The lihyanite “monumental statue” of AlUla in Saudi Arabia is on display at the Louvre in Paris
PARIS/ROME: A rare statue from the Lihyanite period found in northwestern Saudi Arabia has been unveiled at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Dating from the 5th to 3rd centuries BCE and standing 2.3 meters tall, the statue depicts a realistic rendering of a male figure standing and in a static frontal pose.
Sculpted from sandstone and positioned with arms aligned on either side and legs straight, the 800 kg statue, which is missing its head, most likely represents a Liyhanite king, if not a priest or a praying figure.
Tuesday’s unveiling of the statue in the Louvre’s Hall of Oriental Antiquities is significant in that it marks the start of a collaboration between French heritage museums and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU).
“The statue is a very important symbol of France’s cultural cooperation with Saudi Arabia,” Laurence Des Cars, director of the Louvre museum, told Arab News.
“It is a masterpiece of ancient sculpture that testifies to the archaeological research undertaken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for more than 20 years, often in collaboration with France.
“We are very happy to be able to present this masterpiece to visitors to the Louvre for five years as part of our collections from the Arabian Peninsula. It is a strong symbol of this collaboration.
The statue was discovered at the archaeological site of Dadan in the modern AlUla oasis in northwestern Saudi Arabia during excavations carried out by teams led by King Saud University in Riyadh from 2003 to 2019.
It dates back to around 2,800 years ago when Dadan was one of the most important trade route stations in the ancient world. Around the second half of the 1st millennium BCE, the Dadan kingdom was ruled by the kings of the Lihyan tribe, who retained power for several centuries.
“This is the first Lihyanite statue found in northwest Saudi Arabia that will be on display for five years at the Louvre after an official agreement between the Louvre and RCU,” Dr Abdulrahman told Arab News. Alsuhaibani, acting executive director of collections at RCU. .
“Last November, during the archaeological excavations of the sanctuary which has already been excavated by King Saud University, another statue was found of almost the same size as the one on display today. But the second is currently in progress. conservation and restoration.
“We recovered the statue, we managed to stabilize it, and now we are working and making efforts to preserve it before putting it on display during the exhibition.”
Several colossal statues, said to represent kings and priests, were discovered between 2005 and 2007 during archaeological excavations of the Dadan shrine carried out by researchers from King Saud University.
“The team from King Saud University moved to the site of Dadan where a long scientific project was launched to excavate one of the most important archaeological sites in the northwest of the Kingdom,” Saeed Al said. -Saeed, who was Dean of Culture and Archaeology. at King Saud University when the statue was discovered, Arab News said.
“After the work started, other discoveries were made and the city of Dadan and some of its architectural details were discovered. Key finds and artifacts included huge statues, one of which is on display today in the Louvre.
Experts say the statue dates back to the period when the Lihyan kingdom controlled the ancient caravan route from their capital in what is today known as AlUla, historically located along the ancient incense routes which ranged from southern Arabia, north to Egypt and beyond.
“Few civilizations have not been studied: Assyrian and Egyptian civilizations have all been studied,” Amr Al-Madani, CEO of RCU, told Arab News. “What remains now is to unpack the role of Lihyan and Dadan, a civilization that ruled northern Arabia from AlUla.”
Custodian of 200,000 years of history, AlUla is rapidly becoming the tourist and cultural center of Saudi Arabia. Located in the modern province of Medina in Saudi Arabia in the Hejaz region, it is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra.
“The amount of undiscovered archeology and discovered archeology that hasn’t visited the world is magnificent in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Madani said. “We recently unpacked many discoveries in AlUla.
Some of them are monumental sculptures. They are currently being studied, renovated and, certainly, will join their well-deserved place in the global network of world museums.
Dadan City, the ancient site of the kingdom capitals of Dadan and Lihyan, was first discovered by English poet and explorer Charles Montagu Doughty in 1876.
“Few vestiges of the old civil generations of el-Hejr, the caravan city; its clay streets are again dust blown in the desert,” he wrote in his “Travels in Deserted Arabia,” published in 1888.
“Their story is written for us only in the crab-like scrawls on many of the wild rocks of this grim neighborhood, and in the engraved titles of their funerary monuments, now solitary rocks, which the fearful traveler admires, in these desolate mountains .”
In 1909 and 1910, the site was carefully documented by the French Dominicans A. Jaussen and R. Savignac, who identified it as the biblical Dedan, mentioned in the Old Testament among the main caravan cities of Arabia.
Thanks to the hundreds of Dadanitic inscriptions found on the site and its surroundings, it has been established that the city had been the capital of two successive kingdoms: first the oasis kingdom of Dadan in the first half of the 1st millennium before our era, then the vast tribal kingdom of Lihyan in the second half.
The statue was previously on display as part of “Roads of Arabia”, a traveling exhibition which first appeared at Louvre Abu Dhabi from November 2018 to February 2019, before traveling to Rome, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, Saint -Petersburg, Houston, Tokyo and beyond.
Roads of Arabia celebrated the archaeological treasures of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, exploring how the civilizations of the Arabian Peninsula served as a meeting point of the Indian Ocean, the Horn of Africa, the Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Today, the new Lihyanite exhibition in Paris offers a new opportunity to examine these ancient civilizations and the role they played in shaping the region.
Determining who the statue is supposed to represent, however, will require careful study of the archaeological record and careful scrutiny of detail.
“We know that this statue is a Lihyanite statue that was found in a layer dated to the Lihyanite period, during the second half of the first millennium BCE,” Alsuhaibani said.
“There is also another statue which was also found at the same level. The word ‘king’ was found written on the back of another statue which resembles the one on display today.
The statue is dressed in a short tunic while on the body are traces of red pigment. On his left arm he wears a bracelet which is possibly adorned with a pearl, worn in the bend of his elbow, while under his right foot are the remains of the sole of a shoe, most likely a sandal. .
It is worth noting the special attention given to the rendering of the anatomical form of the man and its smooth surface, intricately depicting the muscles of the torso, abdomen and the remains of the limbs – characteristic elements of the school of Lihyanite carving.
According to archaeologists and art historians, the statue is distinguished by its particular local style and reflects the artistic influences of ancient Egypt and Greece.
Preserving and celebrating Saudi Arabia’s ancient heritage is a key part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification program, which includes investments in infrastructure and tourist attractions.
Among these developments is the “Journey Through Time” master plan, which will see the AlUla Valley transformed into a living museum designed to immerse visitors in 200,000 years of natural and human history.
“AlUla is the largest living museum in the world and a place of heritage for the world, holding thousands of years of history of cultural exchanges,” Al-Madani said.
“Cultural exchange is an economic activity. It creates a place where people can get to know each other better and do business. Today we are trading raw materials, we are trading products and what we really need to encourage now is that we are trading culture as the basis for economic growth.
“What we see here is a king of Lihyan – a civilization that dominated northwestern Arabia and played an important role in the incense route and trade network of the past. Today the king stands stands here to welcome everyone to AlUla, as we establish it as a major oasis of exchange, art, culture, heritage and hopefully fantastic memories for life.