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Civil War in Yemen Threatens Millennia-Old Mummies and Other Cultural Treasures

Civil War in Yemen Threatens Millennia-Old Mummies and Other Cultural Treasures

It is estimated that the civil war in Yemen has caused the death of thousands of people and has pushed millions to the brink of famine during the past two years. Now it’s starting to damage the nation’s cultural treasures by destroying ancient mummies, a unique part of the country's rich history.

Yemen’s Civil War’s Consequences Now Threaten the Dead

Yemen’s civil war has taken countless lives during these past two years. While famine and disease spreads all over the country, it has now begun to have negative effects on the dead as well. A collection of millennia-old mummies at Sana’a University Museum in the Yemeni capital is one of the many potential victims of the catastrophic war’s consequences.

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Protest in Sanaa, Yemen (February 3, 2011) ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

With no steady electric power and the nation’s ports under occupation, scientists are doing all they can to save the twelve mummies from the heat, humidity and a lack of preservative chemicals.

Some of the mummies, from polytheistic kingdoms that dominated the area around 400 BC, still have teeth and strands of hair. "These mummies are tangible evidence of a nation's history, but even our mummies are affected by the war,” Abdulrahman Jarallah, head of the archaeology department at Sanaa University, told AFP. And he continues, "Mummies need a suitable, controlled environment and regular care, including sanitization every six months. Some of them have begun to decay as we cannot secure electricity and the proper preservative chemicals, and we're struggling to control the stench. We're concerned both for the conservation of the mummies and for the health of those handling them."

View of the City of Sana’a rooftops ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

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Not the Only Mummies in Danger

Unfortunately, the mummies in Yemen are not the only ones facing destruction at the moment due to human intrusion. As April Holloway reported in a previous Ancient Origins article , the Chinchorro mummies of Chile, which have been preserved for at least 7,000 years, are turning into black slime due to rising humidity levels causing bacterial growth on the skin. More than one hundred mummies – the oldest in the entire world – are turning gelatinous as a result of the rapidly spreading bacteria and Chilean researchers are desperately seeking funds to preserve the deteriorating mummies before they are lost for good.

Chinchorro mummy, one of the oldest preserved in the world, at the museum in San Miguel de Azapa, Arica, Chile. ( CC BY 2.0 )

Chinchorro mummies are one of the wonders of Andean archaeology and appear to reflect the spiritual beliefs of the ancient Chinchorro people, although the exact reason why they mummified their dead is unknown. Some scholars maintain that it was to preserve the remains of their loved ones for the afterlife, while another commonly accepted theory is that there was an ancestor cult of sorts, since there is evidence of both the bodies traveling with the groups and of being placed in positions of honor during major rituals, as well as a delay in the final burial itself.

Despite surviving for at least seven millennia, they began deteriorating about 10 years ago, when moisture began to allow bacteria to grow, said Ralph Mitchell, a Harvard University professor emeritus of applied biology. About 120 mummies, which radiocarbon dating dates from 5050 BC and before, are rapidly deteriorating in the archaeological museum of the University of Tarapacá in Arica, Chile. Only around 300 Chinchorro mummies have been discovered over the years (the 120 endangered constitutes 40% of them) and thus it is essential they are protected in order to preserve the last traces of this fascinating ancient culture.

Chinese Mummy Preserved for Centuries was Destroyed in a Day

In another case of mummy destruction, a perfectly preserved Chinese mummy uncovered in a 300-year-old burial area, was almost instantly destroyed once archaeologists opened the coffin – it turned black within hours of the coffin being opened. The individual was wearing extremely ornate clothing which indicates that he was a very high-ranking official from the early Qing Dynasty, which lasted from 1644 to 1912.

Once the tomb was opened, the natural process of decay started. Although the man’s face was almost normal when it was found, within hours the face, as well as the skin on the whole body turned black and a foul smell emanated from the coffin.

Zabid, Yemen. 1000 years ago it was among the most sophisticated centers of learning in Arabia. (CC BY 2.0 )

Yemen’s Culture and People Will Endure

The conflicts in Yemen have also caused an air and naval blockade on Huthi-controlled Red Sea ports that are some of the most important entry points for food and aid. The UN recently estimated that nearly sixty percent of Yemen's population is at risk of famine.

On the other hand, Yemeni archaeologists have requested that local authorities and international organizations do all they can in order to preserve Yemen's mummies by easing access of supplies and personnel. "We can already see the mummies suffering the effects of a long period of not having been properly maintained. We need supplies and experts in this sort of maintenance to work with us to save the 12 mummies here at the university, as well as another dozen at the National Museum in Sanaa." Sanaa University Museum restoration specialist Fahmi al-Ariqi told AFP.

