Ancient Yemeni gold treasures at the National Museum [Archives:2006/981/Last Page]

September 14 2006

By: Abdulaziz Al-Jindari
Classic historians like Estrabon and Donji Bileni wrote about the lavish wealth ancient Yemeni states enjoyed. In their writings, they said palace ceilings were made of gold because the kings of those states traded spices, the most expensive commodity at that time, used in religious rituals in various locations worldwide.

Such classic historians mentioned that kings of the ancient Yemeni states levied a 10 percent tax on the spice trade. Such trade movement motivated the Romans to invade Yemen in 24 B.C., but according to history books, the invasion failed.

If this wealth led to decorating Yemeni house ceilings with gold, why hasn't exploration of this wealth, implemented by local and foreign teams in numerous cities and ancient sites, revealed any ruins of it? According to the great historian Abu Al-Hassan Al-Hamdani's writings, Yemen has been famed for its minerals, including gold, since ancient times. Prof. Hamid Rabe'e Khalifa attributes the scarcity of mineral ruins to the fact that such wealth was melted down and reformed, particularly after the Islamic period.

While digging in his yard in Kharbat Hamdan in Al-Jawf governorate – where a great Yemeni state named Ma'een existed in ancient times – a Yemeni man found some jewelry, including bracelets, rings, stamps and other small shapes. The discovery was taken to Sana'a and a committee formed at that time from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to examine the pieces.

The committee met at the National Museum in Sana'a to review the find, requesting help from a British committee experienced in that field. After a series of joint sessions and discussions, both committees became convinced that the pieces were original and belonged to an important Yemeni woman from ancient times, believing the discovery dates to the first century B.C. They then reported to the ministry about what they'd done.

Due to the significance of Yemen's ancient wealth, implying that ancient Yemenis used gold in several areas, President Ali Abdullah Saleh directed concerned parties to preserve the jewelry discovery in the National Museum. The find was documented, registered and photocopied and each piece given an independent identification card with detailed information and a description, including size, weight, source and date.

One piece was a gold strand of 28 small jewels connected by small circles, with two small jewels depicting animal heads. The find also included agates and pearls.

The strand gained importance as a replica of one worn by a woman prostrating as she performs worship in a portrait found in Al-Jawba area. The woman in the portrait was named Berlet and is similar to a portrait of Al-Hamim (the god of fertility), which was lost in Aden Museum during the 1994 Civil War. It was rediscovered in the United States and handed over to President Saleh, who returned it to the Aden Museum.

The discovery included various-sized bracelets that were hollow and free of decoration. Kidney-shaped gold pieces also were strung together and connected to semicircular, circular, triangular and rectangular gold shapes. The find also included numerous short and thin strands linked by a head-shaped jewel.