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Back You are here: Home Columns Columns John Pint Journey to Thuwal: A Saudi university looks at Arabia’s Caves

Journey to Thuwal: A Saudi university looks at Arabia’s Caves

In 2009 I heard rumors that a new university had opened its doors in Saudi Arabia. It was said that King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) was vibrant, dynamic, staffed by the world’s greatest scientists teaching the world’s most brilliant students, a truly international university which its founder, King Abdullah, Arabia’s reigning monarch, envisioned as “a bridge between people and cultures … and a beacon for peace, hope and reconciliation.”

Naturally I contacted KAUST, suggesting that Saudi Arabia’s caves –  many of which are over a million years old – would be ideal natural laboratories for KAUST researchers to carry out projects and, quite likely, discover new species of cave life while uncovering bones and artifacts thousands of years old.
“We’ve barely opened our doors,” replied my KAUST contact, Dr. Sigurjon Jonsson, a geophysicist from Iceland. “Give us a few years to get organized.”
Finally, in 2012, I got the green light. “Come tell us about the cavesduring our Winter Enrichment Program in 2013,” said Sigurjon. “The WEP, I quickly learned, was an annual three-week event in which students could attend presentations on almost any subject by the likes of environmental advocate Philippe Cousteau, Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier and Egyptian archaeologist Zaki Hawass … and, this year, yours truly, giving not only a course, but leading a field trip to a Saudi lava tube as well.

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