by JULIAN LUSH
This article was published in the British Yemeni Society's journal, 1998
By the late 1930s, when Europe was confronted with the probability of another war, the Middle East became an increasing focus of foreign intrigue as the European powers competed for influence in the region and Britain’s access to India was once again under threat. The impending crisis underlined Aden’s strategic importance as a naval base and bunkering port (after Italy joined Germany in June 1940 Aden became the target of attack by Italian aircraft). Despite the intimations of war, files of the period available at the Public Records Office in Kew show that senior officials in Aden continued to devote time to more parochial concerns (albeit of long term local importance) such as the assessment, recording and protection of the antiquities of Aden and its hinterland.
Sir Bernard Reilly British Resident in Aden until his appointment as Governor in 1937 (when Aden ceased to be an appendage of British India and became a Crown Colony), maintained a correspondence with G.L.M. Clauson, Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office in London, and with Clauson’s senior assistant, K.W Blaxter, which clearly demonstrates his personal interest in the antiquities of the area.
Already in 1931, a small museum exhibiting a random collection of objects had been opened by the then Resident in Aden, Sir Stewart Symes. However, this initiative was to be the subject of a highly critical report, addressed to Ormsby-Gore (Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1936-38) by a certain H. Hargreaves of the Museums Association, following his visit to Aden in October 1935. Hargreaves’ report caused Reilly and the museum’s part-time curator, J. Duncan (an employee of A. Besse & Co. and member of the Aden Settlement Board) to attempt improvements, but in correspondence with London, Reilly complained about the lack of funds and personnel in Aden with archaeological expertise. In response, Sidney Smith of the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities at the British Museum recommended the assistance of Professor C. Ryckmans, the eminent epigraphist at the University of Louvain (who had been with Philby and Lippens on an expedition in Central Arabia). Lieutenant-Colonel M.C. Lake, on the other hand, who served in various military and political capacities in Aden from 1913-1940, recommended Dr Carl Rathjens, a German geologist, who had recently excavated a site north of Sana’a with Von Wissman. Smith’s recommendation was accepted and Ryckmans visited a number of sites in the Aden Protectorate in 1937. Stewart Perowne, a government official, prepared a hand-written representation of the Himyaritic (sic) alphabet to help Ryckmans decipher inscriptions. Later, Sidney Smith forwarded to Aden Ryckmans’ report on three inscriptions from Umm ‘Adiya — a site on the Audhali plateau, east of Mukeiras, which had particularly intrigued Perowne.
It is worth noting that towards the end of 1937 Dr Gertrude Caton-Thompson and Elinor Gardner, a geologist, accompanied by Freya Stark, began the first ever systematic excavation in the Protectorate. This was of the 5th century B.C. Moon Temple of Hureidha in Wadi ‘Amd (Hadhramaut) and of adjacent tombs. Ryckmans contributed a chapter to Caton-Thompson’s report which was eventually published in 1944.
In February 1938, Perowne sent a photograph of a South Arabian bust (right) to Blaxter at the Colonial Office, commenting: ‘I was captivated by the little statue the moment I saw it. It was brought to me in my tent one morning last May I said that I could hardly expect to pay anything for a pagan ‘bint’ with a broken nose and that I was rather offended by being offered it, but then relented and as a gesture of compassion I gave the finder 10 rupees for it. It is now in the Aden museum. The lady’s name has apparently been recognised by Dr Ryckmans as that of a well-known Southern Arabian family Miss Caton-Thompson, so Duncan tells me, thought it the most beautiful statue that had yet come from Southern Arabia...’ Perowne went on to discuss Syrian-Greek influence on the region which had first been noted at Umm ‘Adiya. In a further letter to Blaxter the following year, Perowne compared the ‘museum bust’ to the ‘Kaiky beardless man — evidently a statue in the collection of Kaiky Muncherjee, a Parsee merchant in Aden who began indulging his interest in antiquities before the First World War and whose unique collection was ultimately acquired by the Aden government in the early 1960s.
