Middle East, South Arabia, Qatabanian culture, ca. 3rd century BCE to 1st century CE. A striking pale brown limestone slab, a high-relief stele, with a carved abstract face with a triangular nose, deep set oval eyes, a small mouth, prominent brow ridge and well-groomed eyebrows, and the suggestion of a crown or headdress. One of the eyes is still inlaid with white shell (as they both would have been), giving the face a wide-eyed stare. Ears are carved in relief against the sides. At one time, there would have been a lower section incised with a memorial text. Size: 6.9" W x 6.75" H (17.5 cm x 17.1 cm); 8.5" H (21.6 cm) on included custom stand.
The deceased in this part of the world were often represented by anthropomorphic funerary stelae like this one; however, the face is highly stylized and it is doubtful that this is a portrait of a known individual. They have been found in three areas, one of which was the cemetery at Tamna, the capital city of Qataban. The Kingdom of Qataban rose to prominence in the second half of the 1st millennium BCE because it controlled the trade in frankincense and myrrh, incenses required to be burned at altars during religious rituals further north and west. A haunting and quite unique object, certain to spark conversation, and a reminder of the deeper history of the Middle East.
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection; ex-Palmyra Heritage Gallery; ex-William Froelich collection, New York, USA, acquired in the 1970s
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This is a fragment of a larger piece as shown, with the face preserved in nice condition and one of the inlaid shell eyes remaining. Small loss to the edge of the shell eye. Wear and weathering on the surface commensurate with age.