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Sociology and Anthropology

Archaeological Project in Yemen

Masna'at Maryah Mounds

The UALR archaeological project in Yemen is directed by Dr. Krista Lewis, Associate Professor of Anthropology, who is also one of the core Middle Eastern Studies faculty members. Dr. Lewis’ current research in Yemen focuses on the major ancient city of Masna’at Maryah, which was a thriving metropolis during the Himyarite kingdom (1st c. BC-6th c. AD). Masna’at Maryah is located in the highland mountains of Yemen, on the southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula. The Himyarite kingdom was the last major pre-Islamic kingdom in southwest Arabia. At the peak of their power, the Himyarites claimed control of an area larger than modern-day Yemen.

Recent Fieldwork

In May and June 2008, an international team of archaeologists collaborated to achieve our main goal for the field season–the completion of a precise three-dimensional map of the ancient city of Masna’at Maryah. On the map, you can see the shapes of ancient buildings, trace ancient streets, see the major gates of the city, and understand how the Himyarites collected and stored the water necessary for life in the town. The city was 40.4 hectares in size–that’s about 100 acres!

One of the most famous features of Masna’at Maryah is a prominent 14-line inscription carved into a cliff face next to one of the city’s main gates. The inscription is written in Ancient South Arabic, an ancient indigenous script and language. The inscription tells us that the city’s ancient name was Sam’an and that the people who lived there built roads to link them to neighboring towns and tribes. It also gives us a date for when the inscription was written: 434 of the Himyarite era (4th century AD).

Masna'at Maryah Map

Documentation and mapping of sites such as Masna’at Maryah both provide essential information about life in ancient cities and serve as the keystone for all future research. In addition to making an accurate map of the city in the 2008 field season, we also conducted an intensive surface collection of the site. We recorded the distribution of ancient artifacts across the city in order to better understand how people were living and what daily activities they were conducting when the site was inhabited. The most common artifacts on the site are pottery sherds and fragments of obsidian (black volcanic glass) which were shaped and used as tools. In addition to these, we found fragments of sculpture and building decoration, bone, food grinding implements, worked bronze and iron, abundant iron working waste, and more.

In Summer 2009, Dr. Lewis directed another field season at Masna’at Maryah. This time, the focus was on building stone walls to protect the archaeological deposits from erosion in the heavy summer rains. We also conducted additional focused sampling of iron slag deposits for laboratory analyses.

To read more about Masna’at Maryah and our work there, please download the 2008 Field Report or 2008 publication below, or check out any of the other additional references at the end of this page.

Lewis and Khalidi 2008 “From Prehistoric Landscapes to Urban Sprawl: the Masn’at Maryah region of highland Yemen”

Maryah Archaeological Project Summer 2008 Field Season Report

UALR undergraduate student Elizabeth Sanders was a part of our 2008 field team in Yemen: Visit My Middle Eastern Experience to watch an amazing short video of Liz describing her trip and the people and culture of Yemen.

The 2008 field season was also featured in a story about global curriculum in UALR magazine.

The UALR project is affiliated with the Dhamar Survey Project, which originated at the University of Chicago. Dr. Lewis has been working in Yemen since 1998 when she joined the University of Chicago team. She has been directing independent archaeological research in Yemen since 2001. A huge thanks to the 2008 field team: Ali Sanabani, Director of Archaeology for the Dhamar Province; Assistant Project Director Dr. Lamya Khalidi from the University of Nice, Sophia-Antipolis (CEPAM-CNRS); William Isenberger, Digital Mapping and Graphics; Daniel Mahoney, doctoral student from the University of Chicago; Elizabeth Sanders and Basel Khalil of UALR; AbdulBasset Noaman of General Organization of Antiquities and Museums, Ministry of Culture, Yemen; and Salah al-Komany and Ahmad al-Assar of the Dhamar Museum, Dhamar Yemen.

Thanks to our sponsors! The 2008 field season was funded by the UALR Middle Eastern Studies Program.  The 2009 field project was funded by Yemen’s Social Fund for Development.

References

Krista Lewis, Lamya Khalidi, William Isenberger, and Ali Sanabani,”Mapping Masna’at Maryah: Using GIS to Reconstruct the Development of a Multi-Period Site in the Highlands of Yemen” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 40 (2010)

Krista Lewis, “Archaeological work in the Masna’at Maryah area of the Dhamar Province Explores Ancient to Contemporary Land and Resource Use,” AIYS Update (in press)

Krista Lewis & Lamya Khalidi, “From prehistoric landscapes to urban sprawl: the Masna’at Maryah region of highland Yemen,” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 38 (2008): 215–230

Krista Lewis, “Fields and Tables of Sheba: Food, Identity, and Politics in Early Historic Southern Arabia,” book chapter in The Archaeology of Food and Identity, edited by K. Twiss, Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University, pp. 192- 217, 2007

Krista Lewis, Space and the Spice of Life: Food, Politics, and Landscape in Ancient Yemen, PhD Dissertation, University of Chicago, 2005

Krista Lewis, “The Himyarite site of al-Adhla and its Implications for the Economy and Chronology of Early Historic Highland Yemen,” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, volume 35, pp. 129-141, 2005

Updated 2.20.2014