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This enigmatic piece depicts a seated female with striking abstract features. Though its original function is now unknown, it likely has its roots in the religious traditions of pre-Islamic Arabia, and might have been a votive offering from an individual seeking assistance or protection from the gods. A South Arabian inscription on the base retains some of its original pigment.
Sitting at the source of a wide-ranging ancient trade network, pre-Islamic South Arabia derived its vast wealth from two of the most coveted goods in ancient times, frankincense and myrrh. To reach the Mediterranean market, these were transported though the desert by camel, a journey which could take up to three months. Visited only by the most audacious of merchants, Southern Arabia remained a virtually inaccessible and semi-mythological region throughout classical antiquity.
Height: 7 1/4 inches (18.4 cm) or 8 1/2 inches (21.6 cm) on base
Width: 3 inches (7.6 cm) or 4 inches (10.2 cm) on base
Sotheby's, London, 26 April 1996 (lot 100, Colonnade sale of Antiquities, Oriental and Islamic art)
A Sabaean alabaster fragment in lot 103 of the same sale and presumably from the same source was bought by the British Museum.
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