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South Arabian Stone Stele

Ancient South Arabia, Yemen, Kingdom of Qataban, ca. 1st millennium BCE. A pale-brown limestone funerary slab carved into a high-relief stele with an abstract face presenting a triangular nose, wide almond-shaped eyes, a petite mouth, a prominent brow ridge, well-groomed eyebrows, and the suggestion of a crown or headdress. Unusually for these stelai, this example also has ears. At one time, this figure would have had inset eyes with pupils made of shell or some other soft material. The full stele would have had an inscription in the ancient Yemeni alphabet. Size: 6.9" W x 8.75" H (17.5 cm x 22.2 cm); 11.25" H (28.6 cm) on included custom stand.

The deceased in this part of the world were often represented by anthropomorphic funerary stelae like this one; however, the face is highly stylized and it is doubtful that this is a portrait of a known individual. They have been found in three areas, one of which was the cemetery at Tamna, the capital city of Qataban. The Kingdom of Qataban rose to prominence in the second half of the 1st millennium BCE, because it controlled the trade in frankincense and myrrh, incenses required to be burned at altars during religious rituals further north and west. A haunting and rare artifact, certain to spark conversation, and a reminder of the deeper history of the Middle East.

Condition: Piece is a fragment of a larger stele. Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age, and losses to upper edge and lower part of the stele.

Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection

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