President of the Saudi Commission of Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) Prince Sultan bin Salman inaugurated Saturday night the first exhibition of Saudi Arabian antiquities retrieved from people in the Kingdom and abroad at the National Museum in Riyadh.
"The exhibition is a fruit of many years of hard efforts made by SCTA, other government authorities, and citizens to restore Saudi Arabia's antiquities, as per the order of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. These resulted in restoring over 14,000 pieces of antiquities belonging to different eras of the Kingdom," Prince Sultan said in his address to a large audience at the opening ceremony.
Dignitaries included Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al-Nahyan, president of Abu Dhabi Authority for Tourism and Culture; Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, deputy petroleum minister; Fahd Balgunaim, agriculture minister; and Saud Al-Mat'hami, state minister for Shoura Council Affairs.
"Our heritage is an integral part of our identity. So the loss of any of it is considered a loss of a part of our country's culture that can't be recovered. So the Kingdom will continue to do whatever it can through all possible means to search for and get back home its antiquities in cooperation with its partners," the prince added.
"So I urge everyone still possessing any antiquities or artifacts belonging to the Kingdom or know about them, whether in the Kingdom or abroad, to return it to us or let us know about it. SCTA has designated a toll free hotline number (8007550000) and its website www.scta.gov.sa to receive information in this regard. All calls will be handled with top confidentiality.”
The exhibition, which will stay open until March 8, displays hundreds of antiques and artifacts recovered from both citizens and expatriates in the Kingdom. These include stone tools, pottery, glass vessels, ancient and Islamic inscriptions, stones and wooden sculptures and coins from different historical periods.
SCTA invited to the opening ceremony a group of people from the United States who used to possess such Saudi antiquities in recognition of their initiative to voluntarily return them to the Kingdom.
In an interview with Arab News, former Aramco employee Elinor Nichols, said she had returned nine pieces of antiquities and artifacts that were collected from different parts of northern Saudi Arabia during the 14 years she and her husband spent in the Kingdom.
"I kept them with me for 42 years, because I love old things. Besides, I wanted to keep something that reminds me of the Kingdom where I spent wonderful years, because I was not able to take the whole country with me," she said.
"But, when I knew later that Prince Sultan announced the Kingdom is interested in procuring its antiquities and artifacts abroad, I returned them, " she added.
Another former Aramco employee, Robert Ackerman, said he returned three very old handmade parts that he had found near Jubail back in the 1970s. "I returned them once I knew the Saudi government had started a program to restore its antiquities and artifacts abroad, because I thought that what I had taken from here someday must be returned to where it belongs. The Saudi government was very grateful for my initiative, so it brought me here to observe this ceremony along with my daughter Julia who was at that time a baby living here with me," he said.
Arthur Clark, assistant editor of Saudi Aramco World Magazine at Aramco Services Company based in Houston, Texas, said Aramco played a vital role in creating awareness among its former employees who worked in the Kingdom about SCTA’s antiquities and artifacts program.
"Because we had a good connection with our retirees, we informed them by e-mail and through publications about SCTA's effort to find and procure artifacts found in the Kingdom and taken back home by expatriates. We asked anyone who had antiquities to return them to the Kingdom."
Clark pointed out their awareness efforts resulted in responses from up to 30 people. "Fifteen of them were found to be having items of interest that fit into the categories specified by SCTA. I can't tell the exact total number of those items they had, but rather I would say that some of them had hundreds, while others had one or two. And all that they had were returned to the Kingdom," he said.