Ancient site in Nefud Desert offers glimpse of early human activity in Saudi Arabia

In this undated sited, two people standing on well-documented site: Saffaqah, in the central Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
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Updated 13 May 2021

Ancient site in Nefud Desert offers glimpse of early human activity in Saudi Arabia

  • An Nasim is the first Acheulean site to be dated in the Nefud Desert, say researchers
  • Evidence of diverse species of small-to-large mammals can be found at the sites of these palaeolakes in the Nefud

RIYADH: An important archaeological site showing signs of ancient human activity dating back 350,000 years has been discovered in the Hail region of northern Saudi Arabia.

According to a scientific report published in the journal Nature, An Nasim is the first Acheulean site to be dated in the Nefud Desert. Acheulean technology refers to the distinctive style of oval and pear-shaped stone tools believed to have been developed about 1.7 million years ago by the archaic humans that preceded modern homo sapiens. It is thought these “hand axes” remained in use until as recently as 130,000 years ago.

The report — titled “The Expansion of Acheulean Hominins into the Nefud Desert of Arabia” — notes that until now, detailed knowledge of the Acheulean in the region was limited to a single, well-documented site: Saffaqah, in central Saudi Arabia.

However, tools were also found in the Nefud Desert. Researchers at An Nasim discovered evidence of what was once a deep lake, probably freshwater, as well as features associated with the Middle Pleistocene era, which covers the period from about 780,000 to 130,000 years ago.

Jasir Al-Harbash, CEO of the Kingdom’s Heritage Commission, told Arab News: “Many sites have been discovered and are under study.”

HIGHLIGHT

According to a scientific report published in the journal Nature, An Nasim is the first Acheulean site to be dated in the Nefud Desert. Acheulean technology refers to the distinctive style of oval and pear-shaped stone tools believed to have been developed about 1.7 million years ago by the archaic humans that preceded modern homo sapiens. It is thought these ‘hand axes’ remained in use until as recently as 130,000 years ago.

However the discovery in the Nefud Desert is particularly important, he added, because it is “the oldest dated site of the Acheulean period in Saudi Arabia.”

Surveys by the Green Arabian Project (GAP) in the past 10 years have confirmed that the Arabian Peninsula experienced climate changes during the Pleistocene era that produced wetter conditions, which affected the movement and distribution of humans within and between continents. This is particularly true of Acheulean communities, who appear to have been more tethered to water sources than others.

An Nasim offers insights into the diverse stone tool assemblages used by Middle Pleistocene humans in the region, probably indicating their repeated return to the peninsula during the wetter “Green Arabia” climate phases.

The site includes a deep, narrow basin with outcrops in the central part, where several artifacts from the early Palaeolithic era were discovered. About 354 items were collected, primarily hand axes and stone “flakes” cut from a rock core. The survey found that the archaeological materials are closely associated with the lake. The report notes that the tools are similar to those found elsewhere in the Nefud Desert. The presence of some of the flaked pieces suggest that the raw materials were brought to the site and some discarded after testing. Other pieces had been partly shaped before being abandoned.

Broader surveys of the Nefud Desert have found that local quartzite rock was frequently used in undated Acheulean assemblages, including diverse sizes and shapes of hand axes.

The Acheulean tools at An Nasim have been dated to the late Middle Pleistocene era, about 350,000 to 250,000 years ago, when the formation of lakes was seemingly widespread in the Nefud Desert. In comparison tools found at the site at Saffaqah are more recent, dating back about 240,000 to 190,000 years.

The similarities between the Acheulean materials found at An Nasim and other undated Acheulean sites in the Nefud Desert indicates that the lakes that once existed in this region provided an important resource for the expansion of humans in the region, and a viable habitation environment for them and other mammals.

Evidence of diverse species of small-to-large mammals can be found at the sites of these palaeolakes in the Nefud, indicating the migration of animals to the region during wet phases and suggesting the availability of fauna as food sources at watering holes.

With the participation of Saudi experts, the Kingdom’s Heritage Commission has been working on the GAP scientific program in collaboration with counterparts from the Berlin-based Max Planck Institute for Human Development. It focuses on studying climate changes in the Arabian Peninsula over time, and the immigration of ancient humans into Arabia and their settlement there.

