- Museum number
String of eighteen sheet gold beads decorated with hollow spheres.
Diameter: 0.78 centimetres (bead)
Weight: 9.80 grammes
Width: 0.70 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Allegedly found in 1977,0226.1 (BM.136799).
According to the Biblical legend of the arrival of the Queen of Sheba at Solomon's court, gold was an important product of southern Arabia (1 Kings 10). This is also described by Classical and early Islamic authors (quoted by Hoyland 2001, 11012). However, until recently there has been relatively little independent evidence to support this. Recent geological surveys in western Arabia from the Medina region to the Maraziq area of the Jawf in northern Yemen have revealed extensive ancient workings of gold, exposed in quartz veins typically measuring 12 m across and occurring near eroded volcanic deposits (Prentiss, Zarins, Hester et al. 1984; Heck 1999; Mallory-Greenough, Greenough and Fipke 2000). These are easily recognisable as they are a brilliant white colour against a darker rock and there is evidence for ancient surface test pits and deep mines up to 150 m in length running along them. Workshops were found nearby in the Maraziq area with imported hard stone hammers and anvils used to crush the ore and grinders to reduce the fragments into a powder from which the gold dust could be easily separated using water.
In addition, there is archaeological evidence for an ancient gold-working tradition in southern Arabia. Published here for the first time is a selection of gold jewellery (see Simpson StJ 2002a, cats 1327). Some of these pieces have been scientifically examined within the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research at The British Museum.1 The brittle state of the gold and the degree of silver chloride deposits on the surface prove their antiquity. Black deposits appear to derive from asphalt probably used as a core to strengthen and support the delicate gold sheet but which, during burial, was redeposited on the exterior surfaces through weathering. Traces of a red surface deposit was identified as a kaolinite clay with an iron content and thus presumably reflects ground burial conditions.
This group consists of a restrung collection of gold collar beads, many in the basic form of two plain strips alternating with two rings of small granulated spheres. Some (e.g. 136817) are paralleled by other gold beads published from southern and south-east Arabia suggesting that they were typical of high-class jewellery (Turner 1973, 138, pl. LIV, nos 423; Morrison 1991, 385, 391, fig. 3: 1; Haerinck et al. 2001, pls 100: 84, 129: 84, E: 4). Other hollow spherical beads illustrated here were made in two halves joined at the centre, a technique which relied on the use of a metal punch with a hemispherical tip to stamp tiny gold circles of gold to an identical diameter and depth. The same technique was also used to make fourth-century Greek and Lydian gold jewellery, although there is no evidence for a direct link between these and South Arabian craft traditions (Williams and Ogden 1994, 156, no. 95; Özgen and Öztürk et al. 1996, 223, no. 203).
1 Unpublished reports (R.L. File No. 3941; Conservation Research Group, report no. CA2002/1).
Haerinck, E. et al. 2001 Excavations at ed-Dur (Umm al-Qaiwain, United Arab Emirates), vol. II: The Tombs, Leuven: Peeters.
Hoyland, R. G., 2001. Arabia and the Arabs. From the Early Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam, London/New York: Routledge.
Prentiss, S., Zarins, J. and Hester, J. et al., 1984. Preliminary report on the ancient mining survey', Atlal 8, 115-42.
Turner, G., 1973. South Arabian gold jewellery', Iraq 35, 127-39, pls XLVIII-LIV.
Mallory-Greenough, L., Greenough, J. D. and Fipke, C., 2000. Iron Age Gold Mining: A Preliminary Report on Camps in the Al Maraziq Region, Yemen', Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 11/2 (November), 223-36.
Morrison, H. M., 1991. The Beads and Seals of Shabwa', Syria 68, 379-92.
Özgen, I. And Özturk, J. et al. 1996 Heritage Recovered. The Lydian Treasure, Istambul: Ministry of Culture.
Williams, D. and Ogden, J., 1994. Greek Gold. Jewellery of the Classical World, London: British Museum Press.
Bowers catalogue entry (with other beads from this collection):
Assorted gold beads
Possibly from the Wadi Bayhan
18 beads, diameter 0.7 cm, width 0.7 cm; 9.8 g weight;
173 beads and fragments, diameter c. 0.6 cm, width 0.4 cm; 46.4 g weight;
14 beads, diameter 0.8 cm, width 1.1 cm; 33.7 g weight;
6 beads, diameter 1.2 cm, width 0.7-1 cm; 7.1 g weight;
ANE 1977-2-26,19 = 136817; 1977-2-26,20 = 136818; 1977-2-26,21 = 136819; 1977-2-26,23 = 136821
Purchased from Nicholas Wright; a previous owner is said to have been the Emir of Bayhan
This group consists of a re-strung collection of gold collar beads, many in the basic form of two plain strips alternating with two rings of small granulated spheres. Some are paralleled by other gold beads published from southern and south-east Arabia suggesting that they were typical of high-class jewellery. These include pieces from the former collection of Kaiky Muncherjee (1873-1955) and a necklace excavated in the Qatabanian cemetery at Hayd ibn Aqil near Timna. Other hollow spherical beads illustrated here were made as a pair of hemispheres joined at the centre, a technique which relied on the use of a metal punch with a hemispherical tip to stamp tiny gold circles of gold to an identical diameter and depth. The same technique was also used to make 4th century gold jewellery in Greece and Lydia (south-west Turkey), although there is no evidence for a direct link between these and South Arabian craft traditions.
- On display (G53/dc1)
- 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' first exhibition of.
- Fair; some minor crushing; partial loss of one half of some beads.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Reputedly from the collection of the Sheikh of Baihan.
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number