Literature. – The historical events have meant that the ” cradle of the Arabs ” – and of Islam – was relegated until the beginning of the 20th century to the margins of that same civilization that it had brought into the world.
Even today the literature of the kingdom – whose founder ῾Abd al-῾Azīz Ibn Sa῾ūd distinguished himself among the Arab heads of state of his generation for having based exclusively on local human resources the building of a renewed Arab society, but strictly Muslim – it is practically ignored, even by specialists, perhaps because it detaches itself from the most significant currents of contemporary Arabic literature. Yet the peninsula offers a variegated and flourishing literary landscape, original and vigorous, which reflects above all the drama of consciences, divided between the call of a glorious past and the aspirations of a future that the era of oil seemed to put within reach of but no.
In contemporary poetry the theme of alienation and loneliness predominates, which older authors, such as Aḥmad Qandīl (1911-1979) or Muḥammad Ḥasan ῾Awwād (1902-1980), express in the traditional vein, rich in classical references. In the next generation, represented by Ḥasan ῾Abdallah al-Qurašī (b.1926) and Ghāzī al-Quṣaybī (b.1940), a romantic vein appears steeped in nostalgia for a lost innocence and disappointment born of contact with a Western reality often mythologized. More recent is the appearance of a modernist school that abandons the canons of traditional metrics and is characterized by the use of free verse, with pounding rhythms and, often, with contents of explicit social claim. The poems of Fawziyya Abū Khālid (b. 1955) are particularly significant.
As in all contemporary Arabic literature, the short story prevails in fiction, which takes up old oral traditions in new forms. Echoes of the Thousand and One Nights are found eg. in Khalīl al-Fuzai῾ (n. 1944), while in the pages of ῾Abdallah al-Sālmī (n. 1950) there are characters who have been compared to those of Dostoevsky; surrealism was instead spoken of in connection with Sibā῾ī ῾Uthmān (b. 1938). The novel is worthily represented by Ḥamza Buqurī (1932-1984), whose Saqifat al-Safa has the merit – as indeed is the autobiography of Aḥmad al-Sibā῾ī (1905-1983) – of throwing a fascinating light on life daily before the oil age; and Ibrāhīm al-Nasir (n. 1933), author of Thaqf fī Rida al-layl (1961, “A hole in the dress of the night”) and the collection of short stories Arḍ bilā maṭar (1965, “Land without rain”).
Archaeology. – The establishment, in the mid-seventies, of a Higher Council for Antiquities represents for the Saudi Arabia the birth certificate of a planned management of local archaeological resources and the starting moment of a real intensive research on antiquity of the country. Despite the information provided by the Philby-Ryckmans-Lippens expedition, it must be said that until then a global knowledge of the extent and importance of the Saudi archaeological heritage was lacking. The first initiative was therefore to start a systematic archaeological survey of the whole territory, which would allow to obtain a more or less complete inventory of the antiquities scattered in the six regions into which the country can be historically and geographically divided.
According to cachedhealth, the program, which began in 1976 under the direction of the Department for Antiquities and Museums, continued briskly for about 7 years, benefiting from the contribution of mainly American institutions and specialists. Several thousand archaeological sites have been identified and recorded, which can be placed in the vast span of time ranging from the lower Paleolithic to the most recent Islamic period. The chronological attributions of the various settlements at the beginning were rather uncertain, mainly due to the novelty and uniqueness of the ceramic and lithic finds collected. The usefulness of the reconnaissance lies precisely in this: in having allowed for the first time that relative comparison of the great categories of artefacts, which has gradually built the space / time framework on which the current investigations are based,
In fact, since 1982, the Department for Antiquities has begun a series of excavations in the most interesting sites found, the results of which, although only preliminary published for now, testify to the intense and varied vitality that affected the Arabian peninsula. Excavations at the Acheulean sites of ad-Dawādmī in central Arabia document the first residents of the peninsula; those on the Neolithic site of Thumāmah, near Riyāḍ, show us the first domesticators; those of Naǧrān, near Yemen, and Thaǧ, in the eastern province, highlight the diffusion throughout Arabia of the powerful Hellenistic influences which covered, suffocating them, the splendid signs of the South Arabian cultures on the one hand, and Mesopotamian on the other.
Unfortunately, there is still no in-depth research on what more specifically ” Arab ” was found during the systematic reconnaissance: we are referring to the innumerable and enigmatic structures in unworked stones that, in the shape of circles, mounds, alignments, turrets, dot the driest regions of the country (especially the Naǧd). Parallel researches recently carried out in Yemen prove that these represent the precious testimony of Arab protohistory (3rd-2nd mill. BC), that is the proof of that semi-nomadic substratum from which the true and purest Bedouin condition emerged. The investigations on the most recent periods are summarized in the great project – also started in 1976 – of rediscovery,
Alongside the initiatives of the Department for Antiquities, it is worth mentioning those of the Department of Archeology of the University of Riyāḍ which in parallel (from 1976) began the systematic excavation of the important classical South Arabian center of Qaryat al-Faw, on the north- west of the Rub῾al-Khālī desert. The site is located along the ancient trade route that connected the southern sector of the peninsula, namely the kingdoms of Saba, Ma῾īn, Qatbān, Ḥaḍramawt and Ḥimyar, with the northern and north-eastern regions, that is, with the Gulf countries Arabian from Mesopotamia. The excavations have brought to light an architecture (palace, temple, market, etc.) which, together with the rich artefacts (ceramics, bronzes, gems, fabrics), prove the economic and commercial importance of this center in the Hellenistic period.