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Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia

Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia / Hyokeikan    January 23, 2018 (Tue) - May 13, 2018 (Sun)

 Image of "Anthropomorphic stele, Qaryat al-Kaafa, near Ha'il, Late 4th–early 3rd millennium BCE (National Museum, Riyadh)" 
Anthropomorphic stele, Qaryat al-Kaafa, near Ha'il, Late 4th–early 3rd millennium BCE (National Museum, Riyadh)

Since ancient times the Arabian Peninsula has been intersected by trade routes, acting as crossroads of diverse peoples and civilizations. This exhibition will for the very first time in Japan display treasures from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that reveal a dynamic history and culture. More than 400 invaluable cultural properties will be displayed, including the oldest stone tools in Asia, dating back over a million years; anthropomorphic stelae erected in the desert 5,000 years ago; excavated artifacts from the thriving ancient cities of the Hellenistic and Roman periods; a 17th-century door from the Ka'ba in Mecca, the holiest site in the religion of Islam; and possessions of King Abdulaziz, the first monarch of Saudi Arabia, from the 20th century. We invite you to take advantage of this unique opportunity to experience the immensely rich and fascinating history of the Arabian Peninsula.

On Thursday May 10, 2018, the special exhibition Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia (held at Hyokeikan) will be closed at 15:00 due to a commemorative event. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.

The exhibition period of the special exhibition, Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, has been extended.

Initial Exhibition Period:
Tuesday, January 23–Sunday, March 18, 2018

Revised Exhibition Period:
Tuesday, January 23–Sunday, May 13, 2018

We would like to thank all visitors who have already viewed this exhibition, and hope many more visitors would take this opportunity to see it.

"Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia", open until 21:00 on Sunday March 4, Tuesday, March 6 and Wednesday, March 7, 2018 (last entry 20:30)


Highlights of the Exhibition

General Information

List of Works
PDF (112KB)

Highlights of the Exhibition



Chapter 1: Early Humans and Roads into Asia

The landscape of the Arabian Peninsula during the Paleolithic era was entirely different from that which we see today. Recent palaeoenvironmental studies in Saudi Arabia have shown that over the last two million years there have been a number of wet phases, and there were vast grasslands dotted with lakes and rivers, about which clustered a diverse range of animals. It was “Green Arabia” that greeted the early humans as they took their first steps into Asia out of Africa.
From about 9000 BCE, sedentary societies based on agriculture and animal husbandry began to spread across the so-called “Fertile Crescent” in the Near East. This marked the dawn of the Neolithic period. It appears that the influence of these settlements eventually reached all the way to the northwestern part of Saudi Arabia.
Once sedentary farming communities were established, herders and hunters began to move here and there about their peripheries. Such people began to spread out through the steppes of the Arabian Peninsula during the Neolithic period. Neolithic sites with arrowheads and other such artifacts have been discovered throughout the vast territory of Saudi Arabia.



Oldowan period
National Museum, Riyadh

Part of a horse
Neolithic period, ca. 6500 BCE
National Museum, Riyadh

*This chapter will also introduce an excavation being conducted in Saudi Arabia by an archaeological team from Kanazawa University.




Chapter 2: Roads Leading to Civilizations

The history of the Arabian Peninsula begins with trade routes. As urban civilizations began to take root in Mesopotamia about 2500 BCE, the Arabian Gulf became a sea trade “road” linking the civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. The gulf area, which, according to the contemporary documents inscribed on clay tablets excavated in Mesopotamia
was called “Dilmun,” prospered thanks to intermediary trade of goods brought in from surrounding areas. One of the centers for such maritime trade activities was Tarut Island.



ca. 2900–2600 BCE
National Museum, Riyadh






Chapter 3: Incense Roads

Frankincense and myrrh of southern Arabia (today’s Yemen and parts of Oman) were highly prized in the Middle East and the Mediterranean worlds as incense used in religious ceremonies and for medicinal purposes. The production of incense made southern Arabia extremely rich and it came to be referred to in the ancient Greek and Roman sources as Happy Arabia (Arabia Felix). It had been a dream for the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, Alexander the Great, and the Roman emperors to take control of the incense producing areas but none of them succeeded in doing so.
Around the end of the 2nd millennium BCE, camels came to be used as pack animals, and the incense trade using camel caravans led to the dramatically rapid development of inland trade cities in the Arabian Peninsula. Incense from southern Arabia and goods from the Indian Ocean region and East Africa were transported by camel caravans to Najran, Jarash, Yathrib (al-Madina), Dedan (al-Ula) and Hegra (Mada’in Saleh), and from there, to the Levant, Egypt, and the Mediterranean world. Also there were routes from Najran to the Gulf region via Qaryat al-Faw, and from Tayma to Mesopotamia. Large numbers of people and goods passed through the Arabian Peninsula. This section of the exhibition introduces a wide range of artifacts from the ancient trade cities which flourished on the incense trade.



