Al-Mahwit's Buried Secrets

Vandalism and neglect affect its monuments and archaeological and historical sites
Souad Taher
November 20, 2023

Al-Mahwit's Buried Secrets

Vandalism and neglect affect its monuments and archaeological and historical sites
Souad Taher
November 20, 2023

For a moment, a visitor to Al-Mahwit governorate may imagine that he is embracing the green nature intertwined with its diverse terrain due to its picturesque beauty, making it a distinctive tourist destination. At the same time, visiting it does not mean only relaxing and enjoying its charm; it forces you to enter an open museum that contains in its natural surroundings many antiquities and landmarks that refer to the ancient and medieval Yemeni civilization, as this indicated by successive discoveries that showed the Yemenis practicing the art of mummifying the dead like the Pharaohs.

Al-Mahwit is one of the most prominent Yemeni governorates that contains a large number of rock tombs and mummies, and for this reason, archaeologists and discoverers call it the Tomb of the Kings because there are approximately 300 rock tombs and dozens of historical archaeological sites spread across its different regions. It also contains mummified bodies dating back to the Stone Age and BC periods. This ancient and important history is unknown to its people, and they do not know its true value, so it has become vulnerable to tampering and destruction.

According to the archaeological field surveys carried out by the General Authority of Antiquities during the period from 1998 to 2002, there are more than 700 important archaeological sites and monuments, including the rock tombs at Shibam Kawkaban, Al-Mahwit, Al Rajum, Milhan, Hufash, Bani Saad, and Al-Tawilah.

In addition to the Al-Khabt District, which contains many antiquities that have not yet been disclosed. This is what was stated by the people of the region, when they found antiquities indicating the existence of life before them thousands of years ago, including antiques, household utensils, skeletons, and mummies, in addition to ornaments and some metals, such as granite, marble, copper, and also gold, which the official authorities did not pay attention to.

Besides, there are also many historical, archaeological, and natural monuments in various areas of the governorate, which are today tourist attractions that distinguish the governorate from others. Among these landmarks are Masiya Mosque, Radman Fortress, Kawkaban, Bakr Qout Himyar, Shamsan Fortress, Jabal Al-Tibs, Al-Riyadi, Al-Masana'a, Al-Qalaf Waterfall Ma’shaqa, Al-Shahadhiyah Dome, Anqas Cave, and other landmarks that make it one of the most important tourist governorates in Yemen. However, all of the above-mentioned landmarks need restoration and maintenance because of the human and natural encroachments they were subjected to, which led to the distortion and destruction of most of them.

In this regard, the specialist in the field of archaeology, Dr. Mohammed Yahya, tells “Khuyut” that this governorate is ancient, according to Al-Hamdani’s books and other historical books and references. In addition to the antiquities it contains, most of which have not been uncovered until today; every region and place in the governorate contains many secrets that are still buried under the rubble.

Ancient rock-cut tombs in Al-Mahwit

Tampering with Archaeological Sites

Al-Mahwit Governorate is divided into nine districts. Each one occupies a center because it contains historical monuments that indicate its antiquity. However, there is still limited awareness among the residents of these areas about how to deal with these collectibles. They believe that they are just rocks and useless collectibles, and some of them keep them for themselves without the knowledge of others. Therefore, it is necessary to spread awareness of the importance of this historical heritage throughout the region, which is rich in antiquities. Hence, the name of the land of Himyar did not come from nowhere.

Additionally, the director of the Antiquities Office in the governorate said, in a previous interview, that the discovered tombs were dug in the form of rectangular openings at the top of the high mountains, and they open inward wider and are in the form of one room. Their dimensions may reach 3 meters, and their area is close to one and a half meters.

It is noteworthy that the discovery of rock tombs for the first time in Yemen was in 1983 in the Shibam Al-Gharas area, in Bani Hushaish in Sana'a, while the first mummies and rock tombs were discovered in Al-Mahwit in 1993, in the Al-Ahjur area, where people discovered them, and some of them were exposed to tampering.

These tombs represented an important discovery for those interested in the affairs of ancient human civilizations. In previous years, Dutch, French, and other foreign missions conducted archaeological surveys of these tombs and studied them, leading to the conclusion that these tombs are very old and of great historical value, and therefore this is what made them call Al-Mahwit, the "Tombs of Kings".

Yemen's mummified bodies in Al-Mahwit

Buried Secrets

It is common for historians that Al-Mahwit governorate is not considered one of Yemen's historical and archaeological settlements and that there were no kings in it, and for this, it is assumed that the tombs are only in Marib, Hadhramaut, and Al-Jawf. However, the discovered tombs of Al-Mahwit proved that it was a historical settlement that knew mummification in a way no less than the level of the Pharaohs. Accordingly, this is evidence of the civilization of Yemen, and perhaps the Yemenis may also have known mummification much earlier than the third century BC.

For his part, Arif Saeed, a researcher who is interested in history, says to “Khuyut” that Al-Mahwit is like other Yemeni governorates that are considered historical and archaeological areas. However, the problem is that they are still raw areas that have not been discovered in the required way that documents them and highlights their components, in conjunction with the interest of public authorities in their landmarks by preserving and documenting them within the framework of a broad plan and programs, and in cooperation with the authorities responsible for the tourism sector and making them a focus of attention and attraction for visitors within the framework of the development of domestic tourism, and then at the level of interest in foreign tourism.

On the other hand, Al-Mahwit is considered one of the ancient areas in which many antiques, monuments, and tombs dating back to different times in Yemen’s history were found. The mountains of Hufash and Milhan, with their rock tombs, represent a prominent point in this legacy. The first was a fortress that prevented the progress of the Aksumite (Al-Ahbash) advance in their invasion of Yemen, and this prevention also contributed to its liberation later. Likewise, Wadi La'a, which separates Al-Mahwit from Hajjah governorate, is a prominent landmark inhabited by ancient tribes in the Arabian Peninsula whose origins go back to Yemen's ancient kings and the Himyarite Kingdom. Likewise, the difference in the dialects of the governorate between each district and village is evidence of this great diversity. It is always, in one way or another, referred to as Al-Mahwit land, or as it is called the land of Himyar, as mentioned in some ancient history books and manuscripts.

Al-Mahwit is a divine painting and a tourist marvel, painted with divine creativity. It is a tourist treasure that has not yet been properly exploited, and it is an open museum whose many sights should be preserved.

Souad Taher

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