Despite those desperate calls for help going unanswered so far, local archaeologists have not lost their faith and remain optimistic for the future, being confident that their heritage can and will be saved. "Yemen is full of archaeological sites and mummified remains that are still undiscovered," Jarallah tells AFP and adds, "Our culture, our history, will never disappear."


Ancient mummies rot as Yemen war vexes even the dead

Sana’a: Famine and disease haunt the living, but not even the dead are spared the calamities of Yemen’s two-year-old civil war.

Ancient mummies are withering away in a major museum for lack of electricity and preservative chemicals from abroad — a sign that the conflict is harming not only the country’s present and future but also its rich past.

The dozen spindly corpses, curled into the fetal position or swaddled in baskets, belong to a lost pagan civilisation around 2 1/2 millennia ago — long before the advent of Islam.

Lying beneath glass panes within the archaeology department in the capital Sana’a’s main university, the mummies might have spent their eternal slumber blissfully unaware of the otherworldly warplanes pounding their homeland.

A Saudi-led military coalition has carried out thousands of air strikes in a bid to dislodge Yemen’s armed Al Houthi movement from the capital. The conflict has killed at least 10,000 people and unleashed a humanitarian crisis.

But a timeless enemy, abetted by the disorder of war, threatens the mummies’ repose.

“The mummies have started to decay and are infected with bacteria. This is because we don’t have electricity and the machines that are supposed to maintain them,” said Abdul Rahman Jarallah, head of the university’s antiquities department.

“We need some chemicals to sanitise the mummies every six months, and they aren’t available due to the political situation.” Power cuts plague Sana’a, sapping the dehumidifiers that help preserve the “Hall of Mummies.” Funding to government bodies like the university have suffered from a struggle between Yemen’s warring parties for control of the central bank.

Antiquities experts are appealing to the university and the culture ministry for funding and equipment to better fend off the microbes eating into the mummies’ flesh.

But the coalition’s closure of Sana’a airport and a near-blockade over a key Red Sea port — aimed at stopping weapons shipments — have cut off imports of speciality goods like the chemicals needed to ward off the microscopic menace.

Sheba and other Yemeni kingdoms once provided the frankincense and myrrh hauled by desert caravans to perfume the temples of the Holy Land and ancient Rome.

Modern combat, however, is disfiguring important cultural treasures.

Al Qaeda militants have dynamited Sufi shrines and armed attacks in Al Houthi-held lands have sent packing many members of a Yemeni Jewish community dating from the time of King Solomon around 1,000 B.C.

“So many places have been destroyed because of this war,” lamented Ameeda Shaalan, an antiquities professor who still hopes the mummies can be saved. “We now have some things that have survived, and we must preserve them.”


Yemen's war has claimed thousands of lives and pushed millions to the brink of famine. Now the conflict threatens to erase a unique part of the country's ancient history.

A collection of millennia-old mummies at Sanaa University Museum in the Yemeni capital could face destruction as a result of the fighting. With electricity intermittent at best and the country's ports under blockade, experts are fighting to save the 12 mummies in the face of heat, humidity and a lack of preservative chemicals.

Some of the remains, from pagan kingdoms that ruled the region around 400 BC, still have teeth and strands of hair.

"These mummies are tangible evidence of a nation's history," said Abdulrahman Jarallah, head of the archaeology department at Sanaa University, but "even our mummies are affected by the war."

"Mummies need a suitable, controlled environment and regular care, including sanitisation every six months," he said.

"Some of them have begun to decay as we cannot secure electricity and the proper preservative chemicals, and we're struggling to control the stench."

"We're concerned both for the conservation of the mummies and for the health of those handling them," Jarallah said.

The mummies are among a host of priceless ancient remains threatened by conflicts across the region.

From Syria's Palmyra to Libya's Leptis Magna, millennia-old historical remains face looting and destruction in various parts of the Middle East.

Daesh systematically demolished pre-Islamic monuments in Syria and Iraq after seizing swathes of both countries in 2014, looting and selling smaller pieces on the black market to fund their rule.

Swiss authorities last year seized cultural relics looted from Yemen, Syria and Libya that had been stored in Geneva's free ports - highly secured warehouses where valuables can be stashed tax-free with few questions asked.

Old Sanaa, inscribed on Unesco's World Heritage List since 1986, faces other dangers.

