Greater focus on pre-Islamic heritage

War and terrorism overshadow interest in the pre-Islamic heritage of the Arabic peninsula. The new Leiden Centre for the Study of Ancient Arabia aims to make the general public more aware of the ancient history of this region.

Speed up research

Sabian inscription, 7th century BC. Photo: Wikimedia

Sabian inscription, 7th century BC. Photo: Wikimedia

Many archaeological treasures and inscriptions have been discovered in the Arabic peninsula in recent decades. This has speeded up research on the ancient languages and cultures of the region, but, according to a group of Leiden Arab specialists, many discoveries have not been given the attention they deserve.


Media focus on conflicts

The Arab peninsula comprises Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. On the northern border are Jordan and Iraq that control part of the peninsula. Photo: Wikimedia

The Arab peninsula comprises Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. On the northern border are Jordan and Iraq that control part of the peninsula. Photo: Wikimedia

This is partly because of the focus of the media on conflicts in the region, but also because scientists themselves were too modest, according to the founders. The newly founded Leiden Centre for the Study of Ancient Arabia aims to promote research on pre-Islamic heritage (the period up to the 7th century AD) and to spread this knowledge to a broad public.


Leiden Arabic specialists launched the Leiden Centre for the Study of Ancient Arabia (LeiCenSAA) on 17 March 2015 in the National Museum of Antiquities. The meeting was attended by ambassadors from different Arabic countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. A number of eminent professors of Near Eastern Studies from international universities, were also present, including Professor Alessandra Avanzini (Pisa) and Professor Daniel Varisco (University of Qatar).

The launch of the Leiden Centre for the Study of Ancient Arabia in the National Museum of Antiquities.

The launch of the Leiden Centre for the Study of Ancient Arabia in the National Museum of Antiquities.

Broad appreciation essential

The fact that there are so many conflicts in the region means that a broad appreciation of ancient Arabic heritage is essential if we want to pass this heritage on to future generations, commented Ahmad Al-Jallad, Director of the research centre. He hopes to reach a broad public with his blog on lectures and articles for the general public.

Revealing unpublished sources

The centre will also be making research material available that has so far been inaccessible, so that scholars can conduct more research. The library holds special photos and unpublished scripts by linguist Bram Drewes and Arab specialist Jacques Rijckmans. The centre intends to digitise the collection so that these sources are more readily available. 

(26 March 2015)

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Last Modified: 26-03-2015