During the 19th session of the Antiquities and Urban Heritage in Arab World Conference, which was held recently in Riyadh, Professor Ali Al Ghaban, vice president of the Saudi Commission of Tourism and Antiquities’ (SCTA) Antiquities and Museums Sector, announced that the Kingdom will fight sternly any illicit trafficking of antiquities, in addition to taking a tough stand against illegal antiquities in the Kingdom. Prof. Ghaban pointed out that Saudi Arabia will spare no effort to eradicate the illicit trade in archaeological pieces, which is causing significant damage to historical sites.
The conference which was held under the theme, “Illegal excavations and illicit trade in antiquities,” recommended in its closing session that Arab countries establish a digital record of their antiquities and ensure exchange of experiences across the Arab world to document architectural heritage. The conference also stressed the importance of cooperation between international organizations and member countries to recover the stolen antiquities taken abroad, as well as provide special assistance to Kuwait to retrieve its relics lost during the gulf war, in addition to highlighting the damage that Gaza’s cultural heritage has undergone.
Prof. Ghaban presented a paper in which he addressed the definition and categories of illegal excavations, such as digging for alleged treasures, digging for artifacts, quarrying archaeological sites for reuse, and damaging archaeological sites for the purpose of construction or for urban and agricultural expansion. Prof. Ghaban stated that SCTA has several developmental plans regarding its antiquities and museums sector, stressing the magnitude of educating Saudi citizens on the importance of heritage and its preservation. He explained the mechanisms of illicit trade in antiquities and referred to the appropriate methods to address this through the application of international regulations that restrict such phenomena. Prof. Ghaban concluded his paper with exhibiting samples of pieces that have been acclaimed and returned to the source countries, such as the archaeological pieces smuggled from Yemen Arab Republic and artifacts from the Republic of Iraq and Egypt.
Next year’s session will address “Cultural tourism and antiquities” along with the election of its prominent offices from the countries of Bahrain, Tunisia, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
The conference was organized by SCTA in cooperation with the Arab League Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization.