At a Suffolk market auction a few years
ago, Mrs Elizabeth Fitzpatrick spotted, and successfully bid for, a folio of pencil
sketches (on board) of monuments in Marib and Timna. The sketches intrigued her because
she had visited both places during a tour of Yemen. Earlier this year she consulted a
member of the Society, Merilyn Hywel-Jones, about the pictures with a view to establishing
their approximate date and the identity of the artist, whose signature she had been unable
The folio included seven drawings of Marib: various parts of the Temple of
Awwam (Mahram Bilqis), the Temple of Baraam [Baraan], the Marib Dam and the
modern town; two drawings of Timna (Beihan): the Temple of Athtar and the
South Gate; and one of the mound at Hajr bin Humaid nearby. (Unconnected, but by the same
artist was a particularly fine sketch of St Catherines Monastery, Sinai.) Four of
the Marib drawings are reproduced with this note by kind permission of Mrs Fitzpatrick.
As the sketches appeared to have been done while excavations were under way at both
sites, Merilyn Hywel-Jones thought it likely that they dated from the first major
archaeological expedition to South Arabia in 1950-52, sponsored by the American foundation
for the Study of Man (AFSM) and led by Wendell Phillips. The expedition spent its first
and second seasons in Beihan, and its third, ill-fated season (July 1951-February 1952) in
Marib; no further scientific excavation took place in Marib until the 1980s. The story of
how Wendell Phillips obtained permission from the Imam to dig at Marib, of the
expeditions difficulties there and dramatic flight across the border to Beihan, is
told in Phillips book, Qataban and Sheba (1955); the team were forced to
abandon most of their finds and personal belongings but managed to take with them their
field notebooks, site plans and photographs. Carl Phillips included an assessment of the
importance of the AFSMs work in his article Archaeological
Research in Yemen, published in the BYSJ Vol.4, 1996.
A curious fact to emerge from examining the illustrations in Qataban and Sheba is
that all the sketches, including that of St Catherines Monastery, closely match
photographs in the book; indeed several of them include figures of labourers/soldiers
shown in the photographs. This suggests that the sketches were drawn from the photographs.
But they were clearly drawn by someone with a trained eye and practised hand, and it seems
probable that the artist was involved in some capacity with the expedition and that the
drawings were done soon after the photographs were taken i.e. in the early 1950s.
Discoloration of the white board on which the sketches were drawn reinforces this
The next question to address was the identity of the artist. Each
drawing bears the artists signature, with a descriptive note on the back as shown in
Fig. 1. It is possible that the signature is formed from two initials: 0
followed by an elaborated R or K and a terminal flourish, but this
reading is only tentative. The AFSM expeditions Field Staff included a certain
Octave (Ocky) Romaine who participated as photographer in their first season
in Beihan. He also accompanied Wendell Phillips on a visit to St Catherines
Monastery, Sinai (where the AFSM also had a project) in 1951, but there is no evidence in Qataban
and Sheba that he visited Marib. If any reader has any thoughts on the identity of the
artist, please write and let us know.
The provenance of the folio and how it found its way to an English country sale-room
remains a mystery; several years have elapsed since the auction took place and details of
the vendor are no longer available.