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RIYADH: The Heart of Arabia team that staged British explorer and scholar Harry St. John Philby’s ‘Coast to Coast’ voyage 105 years ago was hosted here by the British Embassy. United in Riyadh.

Britain’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Neil Crompton, greeted the small group of British explorers retracing Philby’s 1,300 kilometer journey through Saudi Arabia in 1917.

The event took place at the ambassador’s residence on Monday evening, a day before they were due to travel. The Heart of Arabia Expedition is named after Philby’s book.

“This expedition highlights the historic and enduring relationship between our two kingdoms. It will build on our understanding of the desert and Saudi Arabia and celebrate our history,” Crompton said.

British explorer and team leader Mark Evans, Saudi explorer Reem Philby, British logistics expert Alan Morrissey and Swiss photographer Ana-Maria Pavalache left Riyadh at 6 a.m. on Tuesday for their first base camp in the remote port of Al-Uqair.

They set off early Wednesday in the footsteps of Reem’s grandfather, explorer Harry (Abdullah), who began his journey from the same coastal village.

Reem, the Saudi explorer, hopes the trip will inspire young people to take an interest in nature.

“My children grew up outdoors. So, for example, when we visit a country, we will most likely visit the city on the first day and then go to the outskirts to see the outdoors, the mountains or something else. When you are outside, whether you are a child or an adult, you learn a lot anew; you learn from nature and you become very humble. You become very connected with other people from different cultures and you become very open-minded,” Philby told Arab News.

The team will use the trip to learn more about the desert and to research three important international science projects that examine how the world has changed over time: the DRIFT, Bat Distribution and Green Arabia projects.

The DRIFT project, led by Dr Nathan Smith of Coventry University, examines the psychological impact of living in extremely isolated environments. The goal is to produce a psychological support tool to enable humans to thrive on the Moon, Mars and beyond. Evans will lead this research during the trip.

The Bat Distribution project is led by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. More than 30 species of bats live in Arabia. They are important to desert ecology as they control insect numbers, pollinate and spread date palm seeds. Philby will conduct research on their rest sites.

The Green Arabia project led by Michael Petraglia, director of the Australian Center for Human Evolution, will record archaeological artifacts found in the desert. This research will lead to a better understanding of environmental changes in the desert over the past million years. Morrissey will handle data collection.

Evans’ goal is for the expedition to inspire young people to explore the world around them. “If we get a person to come out and ask questions, we will have helped move society forward.”

The Heart of Arabia Expedition was launched in September at the Royal Geographical Society in London, in the presence of Princess Anne of the United Kingdom and the Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Prince Khalid bin Bandar.


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