The First Campaign at Hajar am-Dhaybiyyah

by David Warburton

Yemen Update 33(1993):19,47

In the spring of 1992, J.F Breton head of the French Archaeological Misson in Yemen invited me to accompany him to the Wadi Markha which is principally in the area of the former DRY, but the western reaches of which are in the area between Shabwaand Timna (see Yemen Update 32). After the work was completed, he was so gracious as to suggest the possibility of a joint mission with the American Institute for Yemeni Studies. We discussed several possibilities, and one evening Khayran Zubaydi, director of Antiquities for the government of Shabwa opened up the safe in his office, and brought forth some of the treasures that had been found in a salvage effort a few years earlier.

In 1985 local residents of the Wadi Durra brought a number of objects to the Ataq Museum, which cane from fields which had been bulldozed in preparation for cultivation. The French archaeological Mission in the PDRY then made a small sounding at a promising site on the edge of the area where the bulldozer had removed several metres of silt. In this sounding, several superimposed tombs sunk into the silt itself were discovered, and the objects likewise brought to the Ataq Museum. This material will be published in the spring of 1993 ( Les Tesors de Wadi Durra,edited by M. Baraqih and J-F Breton, Paris, Geuthner Bibliotheque Archeologique et Historique). From the very start, it was clear that the tombs were associated with the adjacent mound, Hajaram-Dhababiyyah, one of the highest mounds in Yemen, at some 18 metres above the plain. An inscription from the mound itself proved to be Sabaen dating to the seventh century B.C. One of the last Himyaritic inscriptions (dating to the sixth century A.D.) also adorns a wadiwall.

Jean Francois then pointed out that the tell beside the cemetery in this wadi would seem to be an interesting place to excavate. When examining the decorated silver hilt of along iron sword with obvious Parthian/Sassanian influence, it was difficult to turn down the suggestion, as the excavation might bring the settlement associated with the cemetery to light. In the summer, Khayran, Jean Francois and I then went off to Wadi Durra to have a look at the inscriptions, tell and cemetery. I needed no further persuasion, and Prof. McGuire Gibson of AIYS gave us full support to do what we could. We were able to begin the excavation in the last days of November 1992 and continue for three weeks.

Ably supported by Augusta McMahon (who is finishing her PhD thesis at the University of Chicago and whom I had first met with Prof. Gibson at Nippur in Iraq), we opened up four10x10 metre squares from the top of the tell down the slope, starting a step trench on the southeast edge of the tell, where the slope was “gentler" than elsewhere, at slightly less than 50 degrees (12 metres vertical difference over 25 metres horizontal). It rapidly transpired that the well-coursed granite blocks of a single large building with foundation ca. 6x6 metres had prevented the erosion of the tell, the outer facing having been merely reduced to a series of terraces. Below this, but clearly constructed at about the same time on the basis of the stratigraphic evidence, was a belt of rounded granite blocks slanting steeply upwards, maintaining the slope of the tell. Below but apparently standing on the lowest courses of this band of granite, were a couple of more modestly built houses. The uppermost square straddling the flat surface of the tell and the beginning of the slope brought several superimposed houses to light, but for the most part, the stones of fallen walls in the metre thick deposits of windblown silt.

The initial impression of the pottery indicates that the structures should be dated to the first centuries of our era. The coins and other bronze objects have been turned over to Mohammad Said Amir of the Aden Branch of the Antiquities Organization, who will clean them in the coming months, so that they can be properly dated. They will then join the pottery and other objects at the 'Ataq Museum, where the finds from the salvage effort are on display and in storage. It was logical that at some point an excavation might uncover domestic dwellings contemporary with the tombs from the neighboring necropolis.

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