Nine sculptures of heads

Room 53

Ancient South Arabia

The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery

Visiting the gallery

Opening times

The Museum is closed.

Advance booking only

Gallery audio guides

Available on YouTube Music and Apple Music.

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 advice 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 scientific analysis undertaken at the Museum enables such objects to be returned to their country of origin.   


  • Some objects in this collection feature on the British Sign Language multimedia guide. This resource is temporarily unavailable during the Museum's phased reopening.
  • 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.