A new exhibition featuring the rich, ancient culture of the Arabian Peninsula will open on Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in Houston, Texas.
The exhibit, ‘Roads of Arabia,’ includes over 300 objects extracted from 10 different sites that date from prehistoric times to the conception of the Saudi Arabian empire in 1932.
The extensive and relatively unknown cultural history of the region is told through a display of tools, some more than 2 million years old, bowls, jewelry and statues, all of which archeologists use to pinpoint former areas of wealth.
Additional artifacts include steles, incense burners, slabs of stones carved to look like humans and other symbolic pieces that illustrate the area’s significance as an intersection of many civilizations throughout its history.
The relics also help in tracing influential ancient trade routes and later, pilgrimage routes that stretched from Yemen in the south to Iraq, Syria and Mediterranean cultures in the north.
“The many surprising discoveries on display in Roads of Arabia open a window onto the culture and economy of this ancient civilization like never before,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in the museum’s press release.
Highlighting the region’s importance in the founding and spread of Islam, the display includes several copies of the Quran and a massive silver gilded wooden door that at one time led to the inside of the Ka’ba.
The exhibit also emphasizes that while the Prophet Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE was significant because it would become to be one of the five pillars of Islam, it caused a fundamental transformation of the area.
Showcasing this change, the exhibit includes two maps juxtaposing the pre Islamic routes primarily used for trade, and the extensive network of roads, way stations and towns developed in response to increasing number of pilgrims on their way to Mecca that widened with the spread of Islam.
Bringing Arabian history to America
Until 2010, none of the historically significant pieces had been displayed outside of Saudi Arabia. After the exhibit made its European debut in Berlin, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) with the Musée du Louvre, organized its advent in the United States.
Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, said the exhibit showcases the layered history of the area which can help people under the present.
“That country that you deal with every day just doesn’t come from a void,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg.
“It comes from a great history and a great civilization background. And you have to understand that to understand why Saudi Arabia is behaving the way it’s behaving today.”
‘Roads of Arabia’ will also stop by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and Asian Art Museum in San Francisco on its North American tour.
The exhibit will stay in Houston through March 9.