Category Archives: Archaeology

Yemen’s Heritage and the War

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FoxNews has published an article on the destruction of Yemen’s archaeological heritage due to the current war, especially the Saudi-led coalition bombing. I was asked to comment by the journalist and two of my comments made it into the article.  Bravo to FoxNews for drawing attention to the damage.

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Here are my two quotes in the article:

“There are more archaeological sites in Yemen than anywhere else on the Arabian Peninsula,” stressed Daniel Varisco, Senior Postdoctoral Scholar for the Institute for Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. “Especially important are the thousands of inscriptions in ancient South Arabic languages and dialects. These give details on the rulers, battles, religious rituals, economy and private letters.”

“First and foremost, it is the humanitarian crisis in Yemen that needs to be resolved by an immediate end to the war,” added Varisco. “Yet it is also important that the rich and unique cultural heritage of Yemen not be destroyed.”

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Incense Production in Ancient Southern Arabia

Incense Production in Ancient Southern Arabia: Developing an Archaeological Project

by Joy McCorriston, 1995-96 Fellow
Professor of Anthropology, The Ohio State University

Impatience.

I sensed it in ethnographer Ietha’s scowl, in S_____’s interruptions. How could I translate for her, while I struggled with even basic comprehension of what Letha tried to convey? It was all so foreign to me—the stone scatters on rocky surfaces seemed like nothing I could dig; the crumbling heaps of ancient towns were too recent to conceal the homes of prehistoric farmers. Where did producers of Yemen’s fabled frankincense live, and what were the networks that brought incense into trade caravans headed toward the Classical world?

Left to right: Ietha al-Amary, ‘AbdalKarim Barkani, and Ghufran Ahmad relax on the back of “Flower,” a trusty rented SUV.

All the research on Incense Kingdoms or Caravan Kingdoms had ignored this basic problem: the kingdoms and their caravan departures were not where the frankincense trees grew. CAORC’s Multi-Country Research Fellowship had given me an opportunity to tackle that question, and out of it grew two decades of archaeological team research, my own and others’ scholarly careers, and the training several generations of American students. With CAORC support through the American Institute of Yemeni Studies, I spent three critical months in Yemen and Oman, hiking and driving through unpaved terrain, building collaborations through sharing resources and hardships, and learning the landscape and research logistics. In the end, Ietha and I worked and camped together, argued, and acquiesced for a decade. Early scowls and struggles became smiles and semantics.

I selected a region for study and returned the next year with coveted funds from the US National Science Foundation, the first of nine more major grants I would obtain for the Roots of Agriculture in Southern Arabia (RASA) Project, a multi-disciplinary study of the landscape of southern Yemen’s highland pastoralists in Wadi Sana, a remote valley in the mountains of Hadramawt. We camped in the desert for months, we sweated by day, shivered by night, and told time by the stars. We excavated the earliest herder’s camp in Arabia. We found a ring of skulls from a cattle sacrifice that happened more than six millennia ago. In all, the team spent six more seasons collecting field data in Yemen, and we published 25 articles and books, including two doctoral dissertations, two masters’ theses, and my book-length answer to the question I’d started with (Pilgrimage and Household in the Ancient Near East, Cambridge University Press 2011).

The RASA team at our Wadi Sana camp, 2004.

Terrorism finally caught up with us, and with regrets at leaving colleagues in Yemen, we shifted our emphasis to nearby Dhofar, Oman, a region I’d first studied as a CAORC fellow. We received three more major grants, including a 1.6 million dollar award from The National Science Foundation. We were still studying ancient pastoralists, the people who collected and transported frankincense, still teasing questions that grew out of our foundational CAORC study.

Good research raises more questions than it answers, and even as I today understand what Ietha was saying, I am driven by new questions and a conscience that in these decades we have been not only researches and scholars but American science ambassadors, bringing together people who would otherwise never meet and shaping positive perceptions of each other through working together.

CAORC-Kaplan Fellowships

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The Center for Manuscripts in Zabid houses some of Yemen’s oldest and most valuable manuscripts. Photo courtesy Center for Manuscripts, Zabid.

Many countries in the Middle East continue to be devastated by ongoing conflict and violence. Beyond the catastrophic suffering inflicted on the people of Yemen, Syria and Gaza, many of whom have had their homes, families, and livelihoods destroyed, the physical traces of their history and heritage are also being bombarded, pillaged, and even demolished.

