A person looking into a case of metal crosses.

Room 53

Ancient South Arabia

Visiting the gallery

Opening times

Daily: 10.00–17.00 (Fridays: 20.30)
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Advance booking advised

Gallery audio guides

Listen on the Audio app, available on the App Store and Google Play.

Ancient South Arabia was centred on what is now modern Yemen but included parts of Saudi Arabia and southern Oman.

Ancient South Arabia was famous in the ancient world as an important source of valuable incense and perfume, and was described by classical writers as 'Arabia Felix' (Fortunate Arabia) because of its fertility.

Several important kingdoms flourished there at different times between 1000 BC and the rise of Islam in the sixth century AD. The oldest and most important of these was Saba, which is referred to as Sheba in the Bible.

Room 53 features highlights from the Museum's collection, which is one of the most important outside Yemen. The display includes examples of beautiful carved alabaster sculptures originally placed inside tombs, incense-burners and a massive bronze altar.

Endangered cultural heritage

The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is today classed as a crime against humanity. The looting of archaeological sites and destruction of monuments and museums are problems which are particularly extreme during periods of conflict.

The British Museum works closely with the affected countries and British law enforcement agencies, as well as the art trade and with private individuals, to identify and advise on the origin of antiquities believed to have been stolen or illegally exported from abroad.

On show in Room 53 is a rotating display of recently identified examples of endangered cultural heritage. Careful study and analysis undertaken at the Museum enable such objects to be returned to their country of origin.  

Currently on display is a collection of medieval metalwork posted from Kyiv to the UK in 2021. The package of 86 objects was seized in transit by UK Border Force in July 2021 and jointly identified by curators from the British Museum and the National Museum in Kyiv. These pieces will be sent to the National Museum of History of Ukraine in Kyiv at the appropriate time. Until then, the metalwork is on display in Room 53 to highlight this important work and collaboration between Britain and Ukraine. Read more in our press release: The British Museum and UK Border Force collaborate to return historic objects to Ukraine.

See more on the Museum's work to provide a talking point for visitors concerned about the current conflict in Ukraine in our Room 2 display Ukraine: Culture in crisis.


  • Some objects in this collection feature on the British Sign Language multimedia guide. This resource is temporarily unavailable. You can access a selection of BSL films on your own device.
  • Some objects in this collection feature on the audio description guide, available on Soundcloud.
  • Seating is available.
  • Step-free access. 
  • View sensory map.

Visit Accessibility at the Museum for more information.