Pre-Islamic Art from Saudi Arabia
What is ancient Italian glass doing in the southern Arabian desert, how did Roman hair fashion look under date palms, and why were ancient Egyptian art styles found beside West Iranian ceramics at Arabian caravan stations? The exhibition "Roads of Arabia", currently on show in Berlin, Germany, presents spectacular artefacts from prehistory and early history, as well as from ancient Saudi Arabia: This pre-Islamic archaeological heritage, long blanketed by sandstorms and eradicated from the collective memory of the "motherland of Islam", has been the subject of research by Saudi universities, in cooperation with international colleagues. Qantara.de presents some of the most unique exhibits in this slide show.
The exhibition "Road of Arabia" in Berlin's Pergamon Museum displays many of Saudi Arabia's rich artistic treasures. The earliest examples date back to the fourth century BCE. These human-like stone figures, from that era, seem surprisingly modern.
The exhibition is arranged chronologically. In addition to prehistoric arrows, visitors can discover artefacts from ancient caravan cities. Pictured is a lion's head from the second century CE from Najran in south-western Saudi Arabia.
In very conservative parts of the Muslim country, the period before the revelation to Mohammed is considered a time of ignorance, barbarism and polytheism. The exhibition focuses mainly on this period.
This statue of the Greek hero Heracles most likely dates back to the first century CE. The exhibits in "Roads of Arabia" reveal that artistic exchange occurred between regions. Although most of the items are on loan from Saudi Arabian museums, about 80 pieces were already in Berlin.
Several pieces in the Berlin exhibition come from Qaryat al-Faw, once a significant city for trade in ancient Saudi Arabia. It was located at the intersection of major trading routes that passed from South Arabia to the North-east for thousands of years. The pieces testify to the region's close proximity to the Mediterranean region.
The "Door of the Kaaba" leads into Islam's most sacred place, the Kaaba. This solid silver door with floral ornamentation and calligraphy, stems from the Ottoman period and was replaced during renovation work on the Kaaba.
This detailed death mask made of pure gold, dates from the first century BCE. By showing these treasures, Berlin's Museum for Islamic Art aims to support the national Saudi Department for Antiquities, which looks after archaeological sites and, more recently, began systematically supervising digs.
The exhibition "Roads of Arabia" is considered significant as it is the first time Saudi Arabia has presented such a vast array of artworks from its pre-Islamic history. However the exhibition will not be shown in Islamic countries.