Research Project al-‘Ulā AS: 2019-2024

 al-‘Ulā AS Project: Anthropological survey of al-‘Ulā community and its oasis system
 Principal investigator: Dr Vincent Battesti

Located in the northwest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the oasis of al-‘Ulā, previously considered a remote and isolated territory, is the recent focus of an ambitious development project by the government of the Saudi monarchy (led by the Royal Commission for AlUla).

Prior to any ambitious project, an in-depth study is essential to determine the true nature of the al-‘Ulā oasis. The challenge is to rely on other oasis cases without overlooking the local anthropological and ecological specificities and to highlight its social and economic functioning. As al-‘Ulā is mainly an agricultural terroir, oasis agriculture deserves special attention (Battesti, 2005), and in particular, the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.)—see the project “Ethnographic, genetic, and morphometric analyses of the date palm agrobiodiversity in al-‘Ulā oasis” (dir. by Drs. Vincent Battesti & Muriel Gros- Balthazard)—, the keystone species of this complex and ingenious human-made system. But even beyond the date palm: an oasis is a full socio-ecosystem and a valuable natural and cultural heritage. It combines a complex multilayered agriculture system, cultivated species, and local knowledge and practices. A primary focus should aim to understand how this system functions and how it has recently evolved. What is its agrobiodiversity, how can it even be measured? Experience (Battesti, 2013; Battesti & Gros-Balthazard et al., 2018) shows that such an assessment cannot be effectively carried out without considering the local categorization of life, including animals and plants, and without acknowledging that the local population and its traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) and know-how are the originators and maintainers of this agroecological diversity. This local human population, with its different identities and often complex social organizations, must also be included in the study.

From a scholarly standpoint, little is known about the current state of the oasis. We are unaware of any sociological or ethnological analysis of the oasis (but a book published in Saudi Arabia by Naseef, 1995). There is also no evaluation of the richness of the local agrobiodiversity of oasis plants and animal. We propose an understanding of al-‘Ulā oasis through a general and interdisciplinary diagnosis aimed at addressing relevant local anthropological issues. We propose an assessment of the local agrobiodiversity and its origins, using a multidisciplinary approach that combines anthropology, ethnoecology (including ethnobotany and ethnozoology), and agronomy. The objective is also to describe the functioning of the oasis as a whole, as a complex result of long-term and daily adjustments by humans and non-humans, by including in our research the urban environment and the habitat of the humans and their evolutions.

A doctoral student has been recruited on this al-‘Ulā AS research project for a four-year (2019-2024) thesis in social anthropology (CNRS): Léo Marty.
An agricultural engineer has been recruited on this al-‘Ulā AS research project in 2023 (CNRS): Élise Gaury.

al-‘Ulā AS research Project

Owner of a garden in the old palm grove, present every day to supervise agricultural work, in the oasis of al-‘Ulā, KSA, Nov. 28, 2019. © Vincent Battesti
© Vincent Battesti
Growing local wheat in the old palm grove of al-’Ulā, 25 March 2023, © Vincent Battesti
Vincent Battesti
Day of the Foundation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, pedestrianised street of al-Judaydah taken over by passers-by in the evening, in al-‘Ulā, KSA, 22 Feb 2024, © Vincent Battesti
© Vincent Battesti
View of the new district of al-’Azīziyyah made up of closed-in, air-conditioned houses contrasting with the old oasis city or Bedouin tents; not all lots are built yet, in al-‘Ulā, KSA, Nov. 17, 2019. © Vincent Battesti
© Vincent Battesti

Fourth-year Report—Dec. 2023. Anthropological survey of al-‘Ulā community and its oasis system

Annual Report 2023 — Unveiling al-‘Ulā: Deepening Understanding of Anthropological Dynamics

Comparison of the agricultural area of Muġayrā’ (al-‘Ulā, KSA) between 1972, 1986 and 2023

Testing the JuxtaposeJS slider tool.

Publication of the first anthropological and social study on al-‘Ulā

Bedouins and Sedentaries today in al-‘Ulâ (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia): al-diyâr and al-Dîra in the rear-view mirror | Art. in English in Arabian (…)

Comparison of al-‘Ulā oasis valley (KSA) between 1965 and 2023

Testing the JuxtaposeJS slider tool.

Position Agricultural Engineer (M/F): 6 months at al-‘Ulā in Saudi Arabia

Start date: February 1, 2023. Application deadline: January 23, 2023.

Third-year Report—Dec. 2022. Anthropological survey of al-‘Ulā community and its oasis system

Annual Report 2022

Project participants to al-‘Ulā AS Project

Addition and convergence of scientific expertise for a research on al-’Ulā oasis in Saudi Arabia.

On the field for al-‘Ulā-AS: Dr. Joëlle Brochier-Puig

March 2022 Social geography of water and irrigation in al-‘Ulā

Postdoctoral contract offer: Ecological knowledge and know-how of communities in al-‘Ulā oasis region, Saudi Arabia

Effective date: April 1st, 2022. Application deadline: March 24th, 2022 Date passed, but if interested, contact me.

A Timelapse Landsat of al-‘Ulā 1985-2020

The changes in exploiting the environment in the region of al-‘Ulā, KSA

Second-year Report—Sept. 2021. Anthropological survey of al-‘Ulā community and its oasis system

Annual Report 2021

First-year Report—Sept. 2020. Anthropological survey of al-‘Ulā community and its oasis system

Annual Report 2020

Anthropological aspects of the communities of al-’Ulā oasis: Scientific and synthesis note


Doctoral contract offer: Functioning of an oasis community in Saudi Arabia and its relationship to the environment: al-‘Ulā oasis

Effective date: November 1, 2019. Application deadline: October 9, 2019

Mapping and Interpreting Bibliographic Knowledge, The Oasis of al-‘Ulā in Saudi Arabia

Master thesis 1st year, Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, by Doria Bellache (dir. Vincent Battesti)