5th–4th century BCE
National Museum, Riyadh


Head of a man
Qaryat al-Faw
1st century BCE–2nd century CE
King Saud University

Funerary mask

Thaj, Tell al-Zayer
1st century CE
National Museum, Riyadh



Chapter 4: Pilgrimage Roads

The religion of Islam preached by the prophet Muhammed spread to whole areas of the Arabian Peninsula during his lifetime. Until the end of the Umayyad Caliphate, Muslims conquered the lands as far away as Central Asia to the east, and North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula to the west. The pilgrimage to Makkah (hajj) is one of the five pillars of Islam, and the two holy cities of Makkah and al-Madinah began to receive large numbers of pilgrims from a diverse range of regions during the month of the pilgrimage. To ensure the safety of pilgrims, successive Caliphs put great efforts into creating and maintaining pilgrimage routes, accommodation, and water supply facilities. The most important pilgrimage routes were the routes connecting Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Yemen to the holy cities. The pilgrimage routes served not only religious purposes but also functioned as important trade routes.



Door of the Ka‘ba
Ottoman dynasty, 1635–36 CE
National Museum, Riyadh

Holy Qur’an

Ottoman dynasty, 16th–17th century CE
National Museum, Riyadh





Chapter 5: Road Leading to the Kingdom

The Islamic world stretching over the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe, was divided into many local dynasties and states of diverse peoples that rose to power one after the other throughout history. The Hejaz region, located on the coast of the Red Sea and which included the holy cities of Makkah and al-Madinah, eventually came under the rule of the Egyptian Mamluk Sultanate and later the Ottoman Empire.
The House of Saud began the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century. At the beginning of the 19th century it conquered the Hejaz region and most of the Arabian Peninsula, unifying a region that corresponded approximately to the current Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the First Saudi state). However, following an attack by the Egyptian military at the behest of the Ottoman Empire, the House of Saud lost the Hejaz region and the kingdom itself collapsed in 1818.
The House of Saud was able to rally forces in 1824 in Riyadh, but internal family conflicts led to its expulsion in 1891, leading the kingdom to collapse a second time (the Second Saudi state).
In the midst of crisis, a young successor of the House of Saud, Abdulaziz, led an elite force in recapturing Riyadh in 1902, thus beginning a third conquest of the Arabian Peninsula. The kingdom he built became the current Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (1932−).
This section introduces the House of Saud, the history of the country’s founding by King Abdulaziz, and modern Arab cultural life.



20th century CE
King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives



20th century CE
King Abdulaziz Foundation for Research and Archives




General Information

Period Tuesday, January 23 - Sunday, May 13, 2018
*The exhibition period of the special exhibition, Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, has been extended.
Venue Hyokeikan, Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)
Hours 9:30 - 17:00
Until 21:00 on Fridays and Saturdays
From April: Until 18:00 on Sundays and holidays
(Last entry 30 minutes before closing)
"Roads of Arabia: Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia", open until 21:00 on Sunday March 4, Tuesday, March 6 and Wednesday, March 7, 2018 (last entry 20:30)
Closed Mondays (Except for February 12, March 26, April 2, April 30) and February 13
Admission Adults: 620 (520) yen
University Students: 410 (310) yen
* ( ) indicate prices for those in groups of 20 or more.
* High/Junior High/Elementary School Students and persons under 18 and over 70: Free
Please show proof of age (driver's license, passport, etc.) when entering.
* Persons with disabilities are admitted free with one accompanying person each.
* Special exhibition "Treasures from Ninnaji Temple and Omuro" (January 16, 2018 - March 11, 2018, Heiseikan), Special exhibition "Echoes of a Masterpiece: The Lineage of Beauty in Japanese Art" (April 13, 2018 - May 27, 2018, Heiseikan) requires a separate admission fee.
Access 10 minutes' walk from JR Ueno Station (Park exit) and Uguisudani Station
15 minutes' walk from Keisei Ueno Station, Tokyo Metro Ueno Station and Tokyo Metro Nezu Station
Organizers Tokyo National Museum, Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage, NHK, The Asahi Shimbun
With the Special Sponsorship of Saudi Aramco
With the Sponsorship of SHOWA SHELL SEKIYU K. K., Sumitomo Chemical Company, Limited
The exhibition catalog (2,800 yen) is available at the museum shop in Honkan (Japanese Gallery) and the main gate plaza.
General Inquiries 03-5777-8600  (Hello Dial)


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