Science: Abode of Loneliness

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Long has the desert of Ruba-el-Khali ("Abode of Loneliness"), wild, waterless, utterly unknown, remained "the white blot on the map." The southern interior of Arabia, centre of population and geography of the Old World, circled by ocean liners and near airplane routes, its 300,000 sandy square miles have challenged and beaten back explorers since the Middle Ages. No European had seen its mysterious, lethal interior until this winter hardy Englishman Bertram Thomas trekked 900 mi. across its arid wastes, from Dhofar on the Arabian Sea to Dohah on the Persian Gulf, where he emerged last week and told his story.

Legend has peopled the centre of the Abode of Loneliness—half again as large as France—with the remnant of a race whose mighty civilization long ago was overthrown, buried by the shifting sand. Scientific speculation has long visualized there a central, sunken oasis capable of sustaining life. Midway of his 58-day trek, Explorer Thomas crossed deep caravan tracks. He learned from his Bedouin followers that it was the road to Urbar, buried city of tribal legend. But no other trace of civilized man or oasis did he find. He heard the great dunes made vocal by the winds—the "singing sands" of tribal tradition, which says they are desert-wandering "Djinns," spirits of the dead mourning for life.

No stunt, Explorer Thomas' journey was the fruit of years of long preparation and residence in Arabia. For years he has served as Wazir & Finance Minister to the Sultan of Muscat. He has mastered tribal dialects, made many a trial trip beyond the fringe of water-holes.

His success makes the world smaller for explorers. Only the airless peaks of the Himalayas, the cold hearts of the polar ice-packs and a few large jungle-guarded areas of the Amazon basin have escaped the eye and tread of civilized man. Only a few other regions have escaped man's mapping and surveying instruments: the vast forests and swamps of northeastern Siberia, the fastnesses of northeastern Tibet, the bandit-infested northern reaches of the Gobi Desert, the sandy centre of Australia, the eastern slopes of the unmapped Andes, the vast Patagonian icecap stretching over South America's narrow end. the snow-swept islands stretching vaguely north from Canada's "barren lands," and the American Southwest's trackless deserts.