BEND, Ore. - (Update: More from Castain on father's purchase and her return of artifact)
Bend resident Cynthia Castain is being formally thanked by Saudi Arabian officials for donating and returning an ancient ceramic pot to the country where her father bought it at a small market some six decades ago.
"My dad went over to Saudi Arabia in 1950, working for the oil company Aramco," Castain said Wednesday. "My mom joined him the following year, when he had family housing, and my sister and I were both born there."
The Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia issued a news release Tuesday to announce that Castain had donated the recovered artifact to the country’s National Antiquities Forum — the first-ever exhibit aimed at elevating the importance of preserving the country’s rich cultural heritage.
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage formally thanked Castain at The National Antiquities Forum earlier this month.
Castain donated a tall ceramic pot purchased by her father while he was studying Arabic at Aramco’s Arabic Field Station at Samha in the Hofuf Oasis in the 1950s.
"And he was given the assignment to go out into the local market and find something to carry water," Castain recalled. "So he was asking around, practicing his Arabic, and somebody produced this pot. So he took a look at it -- it certainly fulfilled his assignment requirements -- and bought it for a few rials, which would have been maybe a dollar or two."
An Aramco archaeologist estimated the pot to be 1,000 years old.
"I don’t know what the motivation was, if they thought,' 'This is a crazy American -- maybe he’ll want this old cracked pot," Castain said. "I don’t know that the people who found it would have known or suspected it was that old, because it does look like the kind of thing that could have been made yesterday."
In gratitude for her returning the relic, Saudi officials personally acknowledged Castain.
“We are humbled by and extend deep gratitude to Cynthia’s commitment to helping the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia safeguard its history," said His Royal Highness Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman Al Saud, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.
"As the National Antiquities Forum underscores, the protection of historical artifacts feeds into the preservation of a country’s national identity. We are thrilled to be showcasing our history for those in our country, and around the world,” the prince added.
The Saudi announcement quoted Castain as saying, “The vessel was in our home for so many years, basically all my life. In college, as I studied ancient history, I knew that it rightfully belonged to the people of Saudi Arabia and should someday be returned to them.”
Castain, whose family lived in Saudi Arabia until she turned 16, told NewsChannel 21 on Tuesday evening that the process began five or six years ago, when the country started a program, "Antiquities Homecoming," to "encourage people to return items they had acquired one way or another in the earlier years of development of the country."
Castain said she returned the less than foot-tall ceramic pot by sending it to a designated address in Washington, D.C., for an exhibit that was opening at the Smithsonian after previously being on display in Europe. She said she and the other Americans who returned items were guests at a special dinner to mark the exhibit's opening in 2012.
Castain said her father, Russell Nicholson, worked in personnel for Aramco and also did comparative job studies.
To Castain, the reason for returning the item was as simple as its design: "It kind of belonged to them. It's not like we had just found it out in the desert, as some had."
"Others (who returned items) had large collections, " she said. "A lot felt like we were caretakers, and it should go back at some point," when a process was in place.
Castain said the group originally was invited to go to Riyadh, but plans were changed and they instead watched part of the proceedings there by satellite link while in Washington.
Here's the rest of the Saudi Embassy's news release on the artifact's return:
"The artifact, which was displayed at the National Antiquities Forum from Nov. 7-9 in Riyadh, underscores the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s deep history — and the wide reach in which its cultural antiquities have spread across the globe. Castain is one of two dozen Americans being honored by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for their donation of Saudi antiquities.
From diving into ancient trade routes to uncovering traditions embedded among the Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah, the National Antiquities Forum showcased antiquities from prehistoric times though the end of the 14th century.
Separate workshops explored the latest innovations in archeological excavation, while addressing the role the media and citizens alike can play in cultivating a national responsibility to protect historic artifacts.
The National Antiquities Forum follows a string of global events celebrating the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s antiquities. From 2010 through October of this year, the Roads of Arabia Expo showcased more than 300 archeological masterpieces in more than 10 cities across Europe and the U.S.
The groundbreaking tour reflected the first display of Saudi artifacts outside of the Kingdom. The Kingdom’s increasing international presence comes on the heels of ongoing efforts to enhance and expand the country’s cultural footprint.
An event on Nov. 7 in the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C., honored the Americans who donated artifacts."