Through its Responsive Preservation Initiative (RPI), supported by the J.M. Kaplan Fund, CAORC is committed to helping dedicated archaeologists and heritage professionals in these war-torn countries do everything possible to preserve and secure their country’s cultural heritage. This month, CAORC is awarding seven new projects under its RPI program, with the aim of providing critical assistance to organizations in Yemen, Syria, and Gaza that are working against the clock to preserve and safeguard important cultural heritage sites and collections that remain under threat. Led by local teams of trained experts, these projects have well-designed action plans that will allow them to rapidly and efficiently address areas of urgent need at some of the region’s most vulnerable and at-risk heritage sites, with a special focus on protecting museum and manuscript collections that remain under severe threat from bombardment, warfare, vandalism, and looting.

In Yemen, the main office of the General Organization of Antiquities and Museums (GOAM) will implement projects along with local archaeologists and universities to document and safeguard the artifact collections of the Saiyoun and Zafar Museums, two important but now threatened museums in Yemen’s beleaguered governorates of Hadhramawt and Ibb, respectively. At the Saiyoun Museum, housed in the beautiful Sultan Al Kathiri palace complex, militant Islamist groups whose presence in the area has grown have already vandalized the building and threatened to loot the collections. Similarly, at the small Zafar Museum, located amid the ruins of the capital city of the famed pre-Islamic kingdom of Himyar, GOAM, along with local institutions will work to ensure the collections are properly documented, preserved, and stored away in case the site is attacked or vandalized in the future, as the area itself is under constant threat of bombardment. So, too, trained specialists from the Center for Manuscripts in the ancient town of Zabid, which houses some of Yemen’s oldest and most valuable manuscripts, will seek to catalog and digitize hundreds of the center’s most fragile documents as the coastal Hudayda governorate becomes increasingly contested by coalition and Houthi forces.

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Before and after image of Yemen’s Dhamar Museum, destroyed during a coalition airstrike in May 2015. Photos courtesy GOAM, Dhamar office.

The critical need for such preventive measures is highlighted by the case of Yemen’s Dhamar Museum, located in Yemen’s archaeologically rich Dhamar governorate, which was completely destroyed during an aerial bombardment by coalition forces in May 2015. While local archaeologists and museum staff have been working to remove and preserve artifacts still buried under rubble, there remains much to be done. Through the support of the CAORC-Kaplan RPI program, archaeologists and staff from GOAM’s Dhamar office, along with local institutions will be able to continue recovering, restoring and registering damaged objects from the museum’s rubble and then relocate them to a safe, secure location. The same GOAM team along with locals from the Hada province will also work to document and preserve the collections of the Baynun Museum, located amid the ruins of one of Yemen’s great pre-Islamic fortresses but now threatened by encroaching Al Qaeda forces and the possible onset of aerial bombardment.

For the rest of this article. click here.

McGuire Gibson on AIYS

Some random memories about the founding of AIYS and subsequent times in Yemen.

McGuire Gibson, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

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The American Institute for Yemeni Studies came into being because the late Selma al-Radi had taken a job as an advisor to the Department of Antiquities, as part of Dutch aid.  In 1977, I was in Riyadh, working on some finds from the survey that the Oriental Institute had done in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. All the foreigners I met insisted that, since I was so close, I should go to visit Yemen, which was “marvelous.”  Finishing my work a couple of weeks early, I sent a wire to Selma, asking if it would be possible to visit.  A week later, I arrived at the Sanaa airport, paid $12 for a visa, and was driven into the city by Selma in her Suzuki, Flosi.  Within two hours, we were having lunch at the top of the American ambassador’s house, one of the finest tall houses in the city.  Tom Scotes, the ambassador, and his wife had also invited Dr. Abdul Karim el-Eryani and Marjorie Ransom, the Public Affairs officer of the embassy.   Much of the conversation was an attempt to convince me to start archaeological work in Yemen.  Being already fully engaged in Iraq, with a small remaining commitment to the Saudi project, it looked unrealistic to begin research on a country I knew nothing about, except for the snippets learned in Arabian Seminar meetings in Britain.  (Although there were serious academic talks based on inscriptions, real archaeology had barely begun at that time, and the presentations were more often than not: “When I was leading the X rifles in Aden, we chanced on a dam and some buildings in Y valley.”)

Dr. Abdul Karim stated that he had previously been the Minister of Planning, but had decided that you could not plan anything without basic data, and therefore he had become Minister of Education and had pushed for the admission of foreign researchers to help in the gathering of information on which to develop the country. I had already been told by Selma about the dozens of American researchers in Yemen, studying development projects, doing medical research, and carrying out dissertation projects in anthropology.  I told the group at the table that what was really needed was an American Institute, similar to the one in Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan, which would foster more research, make it easier for scholars to find cheaper housing and a library, and would become a center for the exchange of ideas.  By the time we got up from the table, the ambassador, Dr. Abdul Karim, and I had signed a note of intent to form an institute, and the ambassador promised $40,000 as a seed grant while Dr. Abdul Karim promised either a house or land at the new University of Sana’a, on which to build.  And I promised that I would try to mount an archaeological project, even if I did not carry it out myself.