Much other correspondence took place in 1938 over photographs of inscriptions and monuments in Beihan. In July Blaxter wrote to the Hon. R.A.B. Hamilton (later Lord Belhaven) about ground photographs of certain ancient sites taken by Flight Officer Currie, RAF, which the Colonial Office had recently forwarded to the British Museum. Meanwhile, Sidney Smith (of the Museum’s Egyptian and Assyrian Department) complained to Clauson (Under-Secretary at the Colonial Office) of Hamilton’s perversity in treating certain antiquities which he had found at Shabwa as his private property. However, Smith later informed Clauson that these had, in fact, been given to Lord Raglan (a man of antiquarian interests and closely associated in later years with the National Museum of Wales, who was married to Hamilton’s sister, Julia). In 1952 the antiquities were presented to the Ashmolean Museum and in 1954 WL. Brown and A.F.L. Beeston published a paper on them (Sculptures and Inscriptions of Shabwa) in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. It is clear from a letter which Blaxter wrote to Reilly in March 1939 about a discussion which he and Clauson had had in London with Duncan (visiting from Aden), that other objects which Hamilton found at Shabwa were sent to the Aden museum.
Meanwhile, Reilly proposed to Clauson that an expert should be sent out to Aden to look at Saber, a 30-acre site covered in potsherds near Imad (a few miles south of Lahej) which Perowne had investigated, and to assess the archaeological potential of several other sites. Clauson approached L.P (later Sir Lawrence) Kirwan, a friend with whom Clauson had once been on a dig at Richborough and who was then working in east Sudan and Ethiopia, to invite him to undertake the survey requested by Reilly In October 1938 Kirwan accepted, proposing that he should travel to Aden from Port Sudan the following March and spend a few days in Aden before visiting sites inland which, he said, he would examine ‘from the standpoint of a future excavator’.
Kirwan added that his mission would be greatly facilitated if the RAF could fly him to Aden and to the sites which he was due to survey. Accordingly Blaxter wrote to a Wing Commander Russell requesting that Kirwan, ‘a distinguished archaeologist’, be assisted in this way The RAF agreed and Kirwan arrived inAden on 23 March 1939. In due course he was flown to Mukeiras, staying with the young Audhali ruler at Aryab and then visiting the site of Umm ‘Adiya on the Audhali plateau. He next drove north into Wadi Beihan, pausing at Beihan al-Qasab, capital of the State of Beihan, before proceeding to Timna (right), situated on the mound known locally as Hajar al-Kohian. Returning to Aden, he visited Saber and other sites between the coast and Lahej. The photographs which he took during these visits, both of sites and of the local inhabitants, not least the dashing young Audhali Sultan, Salih bin Hussain (below), are a fascinating record of those times.
On 20 April 1939, shortly before joining the army on attachment to the Intelligence Corps, Kirwan sent Clauson a copy of his report to the Political Secretary in Aden. This made important recommendations for the terms governing archaeological excavation and for the protection of sites from looting. Kirwan also made proposals for improving the museum, in particular for the more prominent display of the ‘remarkable female portrait head showing strong Hellenistic influence’ and of objects from excavations, notably those unearthed by Hamilton at Shabwa. Kirwan deplored the fact that the ‘interesting collection of antiquities belonging to Mr Kaiky Muncherjee remained in private hands’, but he was not to know that within little more than twenty years the collection would become part of the Aden museum. Kirwan also expressed the view that antiquities collected by the government should remain in Aden and not be sent to England. In parallel with Kirwan’s recommendations, the Society of Antiquaries made a public appeal for the protection of monuments and antiquities in Aden. The outcome of these developments was the drafting and passage of the Antiquities Ordinance of 1939 which, for the first time, established a legal framework for archaeological activity and the protection of the country’s heritage. The Ordinance was to remain in force until superseded in 1962 by the establishment of a Department of Antiquities under Brian Doe as its first Director.