Category Archives: Ancient South Arabia

Glaser Collection of South Arabian Antiquities

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One of the most important late 19th century travelers to Yemen was the Austrian Eduard Glaser, who commented on life in the Ottoman era and collected South Arabian inscriptions and antiquities. His work is archived in several places in Vienna. In the Kunsthistorische Museum there is a small collection of South Arabian art that he collected.  I visited this last week and provide several pictures of what can be seen.

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The Glaser Collection in the museum

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A project is underway to provide open access to the squeezes that Glaser made of South Arabian inscriptions.

New Bibliographic Resource for Yemen

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Much has been made of Iran’s alleged support of the Huthi regime in Yemen. Lost in the glare of the politics is a remarkable resource in Iran for anyone interested in the history of Yemen and its culture, and indeed for the whole history of Islam and the region. This is a website devoted to classical Arabic and Persian texts, including several which are relevant to Yemen. It boasts some 6,742 books and over 27,000 journal articles.

Among the texts available to read and to search online are al-Hamdānī’s Ṣifat jazīrat al-‘Arab, Nashwān ibn Sa‘īd al-Ḥimyarī’s Mulūk Ḥimyar wa-aqyāl al-Yaman, al-Burayḥī’s Ṭabaqāt ṣulaḥā’ al-Yaman, al-Janadī’s Sulūk, al-Khazrajī’s al-‘Uqūd al-lu’lu’iyya, plus many more. In addition there is an online searchable edition of al-Zabīdī’s Tāj al-‘arūs, the lexicon of lexicons.

yemensearchThe remarkable feature of this website is that you can search the entire collection or search within an individual text.  For example, if you type اليمن into the overall search function, it will give you hundreds of hits in a variety of Arabic books and journal articles, as noted above.

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If you go to a specific text, like al-Hamdānī’s geographical text, and type in a location (like ذمار), you get all the times it occurs in the text.

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Kaplan Grants for Yemen

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The CAORC Kaplan Responsive Preservation Initiative awarded several projects for the preservation of the cultural heritage in Yemen.  AIYS  delivered the funds in a meeting held on Saturday, September 1, 2018. The meeting brought together the Resident Director of AIYS in Yemen Dr. Salwa Dammaj, Dr. Mohammed Gerhoum, Mohanad Ahmed Al Syani, Chairman of the General Organisation of Antiquities, Museums and Manuscripts of Yemen (GOAMM) , Shadad Al-Alie, Director of GOAMM in Dhamar,  and Abdul Karim Al Nahari, Deputy Director of GOAMM.  A number of officials in GOAMM were also in attendance.
 During the meeting, AIYS delivered the CAORC RPI award funds for the following projects:

1-Zafar’s Museum in the city of Ibb

2-Saiyoun’s Museum in Hadramawt

3-Baynun’s Museum  in the city of Dhamar

4- Dhamar`s Museum .

The  details about the start of the work and necessary requirements to get the projects done in accordance with the conditions agreed on with CAORC were discussed.
 AIYS will help CAORC follow up on the progress of the work at each site and field visits will be paid to the aforementioned museums where the projects are being carried out.

Submitted by Dr. Salwa Dammaj

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.

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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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مكانة المرأة اليمنية العظيمة في اليمن القديم

womanbustSouth Arabia alabaster bust of a woman,
1st century B.C.-1st century A.D.


مكانة المرأة اليمنية العظيمة في اليمن القديم

بقلم: حسني السيباني

لقد إرتبط إسم اليمن و تاريخه العريق بحضور و مشاركة دائمة و فعالة للمرأة اليمنية بشكلاً عام منذ 5 ألف سنة قبل الميلاد على أقل تقدير لنساء تلازمت أسمائهن بحقب من الإزدهار و العظمة من ” ملكة مملكة سبأ العظمى إلى شوف السبئية و من قبلها ألبها السبئية و طريفة الخير الحميرية و لميس بنت أسعد تبع الحميرية و برآت سيرة جاهلية ديمة من بيت رثدة القتبانية و صفنات الأبذلية الحميرية و أب صدوق القتبانية إلى الملكة أروى الصليحي و غيرهم الكثير و تتضح لنا مكانة المرأة و دورها الفعال في اليمن القديم من خلال النقوش القديمة و كذا ما ذكره المؤرخين و ما ذكرته الديانات السماوية و كذا أيضاً الأساطير و الحكايات .
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 المكانة الإجتماعية للمرأة اليمنية قديماً

إن القول بأن مكانة و دور المرأة في المجتمع اليمني القديم كانت متميزة قول يحتاج إلى أدلة و شواهد و هي موجودة في نقوش مكتشفة في مواقع الآثار اليمنية و هي موجودة أيضا في كتب التاريخ التي تعرضت لتاريخ الجزيرة العربية أو اليمن بصورة خاصة في فترة ما قبل الإسلام إلا أن هذا التميز النوعي الذي نقصده لا يعنى المبالغة في حجم مكانة المرأة و دورها في مختلف مراحل التاريخ اليمني القديم و لا يعنى أنها متساوية الدور و المكانة في كل القبائل اليمنية أو الممالك و الدول و الدويلات المتعاقبة و إنما يعني هذا التميز النوعي أنها أي المرأة كانت في بعض الفترات أحسن حالة منها في جنوب الجزيرة العربية و قد تحدث ا.ف.ل. بيستون : في بحث نشرة عن المرأة في مملكة سبأ : و هو يتحدث عن ظاهرة الوأد في بعض القبائل العربية و أن أسبابة تكون إما من الفقر أو من خوفهم من سبيها في الحروب و ليس لأنهن كارثة في المجتمع الرجالي و أكد البحث أن وأد البنات لم يكن عاماً و شاملاً في كل القبائل اليمنية و قد بينت لنا النقوش الدور الذي تقلدته المرأة في عهدها سواء الإجتماعي أو الديني أو السياسي حيث تشير النقوش التي قدمت من قبل النساء أنفسهن و هي نقوش تتعلق بأمور دينية أو دنيوية كنقوش النذور و نقوش الخطيئة و التكفير و نقوش البناء و نقوش الصيد و إلى جانب ذلك دونت أسماؤهن على التماثيل و اللوحات الجنائزية و شواهد القبور .

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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.