digital archive for the study of pre-islamic arabian inscriptions

Editor: Jérémie Schiettecatte

General view.
de Maigret 1996: pl. V


Ancient nameḤfry
Geographical areawādī Yalā
CoordinatesLatitude: 15° 13' 16.6"    Longitude: 45° 09' 40.2"    
Coordinates accuracycertain
Type of siteSettlement
StructuresDwelling (indeterminate)
Dwelling (concentrated)
Light hydraulic structure (ex. canal, well)
Plot of cultivated land
Natural place of worship
Paved road
Rock inscriptions
Location and toponomyYalâ, 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 research1985: 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 descriptionThe 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.
ChronologyThe 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.


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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)


Epigraphs in CSAI
Objects in CSAI


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de Maigret 2003: 89-96; 217-244de 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. 1985de 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.
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