Unearthing Arabia: The Archaeological Adventures of Wendell Phillips

Excavations: Awam Temple

When Wendell Phillips left for Marib in northern Yemen in the spring of 1951, he did so “with such feelings of elation and excitement as I have never had in my life, before or since.” The focus of this expedition was the Awam Temple (Mahram Bilqis), the largest of its kind on the Arabian Peninsula. According to legend, Marib was the capital of the Sabaean kingdom, ruled by the biblical Queen of Sheba. Sabaean inscriptions refer to it as the Temple of Almaqah, the moon god who was the principal deity at Marib.

At that time only the tops of the temple’s eight massive pillars and the upper sections of an oval wall remained visible. Workers painstakingly removed the windblown sand before the expedition team uncovered a large hall lined with monumental pillars, stairways, impressive bronze and alabaster sculptures, and numerous inscriptions.

Unfortunately, tribal tensions brought the Marib expedition to a sudden halt. In their haste to leave, Phillips and his colleagues had to abandon all their equipment and archaeological discoveries. The team’s written records were later incorporated into scholarly publications, including an archaeological report published by Johns Hopkins University Press. Phillips always hoped to return to Marib, but his untimely death in 1975 prevented that wish from becoming a reality.

Almost a half-century later, in 1998, the government of Yemen invited Merilyn Phillips Hodgson to continue her brother’s work in Marib. The next year, more than fifty workmen and an international team of archaeologists, epigraphists, architects, and geomorphologists once again began to work on this important site. For the first time, the interior of the oval precinct walls was excavated to a depth of sixteen feet, and new inscriptions were discovered. The team’s surveyor generated digital topographic plans and three-dimensional models of the site, which will greatly aid future expeditions. During nine seasons of excavations at Marib, the team unearthed one of the most significant architectural complexes and religious centers of ancient Arabia.


Merilyn Phillips Hodgson Excavation at Marib Awam Temple Awam Temple