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The kingdoms of ancient South Arabia
Calcite-alabaster panel with bull’s head
The kingdom of Qataban emerged in the seventh century BC and by the fifth century BC it had replaced Saba as the most powerful kingdom of South Arabia. In the early 1950s the American Foundation for the Study of Man conducted excavations at the walled city of Tamna, the capital of the Qatabanian kingdom, where they discovered spectacular alabaster and bronze artefacts and monumental buildings. They also demonstrated that the nearby settlement of Hajar ibn Humayd was occupied as early as the tenth or eleventh centuries BC.
In the centre of this panel is a bull's head carved in high relief. The bull was an especially popular motif on funerary stele at Heid ibn Aqil, the cemetery at Tamna, because it was the symbol of Amm, the patron diety of the Qatabanians, who considered themselves 'progeny of Amm'. This stela may have originally had a stone base inscribed with the name of the deceased.
The Qatabanians derived great prosperity from agriculture and the incense trade but by the end of the second century AD their kingdom had declined and collapsed.