Previous GAP studies have found evidence of hundreds of paleolakes, rivers and forests, and the animals they helped to sustain, around which successive civilizations emerged thanks to the mild climate at that time.

Late last year, the Heritage Commission announced that the footprints of humans, elephants, camels and predatory animals had been found at the site of what was once lake, dating back more than 120,000 years, in Tabuk. They are believed to be the oldest footprints of man and animals found in the Arabian Peninsula.

Through the GAP, the Heritage Commission carries out intensive surveys and systematic excavations to identify and gain insight into ancient climatic conditions and the nature of the prevailing environment in Arabia’s past, as well as the movement of humans. This is part of the Commission’s efforts to excavate, preserve and promote archaeological sites in the Kingdom as part of Saudi Vision 2030.

Al-Harbash highlighted the importance of cooperation between local and international teams in excavating and researching antiquities in the Arabian Peninsula. He added that joint projects are in progress with more than 20 of the most prestigious international institutes and universities involved in archaeological research and excavation.


Saudi Arabia allows women to register for Hajj without male guardian

Updated 14 June 2021

Saudi Arabia allows women to register for Hajj without male guardian

  • Ministry approves three packages’ prices range between $3,230 and $4,426

JEDDAH: Three packages have been approved for this year’s pilgrimage, with a government ministry saying that people could register online for Hajj including women without a mahram (male guardian).

Registration for this year’s Hajj opened at 1 p.m on Sunday after the government said it would limit this year’s cohort to citizens and residents of the Kingdom.
Registration is available until 10 p.m. on June 23. There is no priority for early applicants.
Costs for the three approved packages are SR16,560.50 ($4,426), SR14,381.95, and SR12,113.95. VAT will be added to the price of each package.
According to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah’s website, people will be bussed to the holy sites and there will be a maximum of 20 pilgrims per vehicle.
They will be supplied with three daily meals in Mina and two meals (breakfast and lunch) in Arafat. They will be given dinner in Muzdalifah. Other food and beverage services will be available, but  pilgrims are not allowed to bring food with them from outside Makkah.
Applications will go through five stages. These include a prospective pilgrim reviewing and acknowledging health information and providing personal details based on their official papers. After that, the system will verify the applicant’s eligibility for Hajj based on the data provided by the National Information Center.
Once an application is accepted, the applicant will be given a registration number for further inquiries. After ensuring an applicant’s COVID-19 status — fully immune, immune by the first dose, or immune after recovery — a text message with the payment details will be sent out.

HIGHLIGHT

Costs for the three approved packages are SR16,560.50 ($4,426), SR14,381.95, and SR12,113.95. VAT will be added to the price of each package.

The ministry said that registering for Hajj did not mean a final Hajj permit had been granted.
“A Hajj permit will only be issued after an application is found to meet all the mandatory health conditions and regulations,” it added. “The ministry has the right to reject a request at any time, in case it was found to be violating the organizing regulations.”
Before a Hajj permit request can be sent, all applicants must acknowledge that they have not performed Hajj in the last five years, they are not suffering from any chronic disease, and are not infected with COVID-19.
People must also acknowledge that they have not been admitted to a hospital due to chronic diseases or for dialysis treatment in the past six months.
On Saturday it was announced that 60,000 pilgrims would be allowed to perform this year’s Hajj, which begins mid-July.
Authorities also said that those wishing to perform Hajj must be free of any chronic diseases and be aged between 18 and 65.
The decision was “based on the Kingdom’s constant keenness to enable the guests and visitors at the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque to perform the rituals of Hajj and Umrah,” the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said. “The Kingdom puts human health and safety first.”
The “sorting” phase of the Hajj application process starts on June 25, according to an official ministry tweet, which also said that applicants should pay for their package within three hours of selecting it to avoid cancelation. Priority will be for registered applicants who have never performed Hajj, it added.


Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia doubling down on Diriyah Gate project, says DGDA CEO 

In a wide-ranging interview on Frankly Speaking, CEO Jerry Inzerillo talks about DGDA's far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome. 
Updated 14 June 2021

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia doubling down on Diriyah Gate project, says DGDA CEO 

  • Jerry Inzerillo made the remarks on Frankly Speaking, a series of video conversations with leading Middle East decision-makers
  • Project’s budget has been increased from $27 billion to $40 billion, and its scope increased significantly, he said

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is doubling down on its landmark Diriyah Gate project to build a leisure and cultural zone in the historic heart of Riyadh.

Jerry Inzerillo, CEO of the authority that runs the landmark project, told Arab News that his budget has been increased from $27 billion to $40 billion, and its scope increased significantly.

“What has happened is that the master plans, (following further) research, have evolved into a broader vision to allow it to be a component (of the strategy to turn) Riyadh into one of the 10 great cities of the world,” he said.

Inzerillo, a veteran of the global tourism business who was appointed to the top job at the Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) in 2018, revealed the project’s new ambitions in an interview with “Frankly Speaking,” the series of video conversations with leading business and political leaders.

The inaugural celebration of Diriyah Gate. (Supplied)

During the interview, he also spoke of the DGDA’s prime place within the Vision 2030 giga-projects, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Kingdom’s tourism industry, and its far-reaching plans to rival such global attractions as the pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum in Rome.

The move to increase the project’s budget and scope was the brainchild of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, Inzerillo said.

“It’s not just that we were given some more money. It’s a result of a change in vision. He (the crown prince) studies plans meticulously. As the smartest guy in the room, his visual acuity is amazing,” he said.

Old structures in Diriyah, the site of the first Saudi Kingdom in the 18th century, have been preserved. (Supplied)

"So, the same way Paris was master-planned and laid out, the same way Berlin was laid out, the same way Manhattan was laid out — this is how the crown prince looks at all the cities and that’s why we’ve grown.”

Diriyah, the site of the first Saudi Kingdom in the 18th century, is regarded as the centerpiece of the Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy and provide more leisure and cultural facilities for Saudi citizens, as well as attracting foreign tourists.

“There’s only one Diriyah. We’re the first born, we’re the favorite son. My fellow CEOs can come on the show and say, ‘No, we’re great.’ They’re all great, we love them, but there’s only one Diriyah,” Inzerillo said.

He insisted that Diriyah Gate and the other mega-projects are on time and have not been unduly delayed by the economic effects of the pandemic.

 

 

The budgets of the other big leisure projects — such as the Red Sea Development and AlUla — have not been cut back, he said.

“We executed our exact strategy all of 2020; we didn’t cut back. He (the crown prince) was brave,” Inzerillo added. “So now as a result of it, the major giga-projects in the Kingdom are on time and on budget.”

Some of the big projects will “need another budget cycle” to determine the right mix of equity and new investment required, but he is confident that the overall investment will be met by government funds, investment from the Saudi private sector and foreign investment.

Some tourism experts have questioned the overall strategy, which seeks to attract 100 million visits by the end of the decade to a variety of new leisure and cultural attractions, but Inzerillo said the projects are not in competition. “They’re very intelligently crafted to complement each other,” he added.

The reason for the big number of new tourism projects, he said, is that Saudi Arabia is trying to compete with other recognized global travel centers — such as Singapore and European countries — within a short space of time.

 

 

Inzerillo conceded that there has been an effect on the number of people visiting Saudi Arabia because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, but he estimated that it has been proportionately less than other big tourist destinations such as France and the US. “We’re coming off a low base,” he said.

In line with the new budget, the DGDA has lifted the estimate for the number of visitors it hopes to attract. It now expects 27 million visits and 100,000 residents by 2030.

Inzerillo said these estimates are achievable, and he took encouragement from the number of people applying for the new tourism visa — 55,000 per week — before the COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.

Diriyah is aimed at both Saudi domestic visitors and foreign tourists, seeking to capitalize on the rich historical legacy of the region.

 

 

Inzerillo is convinced that it can take its place among the other great cultural attractions of the world.

“It is to Saudi Arabia what the Acropolis is to the Greeks, what the Colosseum is to Rome, what Machu Picchu is to Peruvians,” he said.

