Sana’a University publishes a festschrift in honor of leading archeologists [Archives:2006/913/Culture]

January 19 2006

Sana'a University has published “Sabaean Studies,” a host of archeological, epigraphical and historical essays written in Arabic, English, French and German, in honor of Prof. Yusuf M. Abdullah, Prof. Alessandro de Maigret and Prof. Christian Robin on the occasion of their 60th birthdays. A festival was held at Sana'a University on January 4, 2005, where the three celebrated scholars were honored and the book was released.

The celebration was in recognition of these scholars' plausible efforts and exertions they put into South Arabian studies.

Containing over eight hundred pages, the book was edited by Dr. Amida Sholan, Sabina Antonini and Dr. Mounir Arbach. Some 37 archeologists, scholars and researchers contributed to the festschrift (celebration publication) including Yemenis, Arabs and foreigners. The essays covered a variety of aspects related to Yemen's archeology and old history.

Worthwhile topics

Printed in Italy at the expense of Sana'a University, the book contains a collection of interesting essays. It also includes many pictures and illustrations that help the understanding of the contents. One of the essays, written by Sabina Antonini, describes the first two campaigns at Hayd Ibn Aqil, the necropolis of Tamna'. The essay presents a preliminary outline of the scientific results obtained during two campaigns of excavations at Hayd Ibn Aqil, the necropolis located about two kilometers north of Tamna', the capital of the ancient kingdom of Qataban. The campaigns were carried out in 2003-2004. The expedition focused on investigating a number of tombs. It is noteworthy that this site had been investigated by an American mission in 1950.

Another essay, authored by Jean-Francois and Jean-Claude Roux, reports new excavations in Shabwa, namely in the ancient inta-muros city, near al-Matna village, on the southern flank of al-Aqab range, some 100 meters east of the so-called main temple. Undertaken by the French Archeological mission, the excavation aimed at obtaining a new archeological sequence from the old city of Shabwa to complement the earlier sequence which lacked some chronological phases. One of the important discoveries was an original “massive earth structures” architecture. The excavation provided a preliminary sequence ranging from the 14th-12th centuries BC to the middle of the 3rd century AD.

Vittoria Buffa, member of the Italian Archeological Mission and German-Russian Archeological Mission to Lahj, Yemen, presented an essay titled “Cults, symbols, and rituals in the late prehistory of Ancient Yemen: Some questions from Sabr.” The author states that the Sabr culture developed on the coast of the Gulf of Aden during the 3rd and 2nd millennium and ceased to exist in the first half of the 1st millennium BC. Excavations in the Wadi Tuban Delta and on the coast of the Gulf of Aden revealed that Sabr culture represented two subsistence modes: agricultural settlements – the most important one being the eponymous site of Sabr – and shell-middens, sites with a marine-oriented economy.

Paolo Costa's concise essay tackled the defenses of the city of Sana'a through the ages. The author mentions that the name Sana'a means “well-fortified.” The writer describes the types of fortifications such as the “constructions designed to prevent entrance into the area by means of massive walls which were defensible from a sentry walk and could be entered only through a few gates, all of them of difficult bent access.” Drawing on many sources, the author describes Sana'a defenses in comparison to other Yemeni cities taking into account the historical political changes.

On the other hand, Barbara Davidde and Roberto Petriaggi wrote an essay which confirms records of economic exchanges among the civilizations in the past by means of underwater archeological findings in the port of Qani'. The underwater excavations produced several ceramic artifacts originated in Mediterranean countries. The ancient ports of Yemen were Mouza and Okelis on the Red Sea and Aden, Qani' and Moscha on the Indian Ocean. Qani' and Moscha were called the ports of incense. Ships plied between them and India.

The paper of Christopher Edens explores early agriculture in the highlands of Yemen. The author sheds light on the characteristics of the Bronze Age in Yemen's highland such as subsistence activities, domestic arts, craft and trade and burial. His focal point, however, is the beginning of agriculture in Yemeni highland. He describes the patterns of traditional highland agriculture and the agricultural intensification.

Another essay draws attention to the Bronze Age sties in Bidbida, the northeastern highland of Yemen. Written by Abdu Ghaleb of Sana'a University, the essay describes a local team's visit to the Bidbida region, which is situated in the drier northeastern highlands of Yemen, between Sana'a to the west and Marib to the east. The main objective of the survey was to unearth and glean remains of the Bronze Age sties in this region. The mission documented some 20 archeological sites providing significant proof of an early settlement in Bidbida, dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. Of these 20 sites, 12 were defined as settlement sites. They attested a remarkable culture, including circular, elliptical, rectangular, square and irregular structures with few associated stone artifacts and pottery shards.

Another interesting essay was about the rock-shelter painting in the Tihama foothills. Written by Edward Keall, the essay describes the painted rock-art in an area behind the city of Hays, in the immediate hills at the edge of the Tihama plain. With logical arguments, the author arrives at interesting conclusions.

There are many useful essays that focus on different aspects of the Yemeni archeology and Old Yemen's civilizations. The book can be described to be so much a gist of long years of research that it deserves to be read and, above all, to be a gesture of gratitude and appreciation towards three masters of archeology.