Only a handful of outsiders had ever been to Marib and no excavation had ever been conducted when in 1951 Imam Ahmed, King of Yemen, granted the American Foundation for the Study of Man (AFSM) permission to excavate at the Mahram Bilqis ("sanctuary of Bilqis"); Arab folklore's legendary name for the sanctuary dedicated to the ancient Sabaean Moon God and associated with the fabled Queen of Sheba mentioned in the Koran, the Bible and the Ethiopic Holy Book.
By any measure this temple is huge, ovoid in shape with a circumference of nearly one thousand feet. Adjoining it to the north is the Peristyle hall, entrance to the temple. Only once in modem times were the ancient sands removed to reveal the treasures within the Peristyle Hall and this was by the AFSM's founder and team leader, Dr. Wendell Phillips. With only the tops of eight giant pillars and part of the large ovoid wall showing above the ground, the expedition set up their headquarters at old Marib not far away from the Awwam Temple. Employing many local workers and dozens of teams of oxen, they unearthed 30 feet of sand revealing this grandiose hall with splendid bronze and alabaster sculptures. Inscriptions found by his team established the first firm ground for historical reconstruction of the region..... Picture how the monumental architecture of this great Sabaean culture must have looked centuries before, with unbelievably beautiful temples and palaces-pillared courtyards-splashing fountains--and the seductive fragrance of frankincense everywhere.
It is hard to create verbal pictures and difficult to imagine without visually seeing it, but this is just not another archaeological expedition in a remote comer of the world. This is a vibrant, fascinatingly unique country that needs not only economic assistance in many ways but guidance in preserving and exposing their culture and history. The Prime Minister of Yemen, H.E. Dr. Abdul Karim Al-Iryani, has stated that the AFSM expedition is American goodwill at its best and is a bridge for his country into the 21st century. The Governor of Marib, Dr. Saleh Somai is an active supporter of the AFSM Marib project. The examples AFSM sets by its associations and camaraderie with the local tribesmen and their leaders, demonstrates democracy in action as they lay down their jambiya knives and submachine guns for debate, negotiations and hard work. AFSM employs sixty or more local tribesmen on a daily basis at its expedition site, leases headquarters, hires drivers with cars, and purchase supplies. It provides on-site opportunities for graduate students. Tourists visit daily to the site and are shown the latest discoveries. Thus AFSM's project has a large influence on the local economy in an area where there are not many jobs available. Whether or not the results of the excavation of this monumental temple turns out to be the home of the fabled Queen of Sheba, it will still be a treasure that will have significant influence on the whole economy of Yemen by attracting the same worldwide attention as have the pyramids of Egypt and the Parthenon of Greece.