Field Expeditions
Mahram Bilqis Archaeological Project, Marib, Yemen (2006)
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Pillars


Dr. Phillips (right) with cast bronze statue.

The Mahram Bilqis, also known as the Awam Temple, is the largest pre-Islamic Sabaean temple in Yemen, if not the world. It was a holy place, the mecca of its day, dedicated to the Moon God, Almaqah, as revealed in the inscriptions adorning its massive wall. These South Arabic messages have been dated to the 7th century BC and can still be seen today on the unique, oval-shaped wall (75m x 112m.)

Dr. Wendell Phillips, founder of the AFSM, led the first expedition to the site with Frank P. Albright as chief archaeologist and Father Albert Jamme as epigrapher plus a world-class team of international scholars.

The size of the site was revealed by Phillips' first excavations of the Peristyle Hall as it stood guarded by the majestic eight pillars for many centuries. Hundreds of inscriptions, pottery and unique artifacts were discovered, including the commanding bronze statue, 93 cm in height, carrying the name of the warrior, Ma’adkarib, whose likeness appears on the present-day currency. The actual artifact tours museums worldwide when it is not residing in the National Museum in Sana’a. Unfortunately, this work came to a premature conclusion due to unforeseen circumstances when the team was forced to flee back to the Wadi Beihan.

The American Foundation for the Study of Man, led by its president, Merilyn Phillips Hodgson has been working at the Mahram Bilqis since 1998 after being asked by the government of Yemen to continue the work begun by her brother, Dr. Wendell Phillips. This work occurs with the cooperation of the General Organization for Antiquities and Museums in Marib, in the Republic of Yemen. Eight field seasons have been conducted as of 2005, Working with GOAM under a renewed concession agreement for the work at Mahram Bilqis. the AFSM welcomes Dr. Juris Zarins as Field Director in 2006.

A monumental excavation completely revealed the grandeur of the Peristyle Hall attracting scholars, scientists and tourists from around the world. Many of the inscriptions recorded by previous scholars were re-discovered and over 300 new ones have been found so far. Bronze plaques, limestone stele, and alabaster dedicatory messages with amazing detail, some with pristine scribe lines, have been revealed in situ, demonstrating that the Mahram Bilqis contains a massive library of inscribed material that is currently being analyzed and published by the team’s epigraphers. Their transliterations and those of earlier scholars have indicated the many construction periods associated with the various structures of the Temple uncovered to date (from the 7th century BC to 4th century AD), with many more occupational layers perhaps to reveal! Magnificent ibex friezes, bronze figurines, pottery sherds, animal bones and exquisite architectural elements are all indicators of the importance of this structure to the Sabaeans…..and an equally significant part of Yemen’s cultural heritage today.

The excavations of Area A, located to the west of the Peristyle Hall, revealed a series of rooms showing different periods of construction. The precise building stages have not yet been determined, but preliminary analysis of the architectural style combined with the dedicatory inscriptions shows there were at least eight, spanning many centuries (est. 4th BC to 3rd AD.)

Simultaneously with the excavation work, the AFSM has been preparing for the restoration and preservation of the massive limestone pillars that once adorned the interior of the Peristyle Hall. The fallen and damaged pillars were removed from the Peristyle Hall to facilitate their repair in a massive relocation effort in the fall of 2004. The detailed conservation work on the 2-9 ton columns will begin once all sample analyses have been concluded and engineering studies are completed so that the reinforced pillars will be better able to withstand the harsh conditions of the region. They will then be re-installed in the Peristyle Hall so that all visitors to this magnificent site can witness the splendor and re-live the impact of a pilgrimage to the Mahram Bilqis!

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