Science conquers the Al-Ula Oasis

In order to study the three millennia of history of the former Kingdom of Dadan, in Saudi Arabia, half a dozen scientific missions were launched by France as part of a Franco-Saudi partnership.

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In 1326, on the road to his first pilgrimage to Medina and Mecca, resuming the ancient caravan route of myrrh and incense, the explorer Ibn Battuta halted in the oasis of Al-Ula. He describes it as "A large and beautiful village with palm groves and special water, where pilgrims reside for four nights, stock up, wash their clothes, deposit the surplus food and take what is needed". Located at the narrowest point of the valley, set on a precious water table in this arid setting worthy of a western-spaghetti, the town has been known in the Arab world for centuries. In reality, the occupation of the oasis is much older. Less than 3 kilometers north of the present city are the remains of the city of Dadan, capital of the kingdom of the same name between the IXe and the end of the VIe century BC J. – C., then of the kingdom of Lihyan, of Ve at Ist century BC AD

Aerial view of the Al-Ula Oasis, in northwestern Saudi Arabia. Yann Arthus-Bertrand / © Yann Arthus-Bertrand

It is these three millennia of history that will, over the next few years, study half a dozen scientific missions launched by France, in the framework of the Franco-Saudi partnership signed in April 2018 by President Emmanuel Macron and the Prince Saudi heir Mohammed ben Salman. The structure born of this agreement, the French Agency for the Development of Al-Ula (Afalula), certainly has for objective the tourist enhancement of the sites of the region, but it also has as a goal a better knowledge of the natural and cultural heritage of the region. It will start with "A complete excavation project of Dadan", assures Jean-François Charnier, scientific director of Afalula.

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"There are hundred years"

"We want to better understand what's going on during the Ist millennium BC AD He explains. What writings? Which dynasties? How is the transition between the dadanite and lihyanite civilizations effected? There is one hundred years because the site has hardly been searched! " The research could even last longer if we take into account that the work carried out since 2004 has explored only 4% of Dadan … Another point to elucidate, says Jean-François Charnier: "We do not know who lived in the oasis at the time when the Nabataeans, with Hegra, a few kilometers further north, dominated the region", between the Ist century before and the Ist century after J.-C. "The end of the kingdom of Lihyan more or less coincided with the appearance of the Nabataeans, confirms Abdulrahman Alsuhaibani, consultant for archeology and preservation of cultural heritage at the Royal Commission for Al-Ula. But it is astonishing to note that there is no mention of the Lihyanites in the many inscriptions of the Nabataeans who, nevertheless, spoke of everything … "


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