Continue reading McGuire Gibson on AIYS

AIYS Funding for Yemeni Authors

اعلان
تمويل المعهد الأميركي للدراسات اليمنية لطباعة أبحاث أكاديمية يمنية
الموعد النهائي لتقديم طلب التمويل 31يوليو2018

يعلن المعهد الأميركي للدراسات اليمنية عن منافسة لطباعة كتب بحوث أكاديمية باللغة العربية للباحثين اليمنيين في اليمن. إننا ندرك الوضع الصعب الذي يواجه الباحثين اليمنين في الوقت الراهن ونريد تقديم المساعدة لنشر بحوثهم. الباحثين اليمنين الذين لديهم مسودة كتاب أو دراسة في مجال العلوم الإنسانية, الآداب أو العلوم الاجتماعية جاهزة للطباعة والنشر ويريدون نشرها عليهم تقديم مخطوط الكتاب او الدراسة في ملف  ورود أوب يدي أف (Word or pdf) وتعبئة استمارة تقديم الطلب الموجودة أدناه. سيتم منح الأفضلية للكتب التي تركز على الموروث التاريخي والثقافي اليمني. وسيتم تقييم ومراجعة الطلبات من قبل لجنة النشر المكونة من أعضاء المعهد الأميركي للدراسات اليمنية. الموعد النهائي لتقديم الطلبات خلال هذه لدورة هو 31 يوليو.  المعهد الأميركي للدراسات اليمنية سوف يقدم تمويل الطباعة والنشر في اليمن.

الاسم:

الأميل:

الوظيفة الأكاديمية للباحث:

الدرجة الأكاديمية الأعلى: (مكان الحصول عليها, المجال والتاريخ)
مجال الدراسة المراد نشرها:
عنون مخطوط الكتاب:
نبذة مختصرة عن الكتاب ( لا تتجاوز 250 كلمة)

يرجي تقديم نسخة في ملف aiyspublishing من مخطوط الكتاب مع هذه الاستمارة الي: aiys.president@aiys.org.

سيتم مراجعة وتقييم المخطوط من قبل اللجنة لكن لن يتم توزيعها الى أي شخص آخر وسيبقى  المخطوط خاصا غير معلن لأحد.

Continue reading AIYS Funding for Yemeni Authors

Yemeni Paleoanthropologist Ella al-Shamahi

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The BBC is presenting a series on Neanderthals with a paleoanthropologist of Yemeni descent.

For many, Ella al-Shamahi is an unfamiliar name, but the 34-year-old British Arab of Yemeni descent has just landed her own television series on BBC and is on a mission to redefine all we know about our ancestors.

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The paleoanthropologist, who by her own account studies “really, really old humans,” is now the proud presenter and producer of BBC2’s Neanderthals: Meet Your Ancestors, a show that travels the world to help redefine, rebrand and reintroduce the archaic humans who lived in Eurasia roughly 250,000 to 400,000 years.

For the complete story, click here.

For images of Ella’s trips, click here.

MESA Round Table of Yemen’s Cultural Heritage

destructionYemenis search for survivors under the rubble of houses in the UNESCO-listed heritage site in the old city of Yemeni capital Sanaa, on June 12, 2015.

There will be a MESA round-table titled, “Challenges facing Yemen’s Millennia-Long Cultural Heritage” in San Antonio this coming November.

Session Description: UNESCO world heritage sites from the Old City of Sana’a to the Island of Socotra are under critical threat as a consequence of the ongoing conflict. Monuments and museums have been damaged in aerial bombardments. Archaeological sites are being looted and Yemen’s antiquities have appeared on the international black market. Also under duress is Yemen’s rich heritage of handicrafts, jewellery production, and rare Arabic manuscripts. Long before the current conflict, external political influences disrupted Yemen’s rich and diverse heritage of dancing, music, and storytelling commonly referred to as “intangible” heritage. Due to its location at a pivotal point along the Red Sea and Indian Ocean trade and pilgrimage routes, Yemen has long had extensive contacts with Egypt, the East African coast, the Persian Gulf, India, Indonesia, and even as far as China. In addition to exploring the richness of Yemen’s heritage and the challenges facing it, the roundtable will discuss existing local and international preservation efforts. Speakers will explore the concept of “living heritage,” a critical component for the sustainable development of Yemeni society after the current conflict ends. In addition to the speakers, the roundtable will draw on the collective experience of those in attendance.

