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Past to Present

Soldiers search evidences after a roadside blast targeted an army bus in Sanaa, Yemen, on May 5, 2014 //Photo Xinhua

Yemen has enjoyed a long history of independence. No one has ever succeeded in conquering all of Yemen, an inaccessible, mountainous country populated by independent-minded tribes.

Yemenis themselves speak of before and after the beginning of the Yemen’s history. By ‘before history’, Yemenis mean the impressive pre-Islamic civilizations, some of the earliest in history. They represent a rich source for archaeologists, linguists, and students of religion alike. In Yemen, this era instils a sense of pride – albeit an uneasy pride, because the ancient peoples were un-Islamic in habits and customs.

As a result, and because Yemen has very few academic scholars, it is mostly foreign academics and researchers who conduct research on these ancient civilizations. These pre-Islamic sites are often inadequately maintained. The columns of the temple of Bilqis, for instance, are covered in graffiti and carvings of modern names.

A further complication is the location of the sites: these are found mainly in tribal territory, which is seldom controlled by the government. Consequently, researchers must often spend long hours negotiating with tribal leaders before and after excavations.