Perched 2,300 metres up in Yemen's western mountains, it has been continuously inhabited for over 2,500 years and is home to some of the earliest Islamic architecture.

With more than 100 mosques and 6,000 houses built before the 11th century, the old city is famed for its multi-storeyed homes of red basalt rock, with arched windows decorated with white latticework.

But months after a Saudi-led coalition intervened against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in March 2015, Unesco added the ancient city to its List of World Heritage in Danger.

In June that year, a bombing in the old city killed five people and destroyed a section including several houses and an Ottoman fort.

Witnesses blamed an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition on the rebel-held capital.

No party has claimed responsibility for the strike.

The coalition has also imposed an air and naval blockade on Houthi-controlled Red Sea ports that are crucial entry points for food and aid.

The UN estimates 60 per cent of Yemen's population is at risk of famine. Yemeni archaeologists have appealed to both local authorities and international organisations to help preserve Yemen's mummies by easing the flow of supplies and personnel.

"We can already see the mummies suffering the effects of a long period of not having been properly maintained," Sanaa University Museum restoration specialist Fahmi Al Ariqi said.

"We need supplies and experts in this sort of maintenance to work with us to save the 12 mummies here at the university, as well as another dozen at the National Museum in Sanaa."

But while those calls have gone unanswered, Yemen's archaeologists remain confident that their heritage can be saved.

"Yemen is full of archaeological sites and mummified remains that are still undiscovered," said Jarallah.


Ancient mummies of Yemen are ROTTING inside museums due to power cuts caused by civil war

YEMEN'S war has claimed thousands of lives and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Now the conflict threatens to erase a unique part of the country's ancient history.

A collection of millennia-old mummies at Sanaɺ University Museum in the Yemeni capital could face destruction as a result of the fighting.

With electricity intermittent at best and the country's ports under blockade, experts are fighting to save the 12 mummies in the face of heat, humidity and a lack of preservative chemicals.

Some of the remains, from pagan kingdoms that ruled the region around 400 BC, still have teeth and strands of hair.

"These mummies are tangible evidence of a nation's history," said Abdulrahman Jarallah, head of the archaeology department at Sanaɺ University.

But he added: "Even our mummies are affected by the war.

"Mummies need a suitable, controlled environment and regular care, including sanitisation every six months," he told AFP.

"Some of them have begun to decay as we cannot secure electricity and the proper preservative chemicals, and we're struggling to control the stench."

"We're concerned both for the conservation of the mummies and for the health of those handling them," Jarallah said.

The mummies are among a host of priceless ancient remains threatened by conflicts across the region.

From Syria's Palmyra to Libya's Leptis Magna, millennia-old historical remains face looting and destruction in various parts of the Middle East.

ISIS systematically demolished pre-Islamic monuments in Syria and Iraq after seizing swathes of both countries in 2014, looting and selling smaller pieces on the black market to fund their rule.

Swiss authorities last year seized cultural relics looted from Yemen, Syria and Libya that had been stored in Geneva's free ports - highly secured warehouses where valuables can be stashed tax-free with few questions asked.

Old Sanaɺ, inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1986, faces other dangers.

Perched 2,300 metres (7,500 feet) up in Yemen's western mountains, it has been continuously inhabited for over 2,500 years and is home to some of the earliest Islamic architecture.

With more than 100 mosques and 6,000 houses built before the 11th century, the old city is famed for its multi-storeyed homes of red basalt rock, with arched windows decorated with white latticework.

But months after a Saudi-led coalition intervened against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in March 2015, UNESCO added the ancient city to its List of World Heritage in Danger.

In June that year, a bombing in the old city killed five people and destroyed a section including several houses and an Ottoman fort.

Witnesses blamed an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition on the rebel-held capital.

No party has claimed responsibility for the strike.

The coalition has also imposed an air and naval blockade on Huthi-controlled Red Sea ports that are crucial entry points for food and aid.

The UN estimates 60 per cent of Yemen's population is at risk of famine.

Yemeni archaeologists have appealed to both local authorities and international organisations to help preserve Yemen's mummies by easing the flow of supplies and personnel.

"We can already see the mummies suffering the effects of a long period of not having been properly maintained," Sanaɺ University Museum restoration specialist Fahmi al-Ariqi told AFP.


Ancient mummies rot as Yemen war vexes even the dead

Ancient mummies are withering away in a major museum for lack of electricity and preservative chemicals from abroad – a sign that the conflict is harming not only the country’s present and future but also its rich past.

