 with his companions, the Muhajirun, to Yathrib (later renamed Medina). The conflict between the Quraysh and the Muslims is accepted to have begun at this point. Overall, Meccan efforts to annihilate Islam failed and proved to be costly and unsuccessful. [ citation needed ] During the Battle of the Trench in 627, the combined armies of Arabia were unable to defeat Muhammad's forces. [73] In 628, Muhammad and his followers wanted to enter Mecca for pilgrimage, but were blocked by the Quraysh. Subsequently, Muslims and Meccans entered into the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, whereby the Quraysh and their allies promised to cease fighting Muslims and their allies and promised that Muslims would be allowed into the city to perform the pilgrimage the following year. It was meant to be a ceasefire for 10 years however, just two years later, the Banu Bakr, allies of the Quraish, violated the truce by slaughtering a group of the Banu Khuza'ah, allies of the Muslims. Muhammad and his companions, now 10,000 strong, marched into Mecca and conquered the city. The pagan imagery was destroyed by Muhammad's followers and the location Islamized and rededicated to the worship of Allah alone. Mecca was declared the holiest site in Islam ordaining it as the center of Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj), one of the faith's Five Pillars.

Muhammad then returned to Medina, after assigning 'Akib ibn Usaid as governor of the city. His other activities in Arabia led to the unification of the peninsula under the banner of Islam. [61] [73] Muhammad died in 632. Within the next few hundred years, the area under the banner of Islam stretched from North Africa into Asia and parts of Europe. As the Islamic realm grew, Mecca continued to attract pilgrims from all across the Muslim world and beyond, as Muslims came to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Mecca also attracted a year-round population of scholars, pious Muslims who wished to live close to the Kaaba, and local inhabitants who served the pilgrims. Due to the difficulty and expense of the Hajj, pilgrims arrived by boat at Jeddah, and came overland, or joined the annual caravans from Syria or Iraq. [ citation needed ]

Medieval and pre-modern times Edit

Mecca was never the capital of any of the Islamic states. Muslim rulers did contribute to its upkeep, such as during the reigns of 'Umar (r. 634–644 CE) and 'Uthman ibn Affan (r. 644–656 CE) when concerns of flooding caused the caliphs to bring in Christian engineers to build barrages in the low-lying quarters and construct dykes and embankments to protect the area round the Kaaba. [61]

Muhammad's return to Medina shifted the focus away from Mecca and later even further away when 'Ali, the fourth caliph, took power chose Kufa as his capital. The Umayyad Caliphate moved the capital to Damascus in Syria and the Abbasid Caliphate to Baghdad, in modern-day Iraq, which remained the center of the Islamic Empire for nearly 500 years. Mecca re-entered Islamic political history during the Second Fitna, when it was held by Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr and the Zubayrids. [ citation needed ] The city was twice besieged by the Umayyads, in 683 and 692 and for some time thereafter, the city figured little in politics, remaining a city of devotion and scholarship governed by various other factions. In 930, Mecca was attacked and sacked by Qarmatians, a millenarian Shi'a Isma'ili Muslim sect led by Abū-Tāhir Al-Jannābī and centered in eastern Arabia. [74] The Black Death pandemic hit Mecca in 1349. [75]

Language Log

Another one for the Language Log like list -- the following posters greeted me this morning as I was walking from the shuttle stop to my office.

Thanks to Vic Ferreira and Dennis Fink for taking the pictures, and to Chris Barker for suggesting the most likely explanation for them: a UCSD art project. (Confirmation of this hypothesis still pending.)

[Another question: is the idiosyncratic spelling in "Academy of Linguistic Awarness" part of the artistry? or is it an example of Hartman's Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation? or both? -- myl]

[ Update , 6/7/2005: Jesse Ruderman, who found this post here, writes to note that he's got better pictures of the posters here. Note that the first comment on that post notes the same thing as Mark does above.]

Stanley Fish moves into linguistics

Today the New York Times published an article by Stanley Fish (printer-friendly version here it may disappear behind a pay wall if you don't take a look now) in which he explains how he teaches freshman writing classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago in which content is banned, forbidden, verboten. No opinions allowed, just work: the work is that the students have to create a language. Seriously. Look:

On the first day of my freshman writing class I give the students this assignment: You will be divided into groups and by the end of the semester each group will be expected to have created its own language, complete with a syntax, a lexicon, a text, rules for translating the text and strategies for teaching your language to fellow students. The language you create cannot be English or a slightly coded version of English, but it must be capable of indicating the distinctions &mdash between tense, number, manner, mood, agency and the like &mdash that English enables us to make.

