Prince Sultan bin Salman greets a wellwisher as he arrives to open the Roads of Arabia exhibition at Riyadh’s National Museum this week. Picture: Kevin Ritchie

Riyadh - Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman encouraged the country to embrace groundbreaking archaeological work in the kingdom, saying it bolstered the practice of Islam and did not detract from it.

Addressing a packed auditorium of local and international archaeologists and Saudi leaders, both civil and clerical, on the second day of the kingdom’s inaugural archaeological convention on Wednesday, Sultan said the new findings proved scientifically that the religion remained the final revelation from God, the great religion for all humanity, and that Mecca had occurred and evolved exactly as it is told in the holy Qur'an.

“There’s a reason why God chose to reveal his revelation here,” he said.

Earlier archaeologists Paul Breeze and Matthew Stewart had presented their findings into Green Arabia.

Dr Breeze has been mapping the so-called palaeo lakes for the last five years, with 8 000 recorded so far, 10 of them have been able to dated, showing that monsoon rains fell in Arabia 130 000 years ago.

“The earliest fossils of our own species came from Africa 100 000 years ago, it’s the first time out of Africa for homo sapiens.

“We had always thought this was a failed dispersal because the Arabian and Sahara deserts would present a barrier. 125 000 years ago, though the Sahara was green.”

Panellists sit underneath a giant projection of the fossilised elephant footprint found in the Nefud Desert during a presentation at the King Abdul Aziz historical centre in Riyadh. Picture: Kevin Ritchie

What his team has found in the 10 sites where they have been doing their research is that the paleo lakes show repeated formations of dry and wet.

“There are signs of homo erectus (a forerunner to homo sapiens), maybe even homo sapiens, but no evidence of populations between the periods.”

The archaeologists are going further into the desert than ever before, with at least one 85 000 year old homo fossil from the Nefud Desert.

His assumption is that there was at least one green corridor through the desert to the Levant.

“This wasn’t an isolated event during the last inter glacial period. They could have moved to south east Asia or even back in to Africa.

“These findings bring Arabia front and centre into our own species and the dispersal of others. It’s a really exciting time to be working in Arabia.”

Stewart told of finds of hippos at six sites spanning 800 000 to 8 000 years, suggesting a  palaeo hydrologic corridors – a chain of rivers and lakes, because hippos have a maximum range of 3kms from water before they start dehydrating.

There have also been finds of Pelorovis, the largest bovid or grazer, dated from 420 000 years to 80 000 years, which could only have existed had their been abundant grasslands, as well as hartebeest and Roan Antelope, animals which need water every 48 hours. 

There are signs of giant elephants, at least 1.5 times bigger than the African elephant, which would also have had a prodigious hunger for grazing.

There is evidence of ‘butcher activity’, or ‘hammer stone percussion’, as early humans break animal bones to get the marrow of the animals they’ve killed.

They’ve found fossilised foot prints, at least eight of them at one site suggesting at least three individual, maybe more.

“The size places them in the range of normal humans or perhaps Neanderthals.”

All of these findings, as well as Arabic script, dating back well before the revelation of the Qur'an, make Sultan convinced of the righteousness of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage to have encouraged this coordinated archaeological exploration in earnest for more than the last 10 years.

“We have always had the questions why God send Islam to the Arabs? Why did the sacred house built by Adam, the father of mankind, come to the Arabian peninsula? Why was Ibrahim sent to rebuild it as the Ka’aba?"

“The calligraphy that we use, is the calligraphy that was used to write the first verses of the Holy Qur'an about creation. We have rock art of people riding elephants, in the Qur'an we speak of the elephant road, of people riding elephants to destroy the Ka'aba. Here we have scientific proof.”

Islam, he said, had not been created in an empty land with no moral values, but in a land of plenty of green meadows, alive with life - a place that had been prepared through centuries for the revelation.

"The ancient trade routes that criss-crossed the peninsula had been connecting nations. Trade caravans built prosperity in this wold, bringing culture, communication and the language of Arabic."

The findings, he said, were a message for Islam and for humankind.

“We look into the future, confident of God’s blessings.”

* Kevin Ritchie is Independent Media’s Gauteng regional editor.  He is in Saudi Arabia as a guest of the Saudi Commission on Tourism and National Heritage

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