region situated on the internal slope of the Yemenite mountains, southeast of Yemen's capital, San῾a. It occupies approximately the northwest sector of the basin of Wadi Dhanah (15°00′–15°15′N,44°30′–45°00′E). This great watershed area, which the ancient Sabeans once closed with a dike near their capital, Marib (see below), drains into the desert to the east.

The name Khawlan is very ancient and comes from the name of a Himyarite tribe that occupied the region in the pre-Islamic era (first-second centuries CE). The appellation is derived from the high mountain (Jabal Ṭiyal, about 3,500 m high) dominating the chain that delimits the region on the north; the name distinguishes it from Khawlan bin ῾Amir, located farther north, near the city of Ṣa῾dah. The region is sparsely populated today, and the few villages (al-Kibs, Jihanah, ῾Asal, Banī Sulayḥ, aḍ-Ḍayq, al-Watadah) are distributed along the alluvial valleys (Wadi Miswar, Wadi Ḥababiḍ, Wadi ῾Aṭfah, Wadi Shirwab), cutting into the bare hills of Precambrian granite that slopes toward the desert.

Except for the brief exploratory voyage made by Eduard Glaser at the end of the 1800s, no archaeological research had been done in the area prior to the beginning of the reconnaissance surveys carried out by the Italian Archaeological Mission in 1981.

In addition to a series of extensive Mousterian (Middle Paleolithic) workshops in Wadi Ḥababiḍ that produced flint tools, numerous Neolithic settlements characterized by isolated oval houses and by a sophisticated stone-working industry have been discovered. Several excavations conducted at site 3 in Wadi ath-Thayyilah (1984–1986) have given proof of the beginning of domestication. They have allowed the hypothetical reconstruction of the methods of exploiting resources that were used by the first sedentary Yemenites from about 5000 to 3500 BCE, in an environment more humid than the present one.

The reconnaissance surveys also led to the discovery—for the first time on the southern Arabian Peninsula—of a Bronze Age, datable to the third–second millennium. More than fifty sites from this period were discovered between 1981 and 1985 in the regions of A῾rush and Suhman (western Khawlan) and Jabal A῾mas (al-Ḥada). The data from the explorations and from the excavations conducted in four of the principal settlements (Wadi Yana῾im, Wadi Najid el-Abyaḍ, al-Masannah, ar-Raqlah) offer a quite clear picture of the culture that preceded the Sabaeans.

Khawlan aṭ-ṭiyal

KHAWLAN Aṭ-ṭIYAL. Figure I. Axonometric plan of loci 1–5, Wadi Yana῾im. (Courtesy A. de Maigret)

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This picture shows agricultural villages with oval houses centered around areas of common activity (see figure 1). Raised mud walls were perched on foundations of unworked blocks, and central pilasters supported the ceilings. Excavation led to the discovery of stone utensils, objects of bronze and semiprecious stones, grinding stones, pestles, and an abundance of animal bones on ceramic tile floors. The examination of seeds found in the clay of the tiles and of the bones show that the inhabitants cultivated millet, wheat, and barley and raised cattle, sheep, and pigs.

The ceramic ware, which shows evident parallels with Early Bronze Age Syrian-Palestinian wares, is clearly different from that of the following Sabaean period. It may suggest that the origins of the kingdoms of the southern Arabian Peninsula are to be found outside Yemen.

Paleoenvironmental studies have demonstrated that Bronze Age culture came to an end (at least in this area) toward the middle of the second millennium: the geohydrologic equilibrium upon which the economic success of these agricultural communities was based entered into a period of crisis. A drier, more irregular climate ensued, and the Khawlan, now traversed by more ephemeral and violent streams of water, was abandoned. Human occupation shifted toward the desert border to the east and began to be integrated into the emerging Sabaean culture. At that time, imposing hydraulic works were developed that were able to manage the irregular quantities of water coming from the mountains, and large stretches of the desert were cultivated with very intricate systems of irrigation. The dike at Marib is only the largest example of such new technology. [See Hydraulics.]

Thus, in the Sabaean period, only the most eastern part of the Khawlan was occupied. This was demonstrated by the Italian mission's discovery in 1985 of a large archaic Sabaean city (ancient Ḥafary) in Wadi Yala, about 30 km (19 mi.) southwest of Marib. A brief excavation conducted there in 1987 made it possible to ascertain that the city was first founded in the thirteenth-twelfth centuries BCE. Such a date should probably be assumed to mark the beginning of Sabaean culture in Yemen and the point of transition between prehistory and history in Khawlan and on the southern Arabian Peninsula.

[See also Marib.]


  • Maigret, Alessandro de. “A Bronze Age for Southern Arabia.” East and West 34 (1984): 75–106.
  • Maigret, Alessandro de, ed. The Sabaean Archaeological Complex in the Wādī Yalā (Eastern Ḥawlān aṭ-Ṭiyal-Yemen Arab Republic): A Preliminary Report. Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Centro Studi e Scavi Archeologici in Asia, Reports and Memoirs, 21. Rome, 1988.
  • Maigret, Alessandro de. The Bronze Age Culture of Ḥawlān aṭ-Ṭiyal and al-Ḥadā (Republic of Yemen). Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, Centro Studi e Scavi Archeologici in Asia, Reports and Memoirs, 24. Rome, 1990.
  • Müller, David H., and Nicolaus Rhodokanakis, eds. Eduard Glasers Reise nach Mārib. Sammlung Eduard Glaser, 1 Vienna, 1913.

Alessandro de Maigret

Translated from Italian by Susan I. Schiedel