The dozen spindly corpses, curled into the fetal position or swaddled in baskets, belong to a lost pagan civilization around 2 1/2 millennia ago – long before the advent of Islam.

Lying beneath glass panes within the archaeology department in the capital Sanaa’s main university, the mummies might have spent their eternal slumber blissfully unaware of the otherworldly warplanes pounding their homeland.

A Saudi-led military coalition has carried out thousands of air strikes in a bid to dislodge Yemen’s armed Houthi movement from the capital. The conflict has killed at least 10,000 people and unleashed a humanitarian crisis.

Read More: Virus found in child mummy could rewrite smallpox history: study

But a timeless enemy, abetted by the disorder of war, threatens the mummies’ repose.

“The mummies have started to decay and are infected with bacteria. This is because we don’t have electricity and the machines that are supposed to maintain them,” said Abdelrahman Jarallah, head of the university’s anitiquities department.

“We need some chemicals to sanitise the mummies every six months, and they aren’t available due to the political situation.”

Power cuts plague Sanaa, sapping the dehumidifiers that help preserve the “Hall of Mummies.” Funding to government bodies like the university have suffered from a struggle between Yemen’s warring parties for control of the central bank.

Antiquities experts are appealing to the university and the culture ministry for funding and equipment to better fend off the microbes eating into the mummies’ flesh.

But the coalition’s closure of Sanaa airport and a near-blockade over a key Red Sea port – aimed at stopping weapons shipments – have cut off imports of specialty goods like the chemicals needed to ward off the microscopic menace.

Sheba and other Yemeni kingdoms once provided the frankincense and myrrh hauled by desert caravans to perfume the temples of the Holy Land and ancient Rome.

Modern combat, however, is disfiguring important cultural treasures. Air strikes have levelled medieval mudbrick towers in Sanaa’s old quarter, a medieval mosque and an Ottoman fort.

Al Qaeda militants have dynamited Sufi shrines and armed attacks in Houthi-held lands have sent packing many members of a Yemeni Jewish community dating from the time of King Solomon around 1,000 B.C.

“So many places have been destroyed because of this war,” lamented Ameeda Shaalan, an antiquities professor who still hopes the mummies can be saved. “We now have some things that have survived, and we must preserve them.”


Ancient mummies of Yemen are ROTTING inside museums due to power cuts caused by civil war

YEMEN'S war has claimed thousands of lives and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Now the conflict threatens to erase a unique part of the country's ancient history.

A collection of millennia-old mummies at Sanaɺ University Museum in the Yemeni capital could face destruction as a result of the fighting.

With electricity intermittent at best and the country's ports under blockade, experts are fighting to save the 12 mummies in the face of heat, humidity and a lack of preservative chemicals.

Some of the remains, from pagan kingdoms that ruled the region around 400 BC, still have teeth and strands of hair.

"These mummies are tangible evidence of a nation's history," said Abdulrahman Jarallah, head of the archaeology department at Sanaɺ University.

But he added: "Even our mummies are affected by the war.

"Mummies need a suitable, controlled environment and regular care, including sanitisation every six months," he told AFP.

"Some of them have begun to decay as we cannot secure electricity and the proper preservative chemicals, and we're struggling to control the stench."

"We're concerned both for the conservation of the mummies and for the health of those handling them," Jarallah said.

The mummies are among a host of priceless ancient remains threatened by conflicts across the region.

From Syria's Palmyra to Libya's Leptis Magna, millennia-old historical remains face looting and destruction in various parts of the Middle East.

ISIS systematically demolished pre-Islamic monuments in Syria and Iraq after seizing swathes of both countries in 2014, looting and selling smaller pieces on the black market to fund their rule.

Swiss authorities last year seized cultural relics looted from Yemen, Syria and Libya that had been stored in Geneva's free ports - highly secured warehouses where valuables can be stashed tax-free with few questions asked.

Old Sanaɺ, inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1986, faces other dangers.

Perched 2,300 metres (7,500 feet) up in Yemen's western mountains, it has been continuously inhabited for over 2,500 years and is home to some of the earliest Islamic architecture.

With more than 100 mosques and 6,000 houses built before the 11th century, the old city is famed for its multi-storeyed homes of red basalt rock, with arched windows decorated with white latticework.

But months after a Saudi-led coalition intervened against Iran-backed Huthi rebels in March 2015, UNESCO added the ancient city to its List of World Heritage in Danger.

In June that year, a bombing in the old city killed five people and destroyed a section including several houses and an Ottoman fort.

Witnesses blamed an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition on the rebel-held capital.

