The 12 corpses, tightly curled in leathery baskets, were found buried at different sites in the country and had survived for 2,500 years, but after months of civil conflict the remnants of an ancient pagan civilisation are now being eaten away by microbes at Sanaa University, where they are on display.
They are just some of the objects and heritage sites that are being destroyed in the fighting, which has ruined the country’s infrastructure. More than 80 sites have been damaged by airstrikes and terrorist bombings since the conflict started in March 2015, according to Mohannad al-Sayani, the country’s antiquities chief.
He said that the mummies were the only ones found in the Arabian peninsula and that they hinted at closer ties to the ancient Egyptians. Mr Sayani appealed to the outside world to save the mummies, which date back to 250BC.
Yemen is considered the birthplace of Arab civilisation and is famed for its powerful caravan kingdoms, such as Sheba, home of the biblical queen.
Airstrikes have pounded Sanaa’s old city of 11th-century earthen towers, which earned it Unesco heritage status. Coalition warplanes have levelled an Ottoman fort outside the capital and damaged most of the Marib Dam, a 2,800-year-old engineering marvel. Islamic extremists have blown up Sufi shrines and mosques. Last year Taiz’s national museum, home to manuscripts and pre-Islamic objects, was reduced to ashes by Houthi shelling.
“If the war lasts much longer, eventually much of the heritage will be gone,” Mr Sayani said, comparing attempts to move artefacts to secret underground stores to Noah’s Ark. “The electricity problems in the city have stopped temperature control, which has made them start to rot. Yemen is the only country on the Arabian peninsula where mummies have been found. This makes them of huge importance on their own.”
Photo: MOHAMED AL-SAYAGHI/REUTERS