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Five Incredible Arabian Artifacts at the Asian Art Museum Right Now

Scott Lucas | October 30, 2014 | Story Galleries and Performance

"Saudi Arabia is not just about oil," says Prince Sultan bin Salman al Saud after a tour at the Asian Art Museum. He should know. The member of the Saudi Royal family and President of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (and astronaut) is talking about Roads of Arabia, the exhibition that recently opened at the Asian Art Museum. "It has a long pedigree of accomplishments. It’s a perspective that you’ve never seen."

He's not wrong. Many of the more than 200 objects were never seen outside of the county before becoming part of the touring exhibition, which began at the Louvre in 2010. We recently took a tour—and here is some of what we saw:

Anthropomorphic sculptures
4th millennium BCE. Sandstone. Found near Ha’il.
These three stylized human figures were used in ancient funerary practices in northwest Arabia, but they have a more than passing resemblance to modern art.

Funerary stele
5th-4th centuries BCE. Sandstone. Found in Tayma.
The city of Tayma, about 250 miles north of Medina, was a prosperous settlement along a trade route as early as the 8th century BCE. This rectangular type of tombstone has been across the Arabian Peninsula, attesting to regular contact at an early time period. The inscription reads, "In memory of Taym, son of Zayd."

Statue of a man
4th-3rd centuries BCE. Red sandstone. Fond in Al-Ula.
One of three enormous sculptures—more than 2 meters tall—discovered in a temple in 1909. It's hard to get across the grandeur of these colossi when not in person. They're incredible. Good news: the Museum is allowing visitors to take pictures standing next to one of them.

Tombstones of al-Ghaliya
From 9th to 16th century CE. Basalt. Mecca.
Dozens of tombstones from the al-Ma'la cemetery in Mecca are on display, each that provide scholars with a wealth of information on names, lineages, professions, and calligraphy of the period. They are also works of art that show the beauty of Arabic script. Pro tip: Don't forget to look at the back sides. Many of the tombstones were recycled and used twice—once on each side.

Door of the Ka'ba
1635-6 CE. Silver leaf on a wooden core. Mecca.
The exhibition contains a trove of Islamic objects, including Korans, candlestick holders from Medina, and this door, which was used at Islam's holiest site. Commissioned by the Ottomans after a flood damaged the structure in 1630 CE. Once installed, the doors were in use until the 20th century.

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