Proceedings chapter
Open access

The tower-tombs of Arabia from the 4th to the 3rd millennium BC: a standardised megalithic architecture for egalitarian societies?

Presented at Paris (France), 4-9 June 2018
PublisherOxford : Archaeopress Archaeology
Publication date2020

In 2011, at the beginning of the civil war, close to 5500 tower-tombs had been inventoried in the Yemen (Steimer-Herbet 2004). Nowadays, Google Earth's satellite images allow us to complete this inventory. In the Sabatayn desert, 10 km to the North-West of Jebel Jidran, stand the rocky outcrops of Alam -Abyad and Alam al-Assouad, on which over a 1000 tombs have been implemented. These monuments are omnipresent in the region, and are found from the Sinaï to Oman and from Syria to the Yemen (Figure 1). Their construction is dated from the 4th millennium BC in sites both sides of the peninsula, and some necropolises were used for over 2000 years (Braemer et al. 2001). They appear contemporaneously with the regional centres of Ur, Uruk in Mesopotamia, and those of the Thinite and archaic/ancient Empire in Egypt, Thinis and Memphis. These tombs, found on the fringe of the great rivers Nile, Euphrates, and Tigris were built by human groups occupying highly varied territories, from the coastal areas of the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea, to the interior zones of Arabia and the Levant, more arid and punctuated by oases. These societies had no writing, but they did come into contact with the neighbouring state entities – these, however, did not leave us any written sources on their existence. These megalithic builders did however leave us an exceptional architectural heritage, and their state of preservation allow us to describe their architecture, and to bring to light the creativity and inventiveness that these populations employed to honour their dead.

  • Archéologie
  • Préhistoire
  • Proche-Orient
  • Moyen-Orient
  • Arabie
  • Yémen
  • Mégalithisme
  • Sépulture
  • Nécropole
  • Age du Bronze
  • Autre - Ministère français des Affaires étrangèes
  • Autre - Organisation Générale des Antiquités et des Manuscrits de Sanaa (Yémen)
Citation (ISO format)
STEIMER, Tara, BESSE, Marie. The tower-tombs of Arabia from the 4th to the 3rd millennium BC: a standardised megalithic architecture for egalitarian societies? In: Pre and protohistoric stone architectures: Comparisons of the social and technical contexts associated to their building. Paris (France). Oxford : Archaeopress Archaeology, 2020. p. 95–118.
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Proceedings chapter (Published version)
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