Unlocking the secrets of history [Archives:2007/1090/Reportage]

October 1 2007
Photo from archived article: photos/1090/report1_1
Photo from archived article: photos/1090/report1_1
Hamed Thabet
For Yemen Times

In ancient Yemen, people believed in life after death. Their belief in resurrection was essential to ensure a safe passage to the afterlife for their dead. Mummification was an important step to ensuring one's afterlife in ancient Yemen. However contradictory to their belief, not only the dead lost their way to the afterworld; sadly, the mummies have never crossed the boundaries of their tombs. So where did all the mummies go?

According to the researchers, In the ancient days, Yemen was one of the most famous countries in the world with its civilization and secrets. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that there are huge numbers of mummies in Yemen that have not been revealed and introduced to the international community

It is difficult to know exactly why this society practiced mummification, but it must surely reflect a desire to keep their dead with them since the mummies do not seem to have been buried immediately. Ancient Yemenis used to embalm their dead due to their belief that they would return to this world on the Day of Resurrection. Researchers confirmed that many mummies have been found in Yemen in several different places by accident in the last 20 years and many of them are still hidden in their tombs and unknown.

For the first time, ,Windol Fliees, the head of an American expedition group found samples in Ma'reb in 1951-1952 in the graveyard or cemetery of Awam Temple called Haied Bin Aqeed. But the important discovery was in 1983 in Shebam Al Garas by the archeology expedition department, which found 26 Mummies at a depth of 60 centimeters, and among all those, only one has survived. Moreover, in 1991 Mummies have been found in the Al Noman mountain in Al Mahweet governorate, and until today their work is not finished as there are many more. In 1994 in Saih Bani Matar, Mummies have been found in natural caves, but unfortunately, no one has examined them until this date; because there are no specialists and experts to study the tombs and the bodies. In 1999, another body was found in Shaoob and finally a local found a Mummy of a small child in Damar.

However, not all mummies that were found belong to Yemenis, “A Mummy has been found which belonged to the 6 century, however the body wasn't preserved by humans, but by natural forces. We prsume this mummy belonged to one of the Ethiopian soliders who served in the Army of (Abraha) when they invaded Yemen. There are two theories about the solider's death: the first theory was that he was killed in battle, the second theory was that he died because of suffocation by volcanic smoke,” said Dr, Abdul Hakim, who is a tutor at Sana'a University in the Archeology Department and also the storekeeper at the museum.

Abdul Hakim explained the ancient Yemeni steps of mummification , saying the theory and idea of Mummies in Yemen are the same as that of any other country but of course each have their own system of embalmment. On the basis of some researches on Mummies, a kind of plant called Al Ra'a, was found in all the bodies, and also chemical materials like oxides of iron and sulfur dioxide. Furthermore, camel oil was found to be the principle agent of embalming the dead.

During this process, they would tear the stomach, take out the bowels, and put the plant material and distribute the chemicals in a way that would fill the stomach in order to keep it preserved. The body was covered and painted with a color called Henna. Furthermore, the shrouding process in Yemeni Mummies took several steps. Firstly, rolls with silk and then leather were placed on the body and if the person was rich more money was spent for more rolls of silk and leather rolls. Nevertheless, some Mummies that were found in Shaoob in Sana'a were embalmed by shrouding, using cotton and straw. After putting the materials, the body was well dressed and adorned with new shoes, coats, and mineral rings in order to drive away evil spirits.

Dr. Mohamed Al- Aroosi, who was the Chief of General Assembly in ancient monuments and now teaches at Sana'a University, said: “since we found the bodies in 1983, no researches have been made to find out about these Mummies. Even the atmosphere for the bodies in the museum is as bad as hell, so much that when first the body arrived to the museum they were well and you could feel their spirit, but nowadays they are getting destroyed because of the carelessness and there being no support from the government and other countries or even Organizations to protect them. It is a shame to keep these valuable ancient monuments, while we cannot give them what they deserve, and it is better to contribute them to other museums or countries who will take care of them, instead of ignoring them as it is the case now.”

It is hard to differentiate between Yemeni Mummies and the Egyptian ones, as there is absolutely no information and studies, but the only difference that we can tell for now is that mummies in Egypt took everything they could with them , furthermore there tombs told the story of their lives. The Yemeni ones, on the other hand, are different because they just took with them a small weapon, food, and a ring on one of their toes. Specialists inferred the main goal was forgiveness from the gods (Al-Rahman Thi Samawi) and they would give themselves to their gods asking for peace and love.

In addition, the materials that were used in mummification indicate that ancient Yemenis had very advanced medical and scientific information and methods. It also indicated that Yemenis had lived luxurious life as most of the materials were very expensive at the time.

Mr. Mohamed Qasim, the head of the national team, said “because of the huge number of mummies that can be found in Yemen, the government offered to open a special museum in Al Tawilah in Al- Mahweet. The delay comes because there is no subsidy from the government to open this museum. Moreover, the lack of specialists and experts play a role in this, and our Yemeni team is not qualified.

“Yemen has a lot of Mummies; leaving them without proper care and maintenance is a crime. The problem is that no one can touch the bodies because they need experts in this field. Some graves are in the Mountains at a height of 40 – 60 meters, we need help to reach them, we need help to serve them and we need help to study them,” he concluded.