Dr. Madeeha M. Rashad: “A lot of treasures are still burried under the Yemeni soil.” [Archives:1997/42/Interview]

October 20 1997

Dr. Madeeha Mohammed Rashad is the Director of the Studies and Research in the Public Authority of Manuscripts and Antiquities. She received her Ph.D. degree in archeology form the Sorbonne University in 1994. Yemen’s ancient heritage represents an enormous wealth which is critical for the nation’s sense of identity. It is also makes Yemen an important tourist destination. Presenting Yemen to the world has become one of the major undertakings of local and international organizations. Dr. Rashad is contributing towards that end in the Yemen Exhibition which starts in Paris on the 22nd of October. Dr. Salah Haddash of Yemen Times talked to her about this and other issues.
Q: What are the functions of your department? A: We publish studies and researches done in Yemen in a specialized quarterly magazines. The department also supervises and facilitates the excavation activities done by foreign teams in Yemen.
Q: What are the foreign archaeological teams currently working in Yemen? A: There is a German team now working in Mareb and Aden. They have uncovered the Bilquis temple in Mareb. An American team is also working in the same area, re-digging artifacts that were found and re-buried in the forties by Wendel Philips. Other artifacts were then taken to museums in the US. Another American team is doing an archeological survey in Hadhramaut. They have discovered some prehistoric sites. In the Jawf area, the French have discovered the beautifully ornate Benat Aad temple. A French team has been renovating the Asnaf mosque in Khawlan for the past five years. An Italian team is working in the Khawlan Tiyal area in Dhamar. They discovered some pre-historic sites dating back to an era that was not expected to be found in Yemen. The Dutch are currently doing preservation work on an mosque in Zabeed. Ameria mosque in Tareem is also being renovated by the Dutch team. They have been working there for around 10 years.
Q: Are the present museums in Yemen enough for keeping and exhibiting all these artifacts? A: No, but we are now working on establishing museums in several Yemeni cities, especially in the governorates where there have been several new discoveries such as at Ibb and at Sabar near Aden. In Sabar, we were able to dig up huge amounts of antiques. Archeological site are usually in remote areas where there are no electricity lines. We are now trying to electrificate the Sabar area in order to be able to establish the museum. Establishing local museums serves two purposes: it enhances the association with the area where the artifacts are found and it protects them from breakage’s due to moving them to distant areas.
Q: Could you tell us about the publicized incidents of forging, robbing and smuggling of antiques? A: There has been recent robberies in Hadhramaut and Sana’a, which are still being investigated. The security forces have recently arrested a ring of smugglers. The Authority of Antiquities has recently appointed representatives in every air and sea port to watch for the smugglers of Yemeni antiques. International museums are now obliged not to buy antiques without the permission of the country of origin. But sale to private collectors cannot be fully controlled.
Q: Is there a public awareness of the necessity to preserve Yemen’s historical heritage? A: We cannot generalize. Some people hand in the antiques they discover to the authorities. Others use tractors to dig for antiques to sell to foreigners, sometimes resulting in the destruction of the finds. We hope that the media would help in raising public awareness through a continuous media campaign.
Q: Do Yemeni women take part in the field of archeology? A: There many female graduates from the Faculty of Archeology at Sana’a University. Of the 30 archeologists who work in the Authority of Antiquities, 12 are women who actively participate in actual excavation work. However, the frustrating aspect of our profession is the low salaries. Also, new graduates are not readily employed by the government. Despite our need for more employees, there are some restrictions.
Q: What are the most important discoveries? A: I think that the recently discovered pre-historic sites which date from the stone to the bronze age are very interesting. Up to 10 years ago, nobody though that there were any such settlements pre-dating the ancient southern Arabian civilizations. There were neither sites nor finds to indicate these pre-historic places. By the beginning of the 80s, archeologists started to finds some pre-historic tools in the mountain and desert areas. Joint teams of Americans, Germans, and Yemenis discovered many pre-historic sites all over the country. The first discovery was made in Saada. We found ancient tools and colorful cave drawings. During their excavations in Braqish, the Italians discovered a pagan temple underneath a mosque. Ancient Arabic scripts and the remains of columns were found in the site. The area is actually very dangerous. There were many brigands and unruly tribesmen, so we had to get the help.
Q: What are the future plans of your department? A: The Authority of Antiquities is now in the process of opening branches in several Yemeni cities to help oversee the various digs and excavation work. We are preparing for a big conference on archeology to be held in Sana’a. It will be attended by researchers from all over the world. It will be about studies and research done on Yemeni antiquities. The conference will be organized in cooperation with the Americans, Germans, Dutch, and French.
Q: What happened to the Reidan magazine? A: The Reidan magazine used to be published by the Authority of Antiquities, and stopped during the war of 1994. It is now temporarily published in Paris in Arabic and French. The Authority of Antiquities will resume publishing the magazine as soon as it gets the required budget. It is a very informative magazine, publishing studies and research.
Q: What are your other activities? A: I recently co-authored a book in French about rock art in Saada. It is for the lay reader, complete with drawings and photos.