“So when people come to the Gulf, they’re going to want to see where it all started — the home of the House of Saud.”

Inzerillo, who trained in Las Vegas and went on to international projects in South Africa, the UAE and elsewhere, believes that the absence of alcohol in Saudi Arabia will make little difference to its attractiveness to tourists.

When global focus groups were asked about their priorities for tourism in the Kingdom, the non-availability of alcohol in the food and beverage mix was not in the top five concerns, he said.

 

 

“People were astonished by the beauty of the Kingdom, and by the warmth of the Saudi people,” he added.

Originally from Brooklyn in New York City, Inzerillo is enthusiastic about the quality of life in Saudi Arabia for him and other Western expatriates, who make up about 20 percent of the DGDA workforce.

 

 

“But the No. 1 thing that people like is civility — the fact that you’re treated warmly and kindly, and the great thing about the Kingdom right now as a society — it’s optimistic, it’s positive,” he said.

Inzerillo also gave some insight into the decision-making style of the crown prince, whom he described as a “supercharged CEO.”

Inzerillo said: “He’s very methodical, asking, ‘What’s your process? How did you study this issue? Who did you study it with? Did you study it with the world’s best? What did you learn, and what options are you bringing to me?’

“So when you leave a meeting with an approval, he doesn’t stop. One day, two days, five days later, you’ll get a call from him. ‘If you connect that with that, doesn’t it make Diriyah better?’ ‘Yes sir, we didn’t see that’.”

_________

Twitter: @frankkanedubai


Who’s Who: Metab Abdul Aziz Al-Ajmah, director of brand strategy at Mobily

Updated 13 June 2021

Who’s Who: Metab Abdul Aziz Al-Ajmah, director of brand strategy at Mobily

Metab Abdul Aziz Al-Ajmah is the director of brand strategy at Mobily, one of the biggest telecommunications services in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Ajmah has been overseeing brand strategy development, brand management and brand touchpoints including packaging.

Prior to that, Al-Ajmah worked with Thiqah Business Solutions as senior product manager from 2018 to 2020.

In 2017, he joined the National Housing Co. where he first worked as a B2C brand manager and developed and executed marketing and communication plans. He was promoted in 2018 to the position of brand and communications manager where he stayed until December 2018.

Before that, Al-Ajmah worked with Nadec in Saudi Arabia in 2012. He started as assistant brand manager, first for juices, then in the same position in the dairy category of the company.

In 2014, he took the position of brand manager in Nadec where he stayed until 2017.

Al-Ajmah received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran in 2012.

In 2019, he received his MBA from King Saud University, Riyadh. In 2020 he received the Driving Strategic Innovation (DSI) from IMD in Switzerland.

Also in 2019, Al-Ajmah attended the Leadership Development Program (LDP) at the Center for Creative Leadership in Belgium.


OIC chief meets Chinese envoy in Jeddah

Updated 13 June 2021

OIC chief meets Chinese envoy in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), met the ambassador of China to Saudi Arabia, Chen Weiqing, in Jeddah on Sunday.

During the meeting, Al-Othaimeen and  Weiqing discussed means to promote cooperation between the OIC and China.

Earlier, Asir Gov. Prince Turki bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz also met Weiqing and his accompanying delegation.

During the meeting, they exchanged cordial talks and discussed topics of mutual interest.

The Chinese ambassador commended the developmental progress in Asir region that has made it a major tourist destination among the regions of the Kingdom, citing the future Al-Soudah project that embodies the concept of progress, wishing steady progress and prosperity for the Kingdom’s government and people.

 

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Saudi Arabia announces 19 more COVID-19 deaths

Updated 13 June 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 19 more COVID-19 deaths

  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 448,093
  • A total of 7,572 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 19 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,017 new infections on Sunday.
Of the new cases, 344 were recorded in Makkah, 198 in Riyadh, 155 in the Eastern Province, 84 in Asir, 68 in Madinah, 60 in Jazan, 23 in Najran, 18 in Hail, 10 in Tabuk, 10 in Al-Baha, five in the Northern Borders region and two in Al-Jouf.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 448,093 after 1,133 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 7,572 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 15.6 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.