The Antiquities Museum is home to one of Saudi’s most important collections of ancient artifacts, a treasure trove of items unearthed from key archaeological sites across the kingdom and a direct link to the country’s past.
Tucked in the sandstone buildings of King Saud University - the oldest university in Saudi Arabia – its exhibits are the product of excavations carried out by the institute in the 1970s and 2004. The digs combed Qaryat Al Faw, a key archaeological site 700km southwest of Riyadh that was once the heartland of the Kindah tribe and a major centre of trade, in addition to the Al Rabadhah site 200km southeast of Medina, a former stopping point for pilgrims and travelers. A third excavation took place in Al Khuraybah in AlUla, once the capital of the Dadan and Lihyan kingdoms and considered one of the most sophisticated first-millennium cities of the Arabian Peninsular.
The relics they uncovered paint an evocative portrait of pre-Islamic and early Islamic civilizations in the kingdom, and to wander among them is to embark on a journey back in time.
Within the displays are objects such as bronze keys, door handles, doorknockers and wooden containers, which give a sense of daily life in early times. Beautiful human, horse and dolphin statuettes tell of a thriving artistic community, as do colorful frescoes, alabaster fragments, silver bowls, gold rings and other jewelry, all dating from 1-3AD. Highlights of the collection include beautiful little Hellenic and Roman statues of Apollo and Hercules.
The exhibition continues with a display of carefully preserved graves, including a wooden coffin, that originate from 3BC-3AD; bronze plaques inscribed in ornate South Arabian script, and storage jars and shards of glazed pottery dating from 8-9AD.
Between them, the artifacts pay homage to centuries of contributions made by the cultured and developed societies of early Arabia, tracing the evolution of the country’s communities and people.
The Antiquities Museum also features an exquisite collection of 873 coins donated by Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz. Roman, Byzantine, Sassanian and Nabataean examples are all represented, as well as magnificent Islamic coins from Umayyad, Abbasid and Ayyubid times.
The museum is open from 8am-2pm, Saturday to Thursday, and can be found within the university’s College of Tourism and Archaeology. Entry is free.