Uncovering the secrets of the ancient kingdom of Dadan
Traversing desert sands and rocky outcrops, ‘Lost Treasures of Arabia: The Ancient City of Dadan’, is a deep dive into the ancient Saudi Arabian city. We highlight the key facts about Dadan uncovered in the captivating new documentary, alongside important discoveries in the recent dig season that stand as evidence that the site was settled much earlier than previously thought.
Dadan was continuously occupied for more than 1,800 years
From the most recent archeological excavation, evidence shows that Dadan was continuously occupied for more than 1,800 years, from the mid-2nd millennium BCE to the 3rd century CE.
Dadan was a key stop along the famed Incense Trade Route
Mentioned in the Old Testament for its significance in cultural and commercial exchange, Dadan was the capital of the powerful Lihyanite kingdom. Its strategic position along the major trade routes through Arabia led to it becoming established as a key stop along the famous Incense Route, which was well-trodden by camel caravans as merchants in search of fortune aimed for distant markets in the Mediterranean and beyond. As a result, new prized commodities came from Arabia to the northern lands, including frankincense which formed a huge part of Dadan’s economic success, along with other aromatic resins and spices, such as myrrh, bdellium, and myrobalan.
The city is a treasure trove of artefacts
The Dadan Archaeological Project, a Saudi-French initiative carried out by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), unearthed thousands of artifacts during its most recent dig. This includes items made of metal, glass, terracotta, stone, bone and textile, which have since been treated by the project’s conservation team.
Experts are still trying to uncover the city’s secrets
The documentary attempts to answer questions about the region that have puzzled experts for years: Who were the people that lived in Dadan and what brought the advanced civilization to an end? By exploring Dadan’s archaeological treasures, the documentary offers a unique window into important discoveries about the Dadanite and Lihyanite kingdoms, deepening our knowledge about the ways in which its people lived, the languages spoken, and the cultural rituals of its people over two thousand years ago.
New discoveries reframe Dadan’s historical timeline
The unearthing of early monumental structures dating to the mid-2nd millennium BCE in the great sanctuary of Dadan, under the remains of a later Lihyanite-period temple, evidence that the site was settled much earlier than previously thought. Elsewhere, an entire neighbourhood dating from the late 1st millennium BCE has been uncovered in the centre of the city.
New findings cast light on Lihyanite belief systems and advanced stone-working capabilities
The excavation of a Lihyanite funerary shrine recovered a unique assemblage of in situ cultic objects including 23 beautiful figurative statues, with the uncovering of an ancient stone quarry provides valuable insight into ancient stone-working techniques.
A rapidly expanding archeological landscape
Nearly 2,000 new archaeological features located in the cliffs and mountains to the east of the main Dadan site have also been identified – including ancient tombs, defensive walls, mountaintop sanctuaries, and hundreds of panels with inscriptions and rock art - the majority of which date from between the late 2nd millennium BCE and the late 1st millennium BCE.
The Lion Tombs are a must-see
One of Dadan’s most exciting monuments is the Lion Tombs, which are two square-shaped tombs carved into the mountain face. The tombs feature two lion sculptures adorning the entrances, signifying the importance and power of the people who were interred there – likely elite members of society.
Dadan is part of a much larger historical site
Described as the World’s Largest Open Museum, the Saudi Arabian region of AlUla is only recently emerging on the global stage as a landscape of extraordinary cultural and natural heritage. Dadan is just one part of a rich, tapestry of 200,000 years of human history that includes ancient tombs, inscriptions, villages and prehistoric monuments. AlUla is also home to Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site; Hegra was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom, located 500km to the south of the famous capital, Petra, now in modern-day Jordan,
Watch the National Geographic trailer:
'Lost Treasures of Arabia: The Ancient City of Dadan’
Discover more about Dadan: Heritage and History
Before the Nabataeans, AlUla was the capital of the ancient kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan, which controlled the caravan trade in the first millennium BCE. See remarkably well-preserved tombs, expertly carved from a towering red-rock mountain face that overlooks the valley oasis. A special highlight is the famed Lion Tombs marked by seated lion sculptures.