No party has claimed responsibility for the strike.

The coalition has also imposed an air and naval blockade on Huthi-controlled Red Sea ports that are crucial entry points for food and aid.

The UN estimates 60 per cent of Yemen's population is at risk of famine.

Yemeni archaeologists have appealed to both local authorities and international organisations to help preserve Yemen's mummies by easing the flow of supplies and personnel.

"We can already see the mummies suffering the effects of a long period of not having been properly maintained," Sanaɺ University Museum restoration specialist Fahmi al-Ariqi told AFP.


'They're Beginning to Decay': Yemen's Ancient Mummies Threatened by War

Twelve ancient mummies are at risk of irreparable damage as a Saudi-led bombing campaign continues in Yemen, according to experts at Sana’a University.

The mummies, which date back to 400 B.C. and require constant care, have begun to rot as swathes of the city have been left without electricity and archaeologists have struggled to source the chemicals they need due to port restrictions and the closure of Sana’a Airport.

“Mummies need a suitable, controlled environment and regular care, including sanitisation every six months,” Abdulrahman Jarallah, head of the archaeology department at Sanaa University, told AFP.

“Some of them have begun to decay as we cannot secure electricity and the proper preservative chemicals, and we're struggling to control the stench.”

The conflict, which broke out in March 2015, pits Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels against Sunni pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf states. The coalition intervened when rebels forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour to flee his Sana’a palace.

It has left more than 10,000 dead, the country on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, given rise to ISIS and rejuvenated Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the group’s most powerful arm. Both have continued to conduct attacks in the capital and the country’s southern regions.

"We're concerned both for the conservation of the mummies and for the health of those handling them,” Jarallah continued. Both he and Fahmi al-Ariqi, a restoration specialist at the museum, called on the international community to intervene to help the museum team to maintain and ultimately save the mummies.

A general view shows a millennia-old mummy displayed in a glass cabinet at Sanaa University, in the Yemeni capital on May 10, 2017. The conflict threatens the fate of a collection of millennia-old mummies. Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty

“We can already see the mummies suffering the effects of a long period of not having been properly maintained," Ariqi told AFP. “We need supplies and experts in this sort of maintenance to work with us to save the 12 mummies here at the university, as well as another dozen at the National Museum in Sanaa.”

The process of mummification has traditionally been associated with Ancient Egypt, but the technique was also practised in other areas of ancient Arabia. Yemen’s mummified bodies pre-date Islam and date from a time when kingdoms—such as Saba and Awsan—ruled a region then known as South Arabia.

A general view shows a millennia-old mummy displayed in a glass cabinet at Sanaa University, in the Yemeni capital on May 10, 2017. Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty

"These mummies are tangible evidence of a nation's history,” Jarallah said. “Even our mummies are affected by the war.”

Another ancient site at threat from the conflict in Yemen is the Old City of Sana’a—inhabited for more than two-and-a-half millennia—where air strikes have reduced dozens of the area’s famous gingerbread houses to rubble, drawing criticism from cultural agency UNESCO.

The Saudi-led coalition is yet to claim responsibility for the strikes. The only other country operating aviation in the country is the U.S., which is conducting a drone strike campaign against AQAP.

The Middle East’s ancient treasures have suffered greatly at the hands of the war in recent years. Just as the rise of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has left the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra in the hands of jihadists and Libya’s archaeological wonders, such as Sabratha, in danger, an ongoing conflict threatens time-worn artefacts in Yemen.


CORRECTED-Ancient mummies rot as Yemen war vexes even the dead

Ancient mummies are withering away in a major museum for lack of electricity.

Image used for illustrative purpose. A mummy is pictured inside the museum of Palmyra in the historical city of Palmyra April 18, 2008. Islamic State fighters in Syria have entered the ancient ruins of Palmyra after taking complete control of the central city, but there are no reports so far of any destruction of antiquities, a group monitoring the war said on May 21, 2015. Picture taken April 18, 2008. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki - RTX1DX65

REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki - RTX1DX65

SANAA, May 2 (Reuters) - Famine and disease haunt the living, but not even the dead are spared the calamities of Yemen&aposs two-year-old civil war.

Ancient mummies are withering away in a major museum for lack of electricity and preservative chemicals from abroad - a sign that the conflict is harming not only the country&aposs present and future but also its rich past.

The dozen spindly corpses, curled into the fetal position or swaddled in baskets, belong to a lost pagan civilization around 2 1/2 millennia ago - long before the advent of Islam.

