Editor: Jérémie Schiettecatte
|Geographical area||wādī Yalā|
|Coordinates||Latitude: 15° 13' 16.6" Longitude: 45° 09' 40.2"|
|Type of site||Settlement|
Light hydraulic structure (ex. canal, well)
Plot of cultivated land
Natural place of worship
|Location and toponomy||Yalâ, also called al-Durayb, is located 100 km to the east of Sanaa and 30 km to the south-west of Maʾrib. The site occupies a small plain delimited by a relief that protects it from the desert to the east, by a granitic cliff to the west, and by a gneiss massif to the south. The site is on the right bank of the wâdî Yalâ, an affluent of wâdî Dhana.|
According to inscription Y.85.Y/3 = Ir 48, the ancient name of the site was Ḥafaray (Ḥfry).
|History of research||1985: Italian archaeological mission in the Yemen Arab Republic (MAIRAY): discovery of the site of Yalâ in July 1985 while exploring the wâdî Yalâ. The mission was followed by two surveys of the area (mapping of the structures and of the surroundings) in August and September 1985.|
1987: excavations by MAIRAY
|General description||The site is a triangular fortified establishment 230 m long and 170 m wide, with an intra muros surface of 2,3 ha. It forms a mound of soil 7 to 8 m high that corresponds to the accumulation of three successive occupations. 2/3 of the site form a high city that dominates the other part of the city lying several metres below. The high city includes about 20 small mounds, remains of buildings, that form an irregular oval around an empty area. These juxtaposed buildings must have formed a first defensive system.|
A second defensive system was successively set up, constituting an autonomous rampart, with 2/3 of its original design being preserved (580 m). The rampart encircled the high city, continuing over its edge for about 50 m northbound. Bastions were built at regular intervals. Inscription Y.85.Y/3 = Ir 48 recalls the construction of the rampart. According to the palaeography, the text could be dated around the end of the 7th century BC.
No cultic area is known on the site apart from an open-air sanctuary discovered in the gorge created by an affluent, the Shiʿb al-ʿAql, about 2.5 km far from the city. The activity of this rock sanctuary dates to the 8th-9th centuries BC.
2 km from Yalâ, near the village of al-Jafna, a dam 2 to 6 m thick and 350 m long deviated the course of the wâdî Qawqa, which should have normally flowed towards the wâdî Dhana, in order to reach the wâdî Yalâ.
|Chronology||The site of Yalâ presented a relentless development from the end of the 2nd millennium BC to the end of the period of the mukarribs of Sabaʾ (6th cent. BC). The site initially constituted a small borough formed by strong buildings close to one another over an area of 1.5 ha. Around the 7th century BC, the site was surrounded by an independent rampart. The site was abandoned in the 6th century BC according to one of two possible hypotheses: |
1) the collapse of the dam, that deviated the water of the wâdî Qawqa towards the wâdî Yalâ,
2) a military destruction of the city, as suggested by a hint of a fire in the most recent levels.
Such chronology is based on the excavation of the inhabited area. Under this stratum three levels of earlier occupations were found, which correspond to three phases of the formation of the tell where the high city stands. Carbon-14 dating suggested the following chronological ranges for the end of the occupation phases:
- Phase A (destruction of the house): 810-600 BC ;
- Phase B: 1050-830 BC ;
- Phase C: 1400-1000 BC.
The findings seem to confirm these dates:
- Phase A in the 8th-7th centuries BC
- Phases B and C in the 11th-9th centuries BC.
The development of the site follows the development of writing; firstly with the presence of written sherds dated to the proto South Arabian period, then with some graffiti and monumental inscriptions during the initial phase of the ancient South Arabian period. Together with this evolution, the local populations integrated themselves into a growing structure that was to become the tribes’ confederation under the authority of the mukarribs of Sabaʾ. The mukarribs make of the region a place of an important rite for the unity of Sabaeans: the ritual hunting.
