- Museum number
Oval cooking-bowl; semi-flat bottom and high vertical walls; two opposing vertical long lug handles on the exterior, each perforated horizontally near the top; carved from grey chlorite with numerous vertical scratches from the final polishing; two letters in ancient South Arabian script incised inside the rim, opposite an incised monogram; complete.
- Production date
- 3rdC BC-1stC BC (?)
Diameter: 10.00 - 11.50 centimetres (base)
Diameter: 8.20 - 8.90 centimetres (rim)
Height: 10.50 centimetres
Volume: 520 millilitres
- Curator's comments
Said to have contained 1977,0226.2-43b (BM.136800-136841b).
Mid-1st millennium BC date suggested by Carl Phillips, 2004. This stone vessel with perforated lug handles is made from a local variety of softstone (harad) popularly known as steatite or chlorite which is easily carved and continues to be made into kitchenware bowls and incense burners in Yemen (Muchawsky-Schnapper 1994, 30-31, 40-41; see Chapter 8 by Dr W.D. Glanzman in Simpson St J ed. 'Queen of Sheba: Treasures from ancient Yemen', London 2002). Similar-shaped vessels made of calcite-alabaster are also found in southern and eastern Arabia (Potts 1989, 73 and refs). Incised inside the rim is a two-letter inscription and another undeciphered symbol. The two letter inscription reads Bn (F. Bron, pers. comm.), and is a popular personal name in Safaitic, which is also attested in South Arabian on a bronze seal (Rathjens 1953/35, vol II, 161). This particular vessel is said to have been found containing a hoard of gold jewellery (136800-136841 B), a selection of which is catalogued above (See Simpson St J ed. op. cit., cats 131-7).
Muchawsky-Schnapper, E., 1994. 'The Jews of Yemen', Jerusalem: The Israel Museum.
Potts, D. 1989. 'Miscellanea Hasaitica', p. 73 and refs.
Rathjens, C. 1953/35. 'Sabaeica', Hamburg: Ludwig Appel; 2 vols.
Bowers catalogue entry
Ovoid vessel with perforated lug-handles
Possibly 3rd - 1st century BC
Height 10.5 cm, diameter (outer rim) 8.9 cm; capacity 520 ml
Possibly from the Wadi Bayhan
ANE 1977-2-26,1 = 136799
Purchased from Nicholas Wright; a previous owner is said to have been the Emir of Bayhan
This is made from a local variety of softstone also known as soapstone, steatite or chlorite, of which the main sources lie in northern Yemen and across the modern Saudi border into the southern Hejaz and western Nejd. This stone is easily carved and continues to be made into kitchenware bowls and incense-burners in Yemen. Although small numbers of containers and beads were made from this material as early as the Neolithic period, this industry only appears to have become popular in the 1st millennium BC when steatite became extensively used as a means of tempering pottery. It was also used for carving round-based cooking pots, sometimes with a low ridge and up to four small lug handles on the outside which allowed it to be placed inside a hot oven. It is quite likely that the local south-west Arabian preference for food slowly simmered in this form of cooking pot triggered a wide-ranging change in methods of cooking in other parts of the Near East immediately after the Arab Conquest, as softstone cooking pots began to be made in eastern Arabia and Iran after this period. According to Early Islamic food writers, stone cooking pots were preferred as they did not discolour or change the flavour of foods, they kept an even temperature for longer than other types of cooking pot and, as they were non-absorbent, some communities used them for ritual purposes. The advantage of these properties explains a passage in the 13th century Arabic cookery book, the Kitab al-tabikh, compiled by Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn al-Karim al-Katib al-Baghdadi, which states:
“Of cooking-pots let him choose those made of stone, or as a second-best those of earthenware: only as a last resort should he use pots of tinned copper. There is nothing more abominable than food cooked in a copper pot which has lost its tinning”.
Similar-shaped vessels made of calcite-alabaster are also found in southern and eastern Arabia but these were usually turned on a lathe rather than being carved by hand like this example. Incised inside the rim of this container is a two-letter inscription which reads “Bn”. This is attested on a South Arabian bronze seal but was a particularly popular personal name in the Safaitic language. This inscription is incised opposite a symbol which may represent a personal monogram of ownership, rather than the type of maker’s mark found on more valuable types of object. Such inscribed vessels are rare and it is interesting that this appears to lack any trace of having been used for cooking. This particular vessel is said to have been found containing a hoard of gold jewellery, a selection of which is catalogued above, but it was originally intended for a household function for which the perforated lug-handles may have allowed the securing of a cloth or leather lid to keep the contents cool and free of flies and dust.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2004-2005 17 Oct-13 Mar, California, Bowers Museum, 'Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality'
2002 5 Jun-13 Oct, BM, 'Queen of Sheba: Treasures from ancient Yemen'
- Complete; minor chips to the rim
NB Very soft stone which is prone to easy scratching
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Obj.xref numbers are jewellery hoard said to have been found inside (confirmed pers. comm. G. Turner, 14th January 2003) who states that this collection, along with the bronze altar 135323 were acquired via Sharif Ahmed ibn Awadh al-Habili. Reputedly from the collection of the Sheikh of Baihan.
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number