SAN FRANCISCO (July 8, 2014) — In the shifting sands of Saudi Arabia outside the city of Thaj, archaeologists discovered the tomb of a young royal girl buried nearly 2,000 years ago, uncovering exquisite jewelry, a haunting gold mask and other objects — all made of gold.
These funerary treasures are just a few of the surprising discoveries on display in the fascinating exhibition Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, opening Oct. 24, 2014 through Jan. 18, 2015 at the Asian Art Museum.
The Asian Art Museum will offer West Coast audiences a first look at Roads of Arabia, a traveling exhibition originating from Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 2012, featuring recent archaeological discoveries that have radically transformed our understanding of Saudi Arabia. The exhibition includes more than 200 objects, revealing the peninsula’s role as a cultural crossroads through trade and pilgrimage over thousands of years.
Highlights of the exhibition include mysterious stone steles, monumental statues and finely forged bronze figures. A set of gilded doors that once graced the entrance to the Ka‘ba, Islam’s holiest sanctuary, is also featured.
“Roads of Arabia offers a rare look at arts and artifacts from Saudi Arabia, with the oldest artifact dating more than a million years old,” said Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum. “This exhibition will alter your perceptions of the Arabian Peninsula’s ancient history by providing a glimpse into its largely unknown past, before the region emerged as the spiritual center of an expanding community especially important to Muslims around the world.”
Saudi Arabia’s richly layered past begins more than a million years ago. Research has emerged that identifies the presence of early indigenous cultures across the peninsula.
The exhibition showcases stone tools that date back more than one million years — some of the oldest excavated evidence of human history.
Another turning point in the peninsula’s ancient past is the development of incense trade roads. As early as 1200 BCE, the use of camels revolutionized Arabian commerce, enabling transport of highly valued incense. The region had a near monopoly on the cultivation and trade of the frankincense and myrrh incense that grew in the southern regions.
The lucrative trade encouraged the creation of a complex network of roads that supplied the incense across the peninsula and beyond, allowing for a vibrant commercial and cultural exchange to distant civilizations. With the rise of Islam in the 7th century, the well-traveled incense roads were gradually replaced with pilgrimage roads converging on Mecca.
Roads of Arabia first examines the impact of the incense trade on ancient Arabia and then showcases the development of pilgrimage trails during the early centuries of Islam that led from major cities, such as Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad, to Mecca, the spiritual heart of the new religion.
Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in association with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Exxon Mobil and Saudi Aramco are gratefully acknowledged as principal co-sponsors of the tour of Roads of Arabia in the United States. Sponsorship is also provided by The Olayan Group and Fluor Corporation. The Boeing Company, Khalid Al Turki Group, and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation SABIC granted additional support. Presentation at the Asian Art Museum is made possible with the generous support of Chevron and The Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Fund for Excellence in Exhibitions and Presentations. The Asian Art Museum’s presentation of the exhibition is organized by assistant curator for exhibition projects Dany Chan.
The Asian Art Museum–Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture is one of San Francisco’s premier arts institutions and home to a world-renowned collection of more than 18,000 Asian art treasures spanning 6,000 years of history. Through rich art experiences, centered on historic and contemporary artworks, the Asian Art Museum unlocks the past for visitors, bringing it to life while serving as a catalyst for new art, new creativity and new thinking. www.asianart.org