The hunt was celebrated in the inscription on the rock sanctuary close to Shiʿb al-ʿAql.
|The importance of the site lays in the archaic nature of the ruins, which was promptly detected by a surface investigation (typology of the ceramic ware, palaeography of the inscriptions and building technique). Moreover, the site seemed to have been abandoned in a very ancient phase as well. This permitted for the first time to enlightening the most ancient Sabaean phase and also evidencing a continuity with the proto-historic populations of the Late Bronze Age. |
The city walls encircle a settlement of 230 x 170 m of triangular shape. The site revealed three archaeological levels of 7-8 m high. The most ancient ring of the walls was realized by the conjunction of the more external structures, while an independent defensive wall was erected in a later phase. The three phases has been dated according to the C14 analysis, giving the following results: A – 810-600 BC, B – 1050-830 BC, C – 1400-1000 BC.
A domestic structure was excavated in the eastern sector inside the city walls (House A). This comprises six rooms opening onto a street. A staircase suggested that the house had an upper floor as well. The dwelling was abandoned after a fire, which also caused its collapse, and the C14 analysis suggested that this did happen in the 8th – 7th century BC. Among the potsherds there was the typical Ancient Sabaean Carinated pottery, but also some inscribed fragments and this, given the very high dating suggested by the scientific analysis, ended the long debate about South Arabian chronology and conclusively confirmed that the Long Chronology was to be preferred to the Short one, thus confirming the data of the American excavations of the Fifties to the detriment of Pirenne's theory (cf. Hajar ibn Ḥumayd).
At 2.5 km from the site of Yalā, at the gorge of Shiʿb al-ʿAql, some natural cisterns and little walled structures and stairs, together with several inscriptions, revealed an ancient site where the sacral hunt was performed. To this ritual some of the most ancient Sabaean mukarribs and members of the royal family were engaged (viz. Yathaʿʾmar Bayyīn son of Sumhuʿalī and Karibʾīl Watār son of Dhamarʿalī). This activity was thus contemporary with the last phase of the site.
The village of al-Jafna clarified on the other hand the economic background in which the settlement flourished. The abundance of water permitted an extensive agricultural exploitation of the area. Some twenty structures with storehouses along the cultivated area have been detected. According to the pottery collected, the life of this site was contemporary with that of the main centre of Yalā.
The end of the whole settlement was violent (fire) and probably abrupt, but the more solid structure of the city walls, erected in the 7th – 6th centuries BC, testifies that this was not unexpected since security needed to be strengthened. The real causes of its destruction and later abandonment have not yet been fully clarified. (A. Agostini)
Objects in CSAI
|Antonini 1996: 143-163||Antonini, Sabina 1996. Una tavoletta-portafortuna in terracotta dagli scavi di Yalā/ad-Durayb (repubblica dello Yemen). Pages 143-163 in Christian J. Robin and Iwona Gajda (eds). Arabia Antiqua. Early Origins of South Arabian States. Proceedings of the First International Conference on the Conservation and Exploitation of the Archaeological Heritage of the Arabian Peninsula held in the Palazzo Brancaccio, Rome, by IsMEO on 28th-30th May 1991. Rome: Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. |
|Breton 1991: 61, 68-71||Breton, Jean-François 1991. A propos de Naǧrân. Pages 59-85 in Études sud-arabes. Recueil offert à Jacques Ryckmans. (Publications de l'Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, 39). Louvain-La-Neuve: Université Catholique de Louvain, Institut Orientaliste. |
