A site on the coast near Mirbat Dhofar.
It has always been assumed that Sumhuram was founded in the 1st century CE, for the trade of frankincense between the Mediterranean Sea and India. The latest discoveries by archæologists from the Italian University of Pisa using pottery assemblage & C14 dating, put its foundation back to the 4th century BCE; it looks like it was an important stopping place on the trade route between south-eastern Arabia and the northern coast of Oman.
These are examples of a traditional method of sewn-boat construction (no nails) which is no longer carried out in Dhofar: the last person with this skill, died in the 1990’s, although a few still live in the Musandam. (Seminar of Arabian Studies 40)
Archæological evidence from the al-Balid site, of timbers re-used as building materials when boats were no longer sea worthy, indicate that this method of construction in Dhofar is very old.
All the materials come from the Coconut palm – wood, cordage & wadding, with a covering derived from fish oil. The tools used being saw, adze, chisel & hammer, along with a good eye for a straight line & curves – undoubtedly very accomplished carpenters.
Al Baleed or Al Balid (from the Jibbali Arabic for ‘town’) is what is now known as the Al Baleed Achæological Park & Frankincense museum.
This extensive site described in great detail by Dr Paolo M. Costa, working with the Ministry of Heritage & Culture between 1976/86 can be found in The Journal of Oman Studies Vol:5. [The Study of the city of Zafar (al Balid) ] unfortunately I have not been able to find a link for this publication – Oman does not seem to make these publications easily available on the internet.
Al Baleed (Zafar, the city where the name Dhofar comes from) was an ancient port located near what is now Salalah. Recent excavation has shown that the site was inhabited from around the 5 millennia BCE. It continued its development in the late Iron Age through the Middle Ages until it fell into decline for a number of reasons; the reduced need for trade in Frankincense & then its horses. The silting-up of the harbour didn’t help: As the deep water receded, the big trading vessels were not able to dock. Arab and European historical references indicate that it was rebuilt several times from the early 10th century CE until its decline around the middle 1200s CE.
The city & its ‘Great’ mosque with over 140 pillars, minaret & associated outbuildings was still in use until the 17th centenary CE.
Marco Polo described the city as prosperous and one of the main ports on the Indian Ocean trade route. Although like a lot of other places (Masirah for instance) that he is supposed to have visited, it could be just word of mouth as the saying goes. Ibn Battuta visited this site in 1329 and commented on its beauty. In 1846, HJ Carter wrote about the city, pointing to its architecture and grand mosque, which he described as exceptional; he is now questioned for being rather ‘picturesque’ with his description of what was there when he visited. Reports from Miles (1880) and Bentes (1890) are also available describing their visit to Al Baleed.
Considering that the site was robed of stone for many years; it is only because of H.M the Sultan and his desire for the protection of Oman’s heritage, that there is anything left of the site. Fortunately, a lot of building structures and artefacts lay beneath mounds of rubble & sand; so with the on going archæology, more is being discovered every year.
All images have been colour shifted to try & enhance the art for viewing – several being very faint and smudged through weathering & age. As can be seen, these pictographs are a form of rock art that is totally different from that found in northern Oman. It portrays images of the camel interspersed with horses and their rider: there are clusters of dots & lines seen as well; the significance of these is not known, although it has been suggested by some, probably notational.
Domesticated by humans in southern Arabia, the Camel seems to have arrived around 3,000 BCE and following a 2010 discovery of artefacts dated between 6590 and 7250 BCE in south-western Saudi Arabia, which appeared to portray horses, they arrived much earlier.
The age of this art is not really known but probably first or second millennium BCE.
This is only a small representation of the art found in Dhofar: it would need more time than I had available for a comprehensive presentation.
I have another post somewhere about this place they claim is The lost City of Ubar: known by various other names (Wubar, Wabar, Iram of the Pillars and Atlantis of the Sands mentioned by Lawrence of Arabia) but the more I visit, the more I think it lives by reputation & reality is something quite different.
It certainly held some significance for the Frankincense trade route but; looking at the site with mark one eyeball, it is small compared to Khor Rorī or Al Balid on the coast: a lot of wishful thinking going on me thinks.
Freya Stark sums it up.
When the explorer Freya Stark consulted the works of Arab geographers, she found a wide range of opinions as to the location of Wabar: “Yaqut says: “In Yemen is the qaria of Wabar.” El-Laith, quoted by Yaqut, puts it between the sands of Yabrin and Yemen. Ibn Ishaq… places it between “Sabub (unknown to Yaqut and Hamdani) and the Hadhramaut. Hamdani, a very reliable man, places it between Najran, Hadhramaut, Shihr and Mahra. Yaqut, presumably citing Hamdani, puts it between the boundaries of Shihr and San’a, and then, on the authority of Abu Mundhir between the sands of B.Sa’d (near Yabrin) and Shihr and Mahra. Abu Mundhir puts it between Hadhramaut and Najran.”
I paraphrase: With such evidence, it seems quite possible to find Wabar in opposite corners of Arabia.
This unusual row of stones is one of Oman’s more enigmatic archaeological finds: found in eastern Yemen & South West Oman, C.400 B.C.E – 300 C.E.
The stones are usually found in groups of 3 to 15 (although longer rows have been seen) about 2 or 3 foot high and standing on end, forming a tripod structure with sometimes a capstone. Placed along side & parallel with Wadis or tracks; mostly stood on bedrock.
They are not burial places because they seem to be always placed on a hard rocky surface and that is about all anyone can be certain of. The construction period has been reasonably well confirmed by Carbon-14 dating, from ash remains of wood fires that seem to have been used within the structures.
The fence has been placed for their protection; a lot of sites can get damaged through ignorance or just basic theft of the stone as building material.
P.S I can thank Freyja my daughter who noticed these while we were driving some way off on the main road.
I have just answered a comment by Jane & realised that this image was taken with a camera that was produced between 1976-1977, a lens that was made in 1979, Kodak Microdol-x from a bag dated 2007 & film with a use by date of 2010.
At least the distilled water I used for development, was only 6 months old 🙂