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Arabian-bronze-hand

Arabian bronze hand was presented as an offering to the God Ta'lab Riyam in Ancient South Arabia during the 2nd-3rd century CE. The artifact was discovered in what is now the country of Yemen. From the collection of the British Museum.

Brief IdentificationEdit

This life sized Bronze hand was discovered in a temple in the Ancient Arabian city of Zafar and is dated to approximately the 2nd-3rd CE. The inscription placed on the artifact indicates that it was offered to the lunar deity, Ta'lab . The hand is most likely molded from the presenter's hand, Wahab Ta'lab. Sharing of the name as the Arabian pagan deity indicated that Wahab Ta'lab was of prestigious standing. The text placed directly on the bronze hand describes a plea for "well-being" to Ta'lab, the pagan Moon God.

The realistically modeled gift to the deity comes from the time when the Himyarites (110 BCE-520s CE) held power over southern Arabia. This bronze hand represents the last remains of paganism with the rise of Judaism and Christianity, and the eventual conversion to Islam in the region. The hand was rediscovered in the country of Yemen in 1983. The Bronze hand now rests in the Ancient South Arabia collection located in Room 53 of the British Museum .

Technical EvaluationEdit

The craftsmanship of the Bronze Hand shows the ability to create uncanny representations of body parts with the technique of using plaster or wax models. Other plaster casts of hands exist, while the Bronze Hand's inscription is the first of its kind to be discovered. As St. John Simpson points out, "The right hand is traditionally regarded as a powerful symbol of good fortune and thus is not only depicted as trophies."[See Simpson 2002, 36] This explains the importance of the material and offering to Ta'lab for the benefit of Wahab Ta'lab. The gift is personalized by the possibility that the Bronze hand was in fact the actual cast of Wahab Ta'lab.

The Bronze Hand has many distinct features that continue to intrigue observers with the human likeness attributable to it and some of the more odd qualities. With the height being 11.5 cm, depth of 2.6 cm, and the width at 11cm, the hand is very similar to the size of a human hand. One of the more odd features is the shape of the irregular finger joints. Cheltenham General' s Orthopedic and Hand Surgeon, Jeremy Fields , commented on the strange formation of the fingers by saying, "...the major thing is the fact that the thumb is quite longer and that there appears to be a cascade of the metacrpophalangeal joints, starting with the slightly shorter index one, the slightly longer middle one and then the slightly shorter ring one and an even shorter little one."

The use of Bronze was not rare at the time of the Hand's crafting. With the creation of this offering occurring around 2 CE- 3 CE, the material was widely used after the Arabian Bronze Age . The technology had been around prevalent from the 2nd millennium BCE and the smelting of copper traces back to the 5th millennium BCE in the region. Bronze was widely placed in the tombs, used for sculptures, and to mount the hands of their enemies as war trophies on bronze plaques .

These wide use and advanced techniques associated with bronze crafting allowed for the Bronze Hand to form into a very realistic look that could have easily been the hand of the offering's presenter, Wahab Ta'lab. The inscription still remains distinct and easily readable. The only flaws located on the hand are in the form of minor scratches on the palm.

Local Historical ContextEdit

The Bronze Hand was constructed in a concentrated region on the coast ruled by the Himyarite Kingdom . These people were originally a semitic tribe who had their own language known as Himyartic . In the 1st Century BCE, the Himyarites grow to be the most dominant power in southwestern Arabia, surpassing the Sabaean Kingdom . Their kinsmen, the Sheba, eventually succumb to the Himyarites near the end of the 1st Century. The Himyarite Kings decide to place their capital in Zafar .

The Himyarite kingdom inherits the
Arabia map

Map of the Himyarite Kingdom. Located at the bottom of their controlled land is the Himyar capital, Zafar. From http://www.livius.org/a/1/maps/arabia_map.gif.

Sabaean language . While many of the Kingdom's inhabitants practice fishing and agriculture, most of the wealth flowing into the Himyar was through trade. They heavily based their economy on the export of frankincense and myrrh . The high demand for these resources for incense drove commerce in the region. The Himyarites wealth allowed them to trade for valuable goods and resources.

The capital of the Himyarite Kingdom , Zafar, is one of the greatest towns of ancient Southern Arabia. Arabs, Greeks, and Romans celebrate it for the importance it serves in the region. In reference to the Bronze Hand, Zafar was the location of the temple where the artifact was rediscovered. This show's the religious significance of the capital and where respected individuals of the Himyarites lived. The numerous bronze sculptures found in the area tells of the wealth of the city. The city of Zafar eventually declines with the introduction of Islam and slowly loses standing in southern Arabia.

The Himyarite Kingdom is comes under attack in 335 CE by the Christian Abyssinians . After Himyarites fall to their invaders, Christianity is promoted in the fallen kingdom. By the end of the 4th century, the Himyarites are able to displace the Abyssinians and end up promoting Judaism . The Himyarites persecute the Christians still living in the region, which leads to a Abyssinian attack to protect Christians in 525 CE. By 622 CE, Islam is introduced leading to the end of paganism in the region and the eventual conversion of the area.

World-Historical SignificanceEdit

The Bronze Hand found in Zafar represents the last remains of pagan beliefs in southern Arabia. The position of the Hymarite Kingdom is at one its highest points when the artifact is constructed with control over the region and immense wealth from trade. The extremely well preserved Hand allows us to look into the rituals practiced by the people of Himyar and their techniques available in the use of metals.

Following the 3rd Century CE, the Himyarite Kingdom experiences tumultuous periods as they experienced constant change with the invasion of theAbyssinian people and the introduction of the Christian faith. Over the next 300 years, two more faiths (Judaism and Islam) are introduced to the area leading to the gradual decline of practicioners of the pagan religion. The capital city of Zafar declines and is no longer a powerful staple in southwestern Arabia.

The Bronze Hand is a very rare discovery that sheds light on the region and is one of the most unique pieces found in Arabia. Being the first object with inscription on a body part, the Bronze Hand is a one of a kind that has survived magnificently over time. The time and effort put into crafting the Hand shows a devout group of followers of paganism and the ingenuity used to develop them.

Suggested BibliographyEdit

Jones, A. H. M. and Elizabeth Monroe. History of Abyssinia. Oxford: Kessinger Publishing, 2003


Schippmann, Klaus. Ancient South Arabia: From the Queen of Sheba to advent of Islam. New Jersey: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2002


Simpson, St. John(ed.). Queen of Sheba: Treasures from Ancient Yemen. London: BMP, 2002


Brittanica Online, "Arabian religion," http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/31651/Arabian-religion/68305/The-historical-setting?anchor=ref559513


Brittanica Online, "Himyar (people)," http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/266146/Himyar?anchor=ref251195


Brittanica Online, "Zafar," http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/655314/Zafar


British Museum, "Arabian Bronze Hand,"

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/a/arabian_bronze_hand.aspx


"Bronze Age," http://www.arabian-archaeology.com/arch4bronze.htm


"Early Smelting and Metallurgy," http://www.unr.edu/sb204/geology/smelt.html


Tore Kjeilen, "Himyarites," http://i-cias.com/e.o/himyarites.htm


New Mexico State University, "Ancient Yemen," http://www.cs.nmsu.edu/~fmohamed/ancient-ye.html