7th June 2018:
Oxford Archaeology (OA) is carrying out a major programme of archaeological survey of part of the county of Al-Ula in the north-west of Saudi Arabia
On behalf of the Royal Commission of Al Ula, the survey aims to ensure that the archaeological remains will not be impacted by any future developments in the area. The Al-Ula Valley and surrounding area has considerable archaeological wealth extending over at least 8000 years and its importance in part reflects that its oasis was a principal stop along a major north/south route of travel, for trade – such as frankincense and myrrh – historically, and for the Hajj taking pilgrims to and from Mecca since the establishment of Islam (early 7th Century CE). Al-Ula’s most notable site is the Nabataean city of Hegra or Al-Hijr (today Madain Salih), which is a World Heritage Site, but there is also the earlier city of Dadan (today Al-Khuraybah), and the later Islamic cities of Qurh (today Al-Mabiyat) and Al-Ula, all of which capitalised on the local availability of water making them part of the natural communication route through the arid and mountainous region.
The survey is being undertaken in conjunction with teams from the University of Western Australia, Oxford University and King Saud University. OA is surveying the ‘core’ area, extending over 2800sqkm. It is using a variety of survey techniques, such as LiDAR and photogrammetry from light aircraft, and more localised photography from drones; these culminate in a programme of ground checking to confirm and record the sites identified from the aerial techniques. OA has recently completed the first season of survey, in which over 1500 sites were recorded and include prehistoric burial remains, early settlements and extensive rock art. The survey is extremely important in part because it is the first attempt to systematically examine the archaeology across this wide area and most of the sites are new archaeological discoveries.
News channel CNN has created a number of video news articles about the project, including interviews with Jamie Quartermaine from Oxford Archaeology North. The videos detail the projects aims, and its methods and processes. You can see these videos, including footage of the 3d-models, drones, work in action, and some of the challenges the project faces, online, on the CNN international website here, here and here.