This stone is a funerary slab written in the oldest known use of Arabic script (Southern Arabic) and dates to about the late 1st millennium BCE. The stone was found at the Qaryat al-Faw site in Saudi Arabia, the location of one of the most prosperous cities along the trade routes.
What makes it unusual is that the inscription asks for the help of several deities to guard against the desecration of the family grave.
This stone is part of the Roads of Arabia exhibit currently going on through January 18, 2015, at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Roads of Arabia showcases the art, culture, languages, and religious influences that passed through the Saudi Arabian peninsula via the historic trade and pilgrimage routes, before Islam became the predominant religion.
Influences came from Yemen, Iraq, and the Mediterranean and are easily seen in the various relics on display. What completely took my breath away was the sheer number of items referencing the existence of various deities–items I honestly did not think existed anymore, given the country’s general tendency to destroy archeological artifacts and sites.
This exhibit is truly a rare, multi-cultural peek at what life and culture was like once upon a time in what is still, one of the harshest environments of the world.
I want to express a special thanks to the Asian Art Museum for providing me with photos of the exhibit. My initial disappointment at not being able to photograph the funeral headstones and markings quickly faded when, after I explained that the BTG readers would probably be very interested in seeing these relics, they so graciously provided me with a terrific press kit.
There are a couple more neat photos I’m going to post after this, with a very special, longer article to come in December.