Stanley Fish is famous for the way he built up the English department as Duke University during the heyday of postmodernism in American universities. (He is also famous for something else: he is generally held to be the original model for the character named Professor Morris Zapp in David Lodge's novels Changing Places and Small World .) He moved to the University of Illinois at Chicago as a dean in 1999 to improve that university's standing in humanities disciplines, and reportedly resigned the deanship when he found that the institution was not standing behind its original financial commitments.

Of course, at first the students don't know what he's talking about when he tells them to devise a language, having never heard of tense, agency, and such. But by the end of the semester they get it. To invent a language of adequate expressive power you have to develop a grasp of syntax. His point is that you can never be a really effective and confident writer unless you know something about sentence structure, and you'll be distracted from sentence structure if you start paying attention to content and writing about your experiences and opinions and have the writing instructor pay attention to them. No content, he insists, because the topic of this course is pure linguistic form. Professor Fish has turned into a linguistics instructor, only I suspect he doesn't know it.

I first heard about this course from a group of applied linguistics professors at his campus that I met while I was in Chicago last year. They say it works pretty well. Though they also say that while he was Dean of the College he never paid much attention to them, and when they pointed out to him that he was now doing a linguistics course, he looked surprised, and simply said "Oh." But it's certainly right, he really is doing linguistics (if a little unconventionally). In fact, you could almost define the fields of syntax and semantics as the study of the ways in which a language might be designed to be able to indicate the distinctions between tense, number, manner, mood, agency and the like that English enables us to make (and other languages enable us to make).

Knowingly corruptly persuade

As Enron Corporation's financial difficulties became public, petitioner, Enron's auditor, instructed its employees to destroy documents pursuant to its document retention policy. Petitioner was indicted under 18 U. S. C. §§1512(b)(2)(A) and (B), which make it a crime to " knowingly . corruptly persuad[e] another person . with intent to . cause" that person to "withhold" documents from, or "alter" documents for use in, an "official proceeding." The jury returned a guilty verdict, and the Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the District Court's jury instructions properly conveyed the meaning of "corruptly persuades" and "official proceeding" in §1512(b) that the jury need not find any consciousness of wrongdoing in order to convict and that there was no reversible error. [emphasis added]

Held: The jury instructions failed to convey properly the elements of a "corrup[t] persuas[ion]" conviction under §1512(b).

The cited portion of the law 18 USC §1512(b), reads in a less abridged form as follows:

(b) Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to -
(1) influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding
(2) cause or induce any person to -
(A) withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding
(B) alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal an object with intent to impair the object's integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding
[. ]
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

The body of the opinion explains

This Court's traditional restraint in assessing federal criminal statutes' reach [. ] is particularly appropriate here, where the act underlying the conviction--"persua[sion]"--is by itself innocuous. Even "persuad[ing]" a person "with intent to . cause" that person to "withhold" testimony or documents from the Government is not inherently malign. Under ordinary circumstances, it is not wrongful for a manager to instruct his employees to comply with a valid document retention policy, even though the policy, in part, is created to keep certain information from others, including the Government. Thus, §1512(b)'s "knowingly . corruptly persuades" phrase is key to what may or may not lawfully be done in the situation presented here. The Government suggests that "knowingly" does not modify "corruptly persuades," but that is not how the statute most naturally reads. "[K]nowledge" and "knowingly" are normally associated with awareness, understanding, or consciousness, and "corrupt" and "corruptly" with wrongful, immoral, depraved, or evil. Joining these meanings together makes sense both linguistically and in the statutory scheme. Only persons conscious of wrongdoing can be said to "knowingly . corruptly persuad[e]." And limiting criminality to persuaders conscious of their wrongdoing sensibly allows §1512(b) to reach only those with the level of culpability usually required to impose criminal liability.

1. What are the plausible parses for 18 USC §1512(b)?

2. What is the the scope of modification of the adverbs knowingly and corruptly in each plausible parse?

3. Do you think laws might be clearer if lawmakers normally took a couple of linguistics courses?

[Link via email from Lane Greene, who also draws attention to this zinger at the end of the opinion, which was written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist:

The government suggests that it is "questionable whether Congress would employ such an inelegant formulation as 'knowingly . corruptly persuades.' " Long experience has not taught us to share the Government's doubts on this score.

