By Courtney Trenwith
Saudi antiquities commission says French had no right to reveal the discovery, dated 469-470AD & believed to be the oldest Arabic inscriptions ever found
Saudi Arabia has condemned the French government for announcing the discovery of what is believed to be the oldest Arabic inscriptions ever found.
The ancient works, which archaeologists said were dated from 469-470 AD, were discovered in the southern Saudi region of Najran, about 100 kilometres north of the Yemeni border, during excavations by a joint Saudi-French archaeological team.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development announced the find on Sunday.
But the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) on Monday said under international convention that governed joint excavations, the French did not have authority to reveal the discovery, which was still being verified.
“The SCTA is the sole authority to make such announcements,” SCTA vice president for antiquities and museums Ali bin Ibrahim Al Ghabban said in a statement published by Arab News.
“This discovery and many other similar discoveries in the kingdom’s northwest indicate the most ancient use of the Arabic alphabet.
“This discovery is in the advanced stages of scientific verification before being announced to the media by SCTA, according to the convention that regulates Saudi and international joint scientific missions.”
Al Ghabban said there were more than 30 joint scientific teams carrying out excavation work on several archaeological sites across the kingdom under SCTA supervision.
“We will announce the recent discovery about the emergence and evolution of the Arabic alphabet once the testing and scientific stages are completed,” he said.
French epigrapher Frédéric Imbert, who the French said found the Nabatean Arabic inscription, said the script had previously only been seen south of Hejaz, in the Sinai and in the Levant.
“The first thing that makes this find significant is that it is a mixed text, known as Nabatean Arabic, the first stage of Arabic writing,” he said.
As the oldest inscription found to date, it represented the “missing link” between Nabatean and Arabic writing.