Yemen’s historic wealth going to waste
With only 28 museums in Yemen and that with monuments dating back to the eighth century B.C. he is campaigning for new, open-air museums to really show the country’s history.
“Yemen used to be known as Arabia Felix and was said to be home to many civilizations,” said Bawazeer. “But look at us now.”
He has been managing the General Authority for several years and has traveled to almost every corner of Yemen to discover the country’s wealth of history and culture. The authority is the national body responsible for the protection and documentation of historic sites, with duties involving excavations and the restoration of landmarks.
There are currently six international excavation teams from various nations in Yemen, each working at a separate historical site. A German group has been exploring the Mareb governorate for the last 15 years and made a significant discovery when it located the Bran Temple.
“But the temple site is not open to visitors so that they may learn about its ancient history and other details of the old civilizations,” said Bawazeer.
The German team moved to Sirwah district in Mareb, where they also discovered another remarkable monument that dates back to the Sheba Kingdom. The monument consists of a lengthy piece of rock with the names of Yemeni areas engraved on it. Many names of towns have changed, but there are some that have retained their original names.
During the last two years, the German mission has been exploring the Khawlan Al-Tayaal area in Sana’a governorate, with a special focus on a promising town called Tinem.
Meanwhile, the American team has dedicated time to exploring human history in the sun and moon temples, also located in Mareb. But their work has been interrupted because of the insecurity in the region.
The French mission is based in a place called Bihseeb in the Al-Baidha governorate, but they too were forced to suspend their work for security reasons. There are, however, other French excavation missions that have worked in Hadramout, towards the east in Sharma, and in Adiat Al-Ghurf, also in Hadramout.
Another Canadian mission is working at the site of Zabeed Fort, in the Tihama area on the Red Sea where they have located very old ruins and temples.
In Zabeed an Italian mission has been excavating. It used to work in Barash in Mareb and Jawf, but had to stop – again for security reasons. The Italians have just obtained permission to explore Ghaiman in the Sana’a governorate, but the team is waiting for the current conflicts to subside before commencing.
Finally, there is a Russian team working in both archeological and historical fields in Hadramout. The team has recently moved to Socotra Island to research its history, languages and culture.
Although most of the expeditions are international in nature, a cadre of Yemenis has also been involved in much of the work. There are also national teams that are currently working at several locations.
“Our youths working in the exploration fields are keen and hardworking, but the resources available to them are minimal,” said Bawazeer, though he added: “We always have joint projects with the international teams”.
A new script was recently discovered and has been called flower calligraphy. Apparently it was used by Yemenis on simple documents and in daily work.
“We have also discovered new mummies which could tell us about Yemenis across many civilizations,” said Bawazeer.
Ruining the ruins
Unfortunately, many of Yemen’s historic monuments are subjected to theft and vandalism. Bawazeer specifically mentioned a place called Al-Masiyabi in Ibb governorate, which was viciously attacked by locals. The Social Fund for Development has constructed a fence around the site, but there remains much work to be done.
Some citizens, due to a lack of awareness and greed, destroy the monuments or rob the sites. They look for what is shiny and will destroy a whole temple for a small piece of gold.
Bawazeer mentioned that not all of the thieves are Yemeni, and that some foreigners attempt to smuggle archeological items and valuable historical pieces out of the country.
The Ministry of Culture’s Heritage and Cultural Development fund has a small budget that can be used to buy some items back from locals before placing them in museums.
Yet there is only so much the authorities can do. With corruption, a simple bribe can rob the entire nation of a part of its history. Bawazeer said that are many Yemeni historical items spread across museums and private homes around the world.
He complained that the country’s great potential is not being exploited due to a lack of resources, interest, and security.
“Yemen, the whole country, is a museum. We need an army of men to explore it. There is very little attention paid to this sector despite what it could do for Yemen, revenue- and image-wise,” he said.
There is also a lack of documentation. There are no recent statistics to show what is out there or where it is. Some monuments are not even listed in the Authority’s maps, while others have begun to fall down before being documented.
He expressed a hope that stability in Yemen would be a reality soon, and that this would attract not only tourists and exploration teams, but also lead to institutes being erected at the various sites.
“We want to study the past to know about our ancestors. Surprisingly, there is also much we can learn from them,” he said.