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al-‘Ulā AS Project: Anthropological survey of al-‘Ulā community and its oasis system

2019-2024 Project.

Principal investigator: Dr Vincent Battesti

Located in the northwest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the oasis of al-‘Ulā, considered up until recently 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 must obviously be carried out to determine, here, the true nature of 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 tree (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 engineering plant of this complex and ingenious system created by humankind. But even beyond the date palm: an oasis is a full socio-ecosystem, and a precious natural and cultural heritage. It is the combination of a complex multilayered agriculture system, cultivated species, and local knowledge and practices. A first focus should aim to understand how this system is working 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 us that such an assessment cannot be carried out effectively without considering the local categorization of life, animals and plants, if we do not lose sight over the fact that the local population and its traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) and know-how are at the origin of and have maintained this agroecological diversity (a local human population with its different identities and often complex social organizations that must therefore 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), just as there is no evaluation of the richness of the local agrobiodiversity of oasis plants and animal. We here propose an understanding of al-‘Ulā oasis with a general and interdisciplinary diagnosis aiming at the relevant local anthropological issues. We propose an assessment of the local agrobiodiversity and its origins, undertaken by a multidisciplinary approach, combining 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 obviously also on 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

A retired Saudi ’alawī landowner in his bustān in the old palm grove of al-‘Ulā at the time of date palm pollination, KSA, March 2023, © Vincent Battesti | Un propriétaire saoudien ‘alawī, à la retraite, dans son bustān dans la vieille palmeraie d’al-‘Ulā au moment de la pollinisation des palmiers dattiers, KSA, mars 2023, © Vincent Battesti


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

Tuesday 5 December 2023 - Vincent Battesti , Léo Marty

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

Thursday 14 September 2023 - Vincent Battesti

Testing the JuxtaposeJS slider tool.


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

Saturday 1 July 2023 - Vincent Battesti , Léo Marty

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 Humanities journal.


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

Monday 17 April 2023 - Vincent Battesti

Testing the JuxtaposeJS slider tool.


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

Monday 2 January 2023 - Vincent Battesti

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

Friday 9 December 2022 - Vincent Battesti , Léo Marty

Annual Report 2022


Project participants to al-‘Ulā AS Project

Monday 23 May 2022 - Vincent Battesti , Nicolas Puig , Léo Marty , François Ireton , Dalila Ghodbane , Élise Gaury , Blandine Destremau , Joëlle Brochier-Puig , Doria Bellache , Serge Bahuchet , Maxime de Serre de Saint Roman

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

Sunday 13 March 2022 - Vincent Battesti

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

Thursday 3 March 2022 - Vincent Battesti

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

Sunday 10 October 2021 - Vincent Battesti

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

Thursday 30 September 2021 - Vincent Battesti , Léo Marty

Annual Report 2021


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

Wednesday 30 September 2020 - Vincent Battesti

Annual Report 2020


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

Friday 15 May 2020 - Vincent Battesti

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

Wednesday 18 September 2019 - Vincent Battesti

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


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

Tuesday 11 June 2019 - Doria Bellache

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