16 APRIL 1932, Page 3

The Arabian Desert Recrossed

Mr. II. St. John Philby, the distinguished Arabic expert, is to be congratulated on his adventurous journey across the Rub' al Khali. A year ago Mr. Bertram Thomas traversed it from south to north. Mr. Philby, starting from Hufuf near the Persian Gulf, went south- west and south across the great desert, and then, turning north-west, made his way to Mecca. He had an escort from the King of the Hejaz, but the three months' march was none the less a great test of courage and endurance in a completely barren land. Mr. Philby had the good fortune to be the first European visitor to two ancient sites. One. Magainma, in the centre of the desert, appears to be the Megan known to the Baby- lonians but not hitherto identified. The other, Ubar, lies near the southern edge of the desert. Mr. Thomas' guides showed him the ancient track leading to it. Mr. Philby, with better luck, was able to inspect its ruins. Readers of Arabia FelLy will remember Mr. Thomas' suggestion that this Ubar may have been the ancient Ophir. Traces of old frankincense groves are found to the south of it, and Ubar may well have been a great centre of the spice trade before the sand, ever flowing from the north, made it uninhabitable, long before the Christian era.

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