How soon before we see the complexities?

reducedq My posting on soon before missed at least one important complexity, which correspondents have now pointed out: how soon before in the examples I gave has how soon modifying before , but there are plenty of elliptical questions in which how soon does not: How soon before we have to leave? 'How soon will it be before we have to leave?' These elliptical questions, which I believe are unproblematically acceptable, change the Google statistics somewhat, but without obscuring the main point I wanted to make with them.

More important, they provide a possible source favoring how soon before (with how soon modifying before ) even for speakers who reject soon before otherwise.

In addition, one correspondent has suggested looking at future-oriented sentences like How soon before midnight will they meet? -- my earlier examples, like How soon before midnight did they meet? , were all in the past tense -- to see if their "basic query" (e.g., 'How soon will they meet?') improves their acceptability. Whether or not this idea pans out, it is true that the Google examples of both types are heavily future-oriented.

I begin with e-mail from Chris Maloof, who pointed out the many elliptical questions among the how soon before cites that a Google web search provides. (Marilyn Martin also offered an elliptical question example.) These are of the form how soon + before -clause, and they lack both a subject and a verb. On the other hand, the examples with how soon modifying before are just ordinary interrogatives, with fronted how soon before X (where X is a clause, as in (2b,c) below, or a NP object, as in (2a,d)), followed by a clause (in inverted or uninverted order, depending on whether the whole thing is in a main or subordinate clause: (2a-c) vs. (2d) below). Some examples from Google:

(1a) "How soon before I can ski?" Ankle injuries are common.

(1b) How soon before every state has conflicting laws on the subject? The states can't currently agree upon ages at this time.

(1c) And how soon before we will see weirder instruments like Futures being traded on virtual currencies?

(1d) If I order now, how soon before I get it?

(2a) How soon before a grant deadline should I submit a protocol?

(2b) How soon before I travel can I apply for my WHM visa?

(2c) How soon before the quarter begins may a student be placed in homestay?

(2d) . they will help you determine what book to write, how quickly to write it, and how soon before publication you need to start your marketing efforts.

The elliptical questions should be generally acceptable, since they don't have soon (with its usual component of afterness) in combination with before . So far as I know, this is the case, but it needs examination. (At this point, I'm hoping to encourage someone else to take up soon before as a project. My plate is pretty full.)

It turns out to be no easy task to estimate the relative frequencies of the two types the Google cites are full of repetitions and near-repetitions. (Many of the ordinary interrogatives are, like (2a-c) above, from faq's, which tend to have similar form.) My first impression -- again, this should be investigated further -- is that the two types are roughly even, which means that the number of relevant how soon before hits should be cut roughly in half, and the relevant after/before ratio roughly doubled. Even with this adjustment, the frequency of how soon before is still hugely less than the frequency of soon before without modification by how . There's still something to be explained.

But the elliptical questions might not just be confounding data they might have something to say to us. They provide a pool of acceptable clauses beginning with how soon before and might therefore boost the acceptability of ordinary interrogatives of this form, even for people who don't otherwise accept soon before . Something to consider.

Finally, Marilyn Martin has suggested looking at future-oriented sentences like How soon before midnight will they meet? to see if their "basic query" (e.g., 'How soon will they meet?') improves their acceptability. This is, in effect, a suggestion that the future-oriented examples might be treated as amalgams of a how soon question ( How soon will they meet? ) with a neutral duration question ( How long before midnight will they meet? ). I'm dubious about this suggestion, because the past-tense examples could be given a similar analysis ( How soon before midnight did they meet? = How soon did they meet? + How long before midnight did they meet? ), so I would predict no difference in acceptability between past and future examples. Something else for someone to look at.

Still, the ordinary interrogatives from Google are, heavily future-oriented the examples in (2) are all in the present tense, understood with a future orientation relative to the temporal reference point. (The elliptical questions are all future-oriented.) Of course, the future orientation pretty much comes along with the genre of most of the Google examples, so it remains to be seen whether there is any actual association between how soon before interrogatives and future orientation.

Watch the video: Hegra, an Ancient City in Saudi Arabia (May 2022).