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Calcite funerary head


Height: 32.000 cm
Width: 16.000 cm

Gift of Sir Antonin Besse

ME 130888

Middle East

    Calcite funerary head

    Sabaean, 2nd century BC - 1st century AD
    Possibly from Tamna, Yemen

    A carving for the tomb

    This head was originally placed inside a tomb. The eyes and eyebrows are recessed for inlays which are now missing. The lower part of the neck was left unfinished because it was once set into a separate alabaster socket inscribed with the name of the deceased individual.

    Burial customs in ancient South Arabia suggest a belief in an afterlife. Underground tombs were dug out of the soft rock. Inscriptions give title to the parts of the burial chamber to various individuals, along with threats against any interloper. Evidence for a form of mummification has been found, although the use of sarcophagi is practically unknown. The dead person's name was apparently very important for the next world. It was written either on a stela (gravestone) with a depiction of the deceased, on a statue or plaque, or sometimes on a plinth, such as that which presumably originally supported this head.

    The ancient South Arabians were polytheistic - that is, they worshipped a group of gods - until about the end of the fourth century AD, when monotheism (the worship of a single god) had developed. References in inscriptions to Almaqah and other gods were superseded by Rahmanan, 'Lord of Heaven and Earth'.

    W. Daum (ed.), Yemen: 3000 years of art and c (Penguin, 1988)

    P. Gribaudo (ed.), La Regina di Saba: arte e legg (Milan, 2000)


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