Presenters:
1) Dr Najwa Adra (Intangible Heritage that includes poetry, music and dance in Yemen).
2) Professor Nathalie Peutz (Environmental heritage, Islands of Heritage: Conservation and Transformation in Yemen)
3) Dr Sabine Schmidtke: (Islam’s Rationalist Heritage and the Preservation of Yemeni Religious Manuscripts).
4) Dr Alexander Nagel ( “Saving Cultural Heritage” as a method of exploitation during the war).
5) Sama’a Al-Hamdani (The shifting of Yemen’s political landscape and its effect on Yemen’s heritage).

Philby in the Hadramawt

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The British traveler H. St. J. Philby is best known for his writings on Saudi Arabia, but he also visited the Hadramawt in the late 1930s, driving down from Najrān through the eastern extent of the Empty Quarter to Shabwa and then into the Ḥaḍramawt. It is a chatty text like an extended diary, with names of people met and places visited, including archaeological ruins with inscriptions.  Philby has his bias, as is evident throughout, but the photographs are good documentation of life at the time.

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Continue reading Philby in the Hadramawt

Ian Tattersall on AIYS

AMNH PALEONTOLOGICAL SURVEYS IN YEMEN, 1988 AND 1991

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The Sanaa that greeted us in May, 1988

Ian Tattersall, American Museum of Natural History

When a paleontologist becomes interested in the fossil possibilities offered by a remote and unknown country, what does he or she do?  In the case of a group based at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and intrigued by the paleontological potential they saw in the United States Geological Survey map of the Yemen Arab Republic, the answer was to turn to the American Institute of Yemeni Studies.  Directly across the Red Sea from Ethiopia and Eritrea, northern Yemen is in many ways a geological mirror-image of those fossil-rich countries; and although it sadly lacks any equivalent of the famous Afar Triangle in which many of Ethiopia’s and all of Eritrea’s most famous fossils have been found, our preliminary review of the USGS map suggested that the largely unexplored fossil potential of Yemen was well worth looking into.

Accordingly, in 1987 Ian Tattersall, a curator in the AMNH’s Department of Anthropology, contacted Jon Mandaville, then the AIYS President.  Jon was enormously helpful and encouraging, and put us in touch with Jeff Meissner, then Resident Director of AIYS in Sana’a.  AIYS was already well established as the principal English-speaking center of research in history, archaeology and the humanities in Sana’a, but it had never welcomed geologists before.  Jeff had the excellent idea of not putting us in touch with the Antiquities authorities with whom he customarily dealt, but instead with the Ministry of Oil and Mineral Resources of the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR).  This was a brilliant decision, since the MOMR proved not only to be very supportive of our paleontological objectives, but also had the authority to issue us permits to prospect the entire Yemen Arab Republic for fossils.

With funding from the National Geographic Society in hand, the AIYS Center in Sanaa as a base, and preliminary research permission from the MOMR granted, an AMNH team travelled to Sanaa at the end of May, 1988, and remained until the middle of July.  The group consisted of Ian Tattersall, Mike Novacek, then a Curator in the AMNH’s Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, now AMNH Provost, and Maurice Grolier, a geologist who had worked on the USGS geological map of Yemen – and who had also chosen the spot for the first manned lunar landing.  Jeff Meissner joined us for some of our explorations, and we also benefited greatly from the advice of Dr Hamel El-Nakhal of the Geology Department of the University of Sana’a.  AIYS provided the field vehicle as well as an essential center of operations, and we remain particularly grateful to His Excellency Ali Gabr Alawi, Deputy Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources, for his understanding of and support for our goals.

ian2Maurice Grolier (l) and Ian Tattersall on the roof of the AIYS Sanaa building, 1988

Continue reading Ian Tattersall on AIYS

Yemen in 1960

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The author, born in 1929.

In 1961 the Yemeni scholar Ahmad Husayn Sharafaddin published a short book in English of about 80 pages entitled Yemen “Arabia Felix.” The book was published in Rome Italy, but distributed from Ta‘izz.  It provides a short summary of Yemen just before the revolution that toppled the Zaydi imamate.

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As narrated by the author, the population of Yemen was estimated at 5,834,000 with 4,400,000 in what he called “Free Yemen” (the Mutawakkilite Kingdom) and 1,434,000 in the “Occupied area” under the British. The city of Ṣan‘ā’ was said to have 60,000 residents and Ta‘izz had half that amount.

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Most of the book is devoted to the archaeology of the ancient South Arabian kingdoms.

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One of the highlights is a pull-out chart of the genealogy of the Zaydi imams.

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Of particular interest are the pictures, as noted here.