Archaeological Finds of Ancient Arabia to be Shown

Smithsonian highlights major finds from Yemen.

Beginning October 11, 2014 and showing through June 7, 2015, The Smithsonian Institution will be exhibiting a selection of artifacts, film and photography from one of the largest archaeological expeditions to two ancient sites in present-day Yemen.

From 1949 to 1951, paleontologist and geologist Wendell Phillips led an expedition of scholars, scientists and technicians to what was then remote South Arabia on a quest to uncover two legendary cities—Timna, the capital of the Qataban kingdom, and Ma’rib, thought by some scholars to be the home of the Queen of Sheba. 

Timna was an important trading hub along the Incense Route, which supplied Arabian and Indian incense via camel caravan to ports on the Mediterranean Sea, most notably Gaza and Petra. Ma’rib was the capital of the Sabaean kingdom, otherwise thought by some scholars to be ancient Sheba, known from the biblical accounts. Here, the Sabaean kings made their capital and built irrigation works such as the Ma’rib dams, the remains of which can still be seen.They also built other structures and temples, and traded in frankincense and myrrh. As a seafaring people, the Sabaeans also had populations in Northeast Africa, present-day Somalia, Eritrea and possibly Ethiopia, a source of frankincense and myrrh.

Both Arabian centers flourished about 2,500 years ago, due in no small measure from the wealth of the insense trade.



Wendell Phillips’ team begins excavation at a peristyle hall in Ma’rib, in present-day Yemen. Courtesy American Foundation for the Study of Man. Courtesy 



One of a pair of large bronze high reliefs each in the form of a striding lioness surmounted by a figure of Eros (The Bronze Lions of Timna) Yemen; 1st century BCE–mid-1st century CE; Bronze; Gift of The American Foundation for the Study of Man, Wendell and Merilyn Phillips Collection. Courtesy Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution 


The exhibition highlights Phillips’s key finds and showcases his adventures in what was, and continues to be, an archaeological frontier. 

The exhibition will be shown at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery on the Mall in Washington, D.C.


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