Guest post by Alberto Di Gennaro – SANDS
Doughty, Thesiger, and Burton fascinated us with their tales about Arabia and its deserts in their books Travels on Arabia Deserta, Arabian Sands, and Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Makkah.
In my library these books are always in the foreground, ready to be read again and again.
The desert is the most prominent feature of the Arabian Peninsula of which Saudi Arabia is the largest country. The people of the desert, the Bedouins, adapted to nomadic desert life by breeding camels, horses, and sheep; patience, generosity, loyalty, and courage, these were the qualities that allowed them to live by drinking bitter water, eating little, enduring the freezing cold in winter and the scorching heat in summer in a shadowless and cloudless environment.
When international borders were established in the desert, the Bedouins were encouraged by authorities to settle in the oases, limiting their historical mobility and autonomy.
Saudi Arabia has three major deserts: Al Nafud or the Great Nafud, Al Dahna, and Rub’al Khali (The Empty Quarter).
Nafud, also called Sand Sea, is a desert of red sands covering an area of 64,000 sq km. It lies in the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula.
The desert has been a barrier to travel for ages; its frequent sandstorms shape immense dunes and are noted for their sudden violent winds. In the Nafud, in 2016, there was the discovery of an 85,000-year-old fossilized human finger, an early evidence of modern humans outside Africa and the Levant.
The Nafud is connected to the Rub’ al Khali by the Ad-Dahna desert, a corridor of sandy terrain forming a bow-like shape that connects Nafud desert in the north to Rub’ al-Khali desert in the south; its length is more than 1,000 km and does not exceed 80 km in width. It is also considered the geographical margin separating Al-Ahsa Province from Najd. Rub’ al Khali (The Empty Quarter) one of the largest sand deserts in the world, extends over much of the southeast and beyond the southern frontier.
Partially unexplored, Rub’ al Khali has an estimated area of about 650,000 sq km with lesser portions in Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Before desertification made the caravan trails leading across the Rub’ al Khali so difficult, the caravans of the frankincense trade crossed now virtually impassable stretches of wasteland, until about 300 AD.
It has been suggested that Ubar or Iram, in Oman, a lost city, region, or people, depended on such trade.
The archaeological remains include a fortification building, walls, and bases of circular pillars as well as the traces of camel track.