While the Qur’an sets out a revisionist narrative of human history (e.g., Abraham, Moses and Jesus as prophets of Islam), the impulse to purge the earth of remnants of jahiliyyah, or pre-Islamic “ignorance,” seeks to alter real life by destroying evidence of non-Islamic societies and their achievements (the most famous example being the Bamiyan Buddhas). The result is a program of cultural genocide and an attempt to rewrite reality itself that would have Orwell throwing up his hands and saying, “I just can’t top this.”
Thus, news of the existence of these sites in Saudi Arabia is a double-edged sword: it opens them up for research and discovery, or pious destruction. Of course, it never seems to occur to clerics who order such suppression and destruction that their paranoia is a sign of weakness. They cast their own faith as fragile and flimsy — a house of cards that would topple over in a gentle breeze — and they give the appearance of having something to hide. Perhaps they fear the discovery of something else along the lines of the Yemeni cache of ancient, non-standard Qur’ans, or simply that the evidence does not support Islam’s retelling of history.
“Google Earth finds Saudi Arabia’s forbidden archaeological secrets,” by Praveen Swami for the Telegraph, February 4:
David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Western Australia, used Google Earth satellite maps to pinpoint 1,977 potential archaeological sites, including 1,082 teardrop shaped stone tombs.
If the religious police have their way, it may be 1081, 1080, 1079, 1078…
“I’ve never been to Saudi Arabia,” Dr Kennedy said. “It’s not the easiest country to break into.”
Dr Kennedy told New Scientist that he had verified the images showed actual archaeological sites by asking a friend working in the Kingdom to photograph the locations.
The use of aerial and satellite imaging has been used in Britain to locate Iron Age and Roman sites in Britain, as well as Nazca lines in Peru and Mayan ruins in Belize.
But few archaeologists have been given access to Saudi Arabia, which has long been hostile to the discipline. Hardline clerics in the kingdom fear that it might focus attention on the civilisations which flourished there before the rise of Islam – and thus, in the long term, undermine the state religion.
In 1994, a council of Saudi clerics was reported to have issued an edict asserting that preserving historical sites “could lead to polytheism and idolatry” – both punishable, under the Kingdom’s laws, by death.
Saudi Arabia’s rulers have, in recent years, allowed archaeologists to excavate some sites, including the spectacular but little-known ruins of Maidan Saleh, a 2,000 old city which marked the southern limits of the powerful Nabataean civilisation.
For the most part, though, access to ancient sites has been severely restricted.