Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Over the last forty years... archaeologists working in Saudi Arabia have been uncovering sites across the peninsula, revealing an ancient past for which there is scant literary testimony and hitherto no tangible evidence. This exhibition, Roads of Arabia, can open all our eyes, as it includes well over three hundred objects that date from prehistoric times to the birth of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. It offers, then, a window on the peninsula’s pre-Islamic past and on the axis of the entire Muslim community, the Holy Shrine of the Ka`ba in Mecca.
Mysterious stone steles, monumental statues of humans, haunting gold masks, and bronze statuettes of Roman gods testify to Arabia’s rich and complex history before the coming of Islam. None of the works had been seen outside of Saudi Arabia until 2010, when the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) in collaboration with the Musée du Louvre organized the first exhibition of the material. Other venues in Europe included the CaixaForum in Barcelona, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. We at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery are delighted to be the first US venue for Roads of Arabia, and also to serve as the organizer of its North American tour.
The objects selected for Roads of Arabia demonstrate that the Arabian Peninsula was not isolated in ancient times. Arabia acted as the conduit for the spices and incense from its southern coast and the Horn of Africa that supplied the temples and royal courts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. This lucrative trade encouraged the development of a network of oases linked by caravan trails that traversed the peninsula, which was thus connected to the great metropolitan centers of the Ancient Near East—Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Iran—and the Greco-Roman world. Many of the excavated sites reveal a cultural efflorescence, with objects imported from abroad and objects created locally that witness the strength of local and regional ideologies and aesthetics...