Treasure exhibition unearths shared history and culture
Civilizations on two ends of Asia began a cultural dialogue not only across space, but also through time.
The RoadsofArabia:ArchaeologicalTreasuresofSaudiArabia exhibition, which gathers 466 sets of national treasures from 15 museums all over Saudi Arabia, opened in the National Museum of China in Beijing on Tuesday and will run until March 19, 2017.
The exhibition tour has been to nine top-level museums in Europe and the United States before coming to Beijing, its first station in East Asia, and has attracted a combined four million visitors worldwide.
“This is the biggest number since we started Arabian exhibitions (around the world) six years ago,” said professor Ali Ibrahim Al-Ghabban, general supervisor of the King Abdullah Cultural Heritage Care Project and curator of the ongoing exhibition.
According to Al-Ghabban, many exhibits in Beijing have shown new archaeological discoveries in Saudi Arabia in recent years, and more than 60 artifacts have never been exhibited out of his country.
“Few archaeological dis - coveries in recent years have transformed our understanding of a region as the objects on view in Roads of Arabia,” the curator said. “Mysterious stone inscriptions, monumental human statues, and finely crafted bronze figures highlight Arabia’s history before the rise of Islam in the seventh century.”
Ancient trading and pilgrimage routes compose two major lines connecting the artifacts, organized by six sections in the exhibition, spanning Saudi history from the earliest human settlements through the Neolithic Age and the pre-Islamic sets era, up to the early 20th century.
Some important yet lesserknown archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia, including the oasis sites of Al-Ula and Tayma, and the ancient wealthy city of Qaryat al-Faw, are also on display at the exhibition through their cultural relics.
“The cultures are probably mysterious for Chinese people,” Wang Jun, director of Art Exhibitions China, which co-organized the exhibition, explained. “So, it’s a rare opportunity for the public to have close contact with such prosperous history through visual artifacts.”
His organization is China’s national institution in charge of exhibition exchanges overseas. More than 200 Chinese exhibitions have been taken abroad since its establishment in 197 1, but Wang said they have put more emphasis on bringing overseas exhibitions to China.
“Chinese and Saudi Arabian cultures are complementary,” said Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, chairman of the board of the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage. “Many people know Saudi Arabia because of its oil, but we want to show a different aspect.
“Beyond economic influence, Saudi Arabia also has a long history and an open mind, which will easily stir up resonance in China,” the prince said. “Consequently, it’s crucial to have such an exchange of culture between the two countries.
“Preser ving histor y is to protect our future, and the two countries still have many spaces for cooperation in the cultural field.”
Earlier this month, China’s Ministry of Culture revealed plans to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in co-bidding to include the Maritime Silk Road ancient trade route onto the UNESCO World Heritage list.
“Saudi Arabia was a key bond connecting China and the West along the ancient Maritime Silk Road, and we have sites in Saudi Arabia which have already been listed as UNESCO World Heritage, like the Port of Jeddah,” Al-Ghabban said, citing 15th-century Chinese navigator Zheng He’s visit to Jeddah. Highlighted artifacts from the event
It’s a rare opportunity for the public to have close contact with such prosperous history through visual artifacts.” Wang Jun, director of Art Exhibitions China of national treasures from 15 museums all over Saudi Arabia are on show at the exhibition
This slab of standing sandstone was probably associated with religious or burial practices. It is among the earliest known objects from the Arabian Peninsula. The artifact was unearthed in Qaryat al-Kaafa near Ha’il, and now belongs to the National Museum, Riyadh.
A male figurine made of lapis lazuli from the third millennium BC
Collected by the National Museum in Riyadh, its precious material is produced in what is today known as Afghanistan and it features typical Mesopotamian style.
A gold funerary mask from the first century AD
Unearthed in Thaj, Tell alZayer in 1988 and housed in the National Museum in Riyadh, this artifact is believed to have belonged to a young girl from a high-level royal family.
Door of the Ka’ba from 1635-36 during the Ottoman Empire
This gilt silver artifact on wood from Mecca is housed by the National Museum in Riyadh. It shows state-of-the-art techniques from Turkey and was continuously used until 1947.
Anthropomorphic stele from the fourth millennium BC
Ancient Chinese porcelain pieces, among which many are from the ninth to the 10th century
These artifacts unearthed since the 1960s show the longtime trading of tea, porcelains, and silk pieces between the East and the West, and the economic bond of China and Saudi Arabia in ancient times.
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“We are planning excavations with Chinese archaeologists in several ancient ports. We’re ready to cooperate with China on the Maritime Silk Road project.”
He recalled that Chinese objects from the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties were found in Saudi Arabia even in the middle of the desert. Some of them are also on display in Beijing in the exhibition.
“That proves communication flourished in the past, as it does today,” the professor said.
RoadsofArabia: ArchaeologicalTreasuresof SaudiArabia
9 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays), until March 19, 2017
South No 7 and No 8 exhibition hall, National Museum of China, 16 East Chang’an Avenue
Price: Entry to the exhibition costs 30 yuan ($4.30)
“And we also want to introduce more exhibitions and seminars on Chinese history to Saudi Arabia to share Chinese experiences on cultural heritage protection.”
Wang added: “The ancient Maritime Silk Road was flourishing because of common development along the route, not only in China, but also in the Arabian Peninsula. The event helps us to echo the Belt and Road Initiative to better understand other civilizations today.”
An exhibition of Saudi Arabian national treasures is being held at the National Museum of China in Beijing starting Tuesday.
An anthropomorphic stele from the fourth millennium BC; a gold funerary mask from the first century AD; door of the Ka’ba from 1635-36, during the Ottoman Empire.