|Breton 1994 c: 84-86, 151-152||Breton, Jean-François 1994. Les fortifications d'Arabie méridionale du 7e au 1er siècle avant notre ère. (Archäologische Berichte aus dem Yemen, 8). Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern. |
|Edens and Wilkinson 1998: 93||Edens, Christopher and Wilkinson, Tony J. 1998. Southwest Arabia during the Holocene: recent archaeological developments. Journal of World Prehistory, 12/1: 55-119. |
|Fedele 2009||Fedele, Francesco G. 2009. Sabaean animal economy and household consumption at Yalā, eastern Khawlān al-Ṭiyāl, Yemen. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 39: 135-154. |
|Garbini 1988: 21-40||Garbini, Giovanni 1988. The inscriptions of Si'b al-'Aql, Al-Gafnah and Yala/Ad-Durayb. Pages 21-40 in Alessandro de Maigret (ed.). The Sabaean archaeological complex in the Wādī Yalā (Eastern Hawlān at-Tiyāl, Yemen Arab Republic). A preliminary report. (Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. Centro studi e scavi archeologici. Reports and memoirs, 21). Rome: IsMEO. |
|Garbini 1992||Garbini, Giovanni 1992. Le iscrizioni su ceramica da ad-Durayb - Yala. Yemen. Studi archeologici, storici e filologici sull'Arabia meridionale, 1: 79-91. [Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. Periodicità non determinata]|
|Loreto 2009||Loreto, Romolo 2009. House and household: a contextual approach to the study of South Arabian domestic architecture. A case study from seventh- to sixth-century BC Yala/ad-Durayb. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 39: 255-269. |
|Loreto 2011: 65-70, 229-289||Loreto, Romolo 2011. L’architettura domestica e i Palazzi Reali di epoca sud arabica nello Yemen pre-islamico (VII sec. a.C. – VI sec. d.C.). With foreword by Alessandro de Maigret. (Collana di Ateneo Dissertationes, 7). Naples: Università degli studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”. |
|de Maigret 1988 a||de Maigret, Alessandro (ed.) 1988. The Sabaean archaeological complex in the Wādī Yalā (Eastern Hawlān at-Tiyāl, Yemen Arab Republic). A preliminary report. (Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. Centro studi e scavi archeologici. Reports and memoirs, 21). Rome: IsMEO. |
|de Maigret 1997 c||de Maigret, Alessandro 1997. L’aube de l’histoire dans le Yémen intérieur. Pages 50-51 in Christian J. Robin and Burkhard Vogt (eds). Yémen, au pays de la reine de Saba. Exposition présentée à l'Institut du monde arabe du 25 octobre 1997 au 28 février 1998. Paris: Flammarion, Institut du Monde Arabe. |
|de Maigret 2002: 173-184, 273-285||de Maigret, Alessandro 2002. Arabia Felix. An exploration of the Archaeological history of Yemen. London: Stacey International. |
|de Maigret 2003: 89-96; 217-244||de Maigret, Alessandro 2003. La ceramica sabea. Specificità e sviluppi da uno studio delle forme. Arabia. Revue de Sabéologie, 1: 89-96. |
|de Maigret et al. 1985||de Maigret, Alessandro, Bulgarelli, Grazia Maria, Costantini, Lorenzo, Cuneo, P., Fedele, Francesco G., Francaviglia, Vincenzo M., Marcolongo, Bruno, Palmieri, Alba, Scerrato, Umberto, Tosi, Maurizio and Ventrone, G. 1985. Archaeological activities in the Yemen Arab Republic. East and West, 35: 344-352. |
|de Maigret and Robin 1989: 280-291||de Maigret, Alessandro and Robin, Christian J. 1989. Les fouilles italiennes de Yalâ (Yémen du Nord): nouvelles données sur la chronologie de l'Arabie du Sud préislamique. Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres: 255-291. |
|Robin 1990 a||Robin, Christian J. 1990. Review of de Maigret, Alessandro (ed.) 1988. The Sabaean archaeological complex in the Wādī Yalā (Eastern Hawlān at-Tiyāl, Yemen Arab Republic). A preliminary report. (Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. Centro studi e scavi archeologici. Reports and memoirs, 21). Rome: IsMEO. Bulletin critique des Annales Islamologiques, 7: 176-179. |
|Schiettecatte 2011: 125-127||Schiettecatte, Jérémie 2011. D'Aden à Zafar. Villes d'Arabie du Sud préislamique. (Orient et Méditerranée, 6). Paris: de Boccard. |