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Excavating Zabid

Royal Ontario Museum Yemen Project Overview

Zabid Citadel Excavations

Edward Keall
Curator Emeritus
Royal Ontario Museum

First trench dug inside the Zabid Citadel, as seen from the al-Asha’ir minaret

Zabid Citadel Excavations


When the first trench probes were conducted inside the Citadel of Zabid in 1989, within the top layers were found English newspaper scraps, used as wrappers for cannon ammunition fuses from the 1930s. Sequentially, going down, one encounters pottery that date the layers from the 20th-9th century through the use of a rough ceramic typology. Different epochs left different traces in the area – from the bottom layer, flood-wash scatters of pottery outside of the city from the 9th century; an extra-mural villa of the Najahid-era (11th century); a monumental building of the Rasulid-era (13th century); a cannon ball layer in a small military fort of the first Ottoman-era (16th century); and the extensive but rambling citadel walls and towers that were likely hastily erected in 1807 during the time when Sharif Hammud of Jizan was maneuvering to control the city, along with re-building its city walls.


Exposing the top of an arched doorway from a monumental Rasulid-era structure


Cannon balls excavated in the 1560s layer of the hastily built Ottoman fort


A delicate water-pipe vial finial

(‘Fine Haysi glazed ware’) from the Ottoman fort


Haysi-made ‘opium poppy-head’ finial for a water-pipe


Haysi-made coffee cup from the Ottoman fort


Underground masonry-embedded lead water pipes connected with the Rasulid monumental building


The deep trench, as seen in 2011 – top layer from Tahirid period, lowest wall of Najahid date  

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