Saudi Arabia Welcomes Expats and Others Returning Cherished Antiquities

By Ackerman, Robert L. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June/July 2012 | Go to article overview

Saudi Arabia Welcomes Expats and Others Returning Cherished Antiquities


Ackerman, Robert L., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


I was recently invited by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) to attend the International Symposium on the Retrieval of National Antiquities and Exhibition in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. For years I had wanted to return several artifacts that I had found in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia when I worked there for Saudi Aramco from 1960 to 1975. Then in mid-January I read an article posted by Arthur Clark, editor of Al-Ayyam al-Jamilah and assistant editor of Saudi Aramco World, about the launch of an antiquities homecoming project.

My wife, Margaret, and I rushed to send photos and a description of my archeological find for consideration as a "significant" heritage artifact. The SCTA responded with an invitation to travel to Riyadh to attend a special exhibition of returned artifacts, as well as a conference on the repatriation of artifacts to Saudi Arabia, and a ceremony of thanks. The SCTA provided air travel on Saudi Arabian Airlines and accommodation for my daughter, Julia Glenister, who accompanied me on this trip.

In all, the SCTA invited 23 expatriates to attend the six-day program, which included special ceremonies and meetings with the SCTA's President HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman and, for the women in our group, a private meeting with the chair of the consultation committee at the National Museum, HRH Princess Adela bint Abdullah. Following symposium sessions featuring speakers from Interpol and UNESCO,we were flown to the archeological burial site of the Nabatean civilization in Mada'in Saleh in the Western Madinah Province and later to Dhahran, in the Eastern Province, for a reception with officials at the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco). There were additional trips to the World Heritage site of Al-Dir'eia and to the Saudi annual National Heritage Festival in Janadriyah, near Riyadh.

I must admit that I found all of this somewhat overwhelming, because I had not been back to the Kingdom, where I had worked as an engineer in the Ras Tanura refinery, and later in Dhahran, for nearly four decades. My memories of this country, which became our home and made an indelible stamp on our lives, date back to when Margaret and I first arrived in 1960. Neither of us will ever forget that hot blast of air as we exited one of Aramco's planes to walk across the tarmac into the old Dhahran Airfield's non-air- conditioned shed carrying our infant daughter, Julia. Later our daughter Janet would be born in Dhahran, and our son, Robert, would join us.

It was in 1972, on a picnic with friends, that I discovered a collection of nine handmade clay pots just under the desert surface near the base of an old "Turkish watchtower" at Jubail on the Arabian Gulf. They were arranged as a ring of smaller pots (6-1/2 inch diameter) with a larger pot in the center. …

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