HOW OLD YEMEN
HAS BEEN DISCOVERED

by Paolo M. Costa

Northern Yemen

The discovery of the Yemen by European cultural circles dates back to 1774, when the report by C Niebuhr, the only surving member of the Danish Middle East Expedition, was published. Niebuhr is the first European to mention south-Arabian script. From that moment on the interest of scholars is mostly for the inscriptions and in 1898 l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres of Paris dedicates a section of the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum to south-Arabian inscriptions.

The first relevant collections of epigraphic texts were made by J. Arnaud (published by J. Fresnel), J. Halevy and E. Glaser, who also collected other antiquities, now in Berlin and Vienna (M. Höfner Die Sammlung Glaser, SBWA Bd 222/5, Vienna 1944).

In 1927 C. Rathjens and H. von Wissman carried out a scientific excavation at Huqqa, where they recovered numerous fragments of architectonic decoration (Vorislamischer Altertuemer, Hamburg 1932).

In 1931 crown prince Ahmed had excavations carried out at Nakhal al-Hamra, where bronze statues were found. They appeared for the first time photographed in the book by C. Ansaldi (Il Yemen nella storia e nella leggenda, Roma, 1933).

Between 1936 and 1948 the Fu ‘ad University of Cairo organised three expeditions. The first one included a geographer, a naturalist, and an epigraphist; the second only an epigraphist, dr. Khalil Namy, and the third an archaeologist dr. Ahmed Fakhry who explored the region of Marib and Jawf (An archaeological journey to the Yemen, Cairo 1952).

In 1951 an expedition of the American Foundation for the Study of Man started the excavations of the ruins of the main Marib temple, but various difficulties determined the abrupt end of the works (W. Phillips, Qataban and Sheba, Londra 1955).

The civil war, erupted with the death of Imam Ahmed, made archaeological researches impossible until 1969, when G. Garbini made a journey with prevalent interest for new inscriptions and P. M. Costa arrived as archaeology advisor sent by the Italian Government (Dec. 1970- June 1975).

Until the ‘70s researches aimed at collecting objects and inscriptions (statues, fragments of architectonic decoration, etc. but no pottery) from casual discoveries or from non-scientific excavations (except the one 1927 at Huqqa). From the 70s on surveys began, aimed at creating a catalogue of Islamic buildings (P.M.Costa, beside reports to the Directorate General of Antiquities; La Grande Moschea di San’a, AION 1974; La moschea di al-Janad, Studies in honour of R.B. Serjeant, London 1983.)

Under the auspices of the World of Islam Festival, a study of San‘a was planned in 1976. The project took into consideration the urban, architectonic and social aspects of the city (R. Lewcock – R.B. Serjeant San ‘a, an Arabian Islamic city, London 1983). The Islam Festival sponsored also a Colloquium on the Islamic city, which touched several problems of the conservation of San‘a (P.M. Costa, San ‘a, changes renovation and conservation, Paris 1980).

In 1977 began the work of the Deutches Archaeologisches Institut in the Marib region, and of a French institute in the region of the Jawf with main interest for the epigraphic research.

In 1980 began the work of the Italian expedition of IsMEO in Wadi Yala’ (Eastern Khawlan). A preliminary report was published in 1988 which included the results of archaeological, epigraphic and geomorphological investigations. A second report was envisaged with the study of documents and pre- and protohistoric sites.

In 1982 the Foundation for the Study of Man resumed its activity in the Wadi Juba, SW of Marib. The first two reports were about the survey of this area at the border between Saba and Qataban, which had an important role in the ancient caravan routes (Wadi al-Juba archaeological project, vol. I 1984; vol. II 1985).

A Canadian expedition carried out a survey of Islamic monuments in the Tihama (area of Zabid) extending its interest also to cyclopic pre-Islamic sites. As a result of the increased fieldwork the epigraphic material became very abundant. There are many works of translations, lexical and grammar interpretations, and synthesis which try to solve the chronological question both relative to inscriptions and to the whole field of south-Arabian civilisation. Sculptures and fragments of architectonic decoration have been found in very large quantities: until the 70s a large part of them was dispersed into various private collections and European museums.

From the 70s the so-called San‘a collection was studied and arranged to form, together with materials kept at Marib and in the royal palace of Taizz, the nucleus of the first National Museum (P.M. Costa, The pre-Islamic antiquities at the Yemen National Museum, Rome 1978. Costa has also begun a general inventory of the material kept in the stores of the Museum).

From that year on all the objects given to the Directorate General of Antiquities have been preserved (and partly exhibited) at the National Museum, creating a collection of increasing value.

Southern Yemen

The political situation of Southern Yemen has in general delayed systematic archaeological research.

The first field project ever conducted with scientific methods, however, was carried out between 1936 and 1940 in the wadi ‘Amd near the village of Hureidha. On the Eastern bank of the wadi a team directed by G. Caton Thompson excavated the monumental remains of a temple dedicated to the Moon god Sin and a few cave tombs on the scree side of the valley.

Before 1967 a Department of Antiquities was created to supervise the preservation of archaeological sites, the inventory of antiquities and to carry out surveys in the territories of the colony and protectorate. Annual reports were published in the bulletin Aden.

In Aden was created a museum for material obtained from casual finds. During the 60s important surveys were undertaken and not only were pre-Islamic sites discovered on the whole territory of the colony, but a catalogue of surface pottery was also attempted: B. Doe Aden 1960 and 1965; Lane, A. Serjeant, R.B. JRAS 1948; Lankaster Harding G. Archaeology in the Aden Protectorate, 1964; Doe, B. Southern Arabia, London 1971; Doe, B. Monuments of Southern Arabia, London 1983.

The team of the Foundation for the Study of Man, after the research at Marib, carried on excavations at the site of ancient Timna and published various reports.

Le Baron Bowen, R. – Albright, F. Archaeological discoveries in south Arabia, Baltimore 1958; Cleveland R. Ancient South Arabian necropolis, Baltimore 1965; Van Beek, G. Hajar bin Humeid, Baltimore 1969.

The troubled political situation prevented all research until 1974, when a French team re-opened the archaeological research in the Wadi Hadramawt (first report published in Aden 1980), and the excavations at the ancient city of Shabwa began. Preliminary reports are published in the journal Reydan (1978 and 1981) and in the Comptes rendus de l’Académie des Belles Lettres, 1980.

In 1983 a Yemeni-Russian team began the archaeological survey of the Western Hadramawt, in particular Wadi Daw ‘an. Reports are published mainly in Russian.

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