Touch of royalty helps open 'Roads of Arabia' exhibit at Carnegie Museum

Saudi Arabian Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz on hand to open the traveling exhibition

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The Carnegie Museum of Natural History welcomed royalty Friday at the opening of the "Roads of Arabia" exhibition.

The show, which includes 240 pieces of artifacts from Saudi Arabia -- some unearthed from nearly 7,000 years ago -- reached Pittsburgh as the second stop in the U.S. just after the Smithsonian. The exhibit runs here through Nov. 3 and then will travel to other U.S. cities including Houston, San Francisco and Boston.

This is not the first time Saudi Arabian Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, visited Pittsburgh, a city he has a "soft spot" for, he said.

The first Arab astronaut and a graduate of Syracuse University, Prince Sultan praised Pittsburgh's institutions and said it was "rational, really, to bring the exhibition to a more educated community."

He is the son of the Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud.

Many of the precious objects in the exhibit include stone and bronze sculptures, ceramics and jewelry, none of which have been seen outside of Saudi Arabia before 2010.

One artifact is a recently discovered stone fragment of a horse with a hint of an early bridle. Some archaeologists have dated it to about 7000 B.C., much earlier than 3500 B.C., the date experts had pegged for domestication of the horse.

Objects like these were found along trade routes where camels transported valuables like incense, spice and silk among the peninsula's neighbors including Egyptians, Syrians, Babylonians and the Greco-Romans as early as 1200B.C. Many were also handed over to the Saudi Commission.

Excavators also found beautifully engraved tombstones of Muslims who traveled along the pilgrimage trails to Mecca. This part of the exhibit features the impact of Islam.

Although the Arabian Peninsula has an ancient past, as a hub of the economic world and a crossroads between nations, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still a young nation, created in 1932. A part of the exhibit features its inception through photos, books, maps and objects.

He said people need to see Saudi Arabia from the perspective of its deep cultural history. "Its people are people of value, people of belief," he said, adding that they have a natural sense of hospitality.

With a focus on tourism and cultural education in his own country, the prince had a progressive, peaceful vision for the future of his nation, especially in dialogues with the United States.

"I really see that we need more human connection. Culture is one of those fantastic bridges that can bring people together," he said.

"That's what we hope to do here in Pittsburgh."

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Marina Weis: 412-263-1889 or First Published June 22, 2013 4:00 AM


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