Lying beneath glass panes within the archaeology department in the capital Sanaa&aposs main university, the mummies might have spent their eternal slumber blissfully unaware of the otherworldly warplanes pounding their homeland.

A Saudi-led military coalition has carried out thousands of air strikes in a bid to dislodge Yemen&aposs armed Houthi movement from the capital. The conflict has killed at least 10,000 people and unleashed a humanitarian crisis.

But a timeless enemy, abetted by the disorder of war, threatens the mummies&apos repose.

"The mummies have started to decay and are infected with bacteria. This is because we don&apost have electricity and the machines that are supposed to maintain them," said Abdelrahman Jarallah, head of the university&aposs anitiquities department.

"We need some chemicals to sanitise the mummies every six months, and they aren&apost available due to the political situation."

Power cuts plague Sanaa, sapping the dehumidifiers that help preserve the "Hall of Mummies." Funding to government bodies like the university have suffered from a struggle between Yemen&aposs warring parties for control of the central bank.

Antiquities experts are appealing to the university and the culture ministry for funding and equipment to better fend off the microbes eating into the mummies&apos flesh.

But the coalition&aposs closure of Sanaa airport and a near-blockade over a key Red Sea port - aimed at stopping weapons shipments - have cut off imports of specialty goods like the chemicals needed to ward off the microscopic menace.

Sheba and other Yemeni kingdoms once provided the frankincense and myrrh hauled by desert caravans to perfume the temples of the Holy Land and ancient Rome.

Modern combat, however, is disfiguring important cultural treasures. Air strikes have levelled medieval mudbrick towers in Sanaa&aposs old quarter, a medieval mosque and an Ottoman fort.

Al Qaeda militants have dynamited Sufi shrines and armed attacks in Houthi-held lands have sent packing many members of a Yemeni Jewish community dating from the time of King Solomon around 1,000 B.C.

"So many places have been destroyed because of this war," lamented Ameeda Shaalan, an antiquities professor who still hopes the mummies can be saved. "We now have some things that have survived, and we must preserve them."


War in Yemen makes even the dead suffer

SANAA // Famine and disease haunt the living, but not even the dead are spared the calamities of Yemen’s two-year-old civil war.

Ancient mummies are withering away in a major museum for lack of electricity and preservative chemicals from abroad — a sign that the conflict is harming not only the country’s present and future but also its rich past.

The dozen spindly corpses, curled into the foetal position or swaddled in baskets, belong to a lost pagan civilisation that lived around two-and-a-half millennia ago — long before the advent of Islam.

Lying beneath glass panes within the archaeology department in the main university in the capital, Sanaa, the mummies might have slumbered on blissfully unaware of the modern warplanes pounding their homeland.

But a timeless enemy, abetted by the disorder of war, threatens the mummies’ repose.

“The mummies have started to decay and are infected with bacteria. This is because we don’t have electricity and the machines that are supposed to maintain them,” said Abdelrahman Al-Gar, head of the university’s antiquities department. “We need some chemicals to sanitise the mummies every six months, and they aren’t available due to the political situation.”

Sanaa is plagued by power cuts, draining the dehumidifiers that help preserve the “Hall of Mummies.” Funding to government bodies like the university have suffered from a struggle between Yemen’s warring parties for control of the central bank.

Antiquities experts are appealing to the university and the culture ministry for funding and equipment to better fend off the microbes eating into the mummies’ flesh.

A Saudi-led military coalition has carried out thousands of air strikes in a bid to dislodge Yemen’s armed Houthi movement from the capital. The conflict has killed at least 10,000 people and unleashed a humanitarian crisis.

But the closure of Sanaa airport and a near-blockade over a key Red Sea port — aimed at stopping weapons shipments — have cut off imports of speciality goods, such as the chemicals needed to ward off the microscopic menace that now afflicts the mummies.

Sheba and other Yemeni kingdoms once provided the frankincense and myrrh hat were hauled by desert caravans to perfume the temples of the Holy Land and ancient Rome.

Modern combat, however, is disfiguring important cultural treasures. Air strikes have levelled medieval mud brick towers in Sanaa’s old quarter, a medieval mosque and an Ottoman fort.

Al Qaeda militants have dynamited Sufi shrines and armed attacks in Houthi-held lands have driven out many members of a Yemeni Jewish community dating from the time of King Solomon, around 1,000 B.C.

“So many places have been destroyed because of this war,” lamented Ameeda Shaalan, an antiquities professor who still hopes the mummies can be saved. “We now have some things that have survived, and we must preserve them.”


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