Calcite statue of a seated woman

Sabaean, 2nd-1st century BC
From Yemen

Woman with braided hair

This seated female figure may have been left in a temple as a votive offering. Such pious acts were intended to invoke the favour of the god, and perhaps also to demonstrate publicly the wealth of the donor. Her hands are outstretched, either in an attitude of prayer or perhaps to hold an offering. Her hair is braided at the back and one of her eye sockets contains the original shell inlay.

Calcite statues of this type are very characteristic of production in ancient South Arabia, and provide details of the clothing and hair-styles of the local people. Although there is no inscription on this sculpture, the South Arabians had an alphabetic script that was often used on statues to inscribe the owner's name and the god to whom it was dedicated. This ancient alphabet has been kept alive in the form of the modern Ethiopian alphabet.

The wealth reflected in sculptures such as this often derived from the extensive South Arabian trade in frankincense and myrrh. These resins, which only grow in eastern Yemen and southern Oman and in some parts of Somalia, were two of the most prized materials of the ancient world, and were burnt on every altar in the Near East and Mediterranean.

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More information


St J. Simpson (ed.), Queen of Sheba: treasures from (London, The British Museum Press, 2002)

St J.H. Philby, The Queen of Sheba (London, Quartet, 1981)


Height: 59.500 cm
Width: 29.400 cm (shoulder)

Museum number

ME 134694



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