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Asunto:[CeHuNews] 221/03 - HISTORY OF OMAN
Fecha:Miercoles, 2 de Julio, 2003  23:07:17 (-0300)
Autor:Humboldt <humboldt>

CeHuNews 221/03


Oman in the Stone Age

Wattayah, located in the governorate of Muscat, is the oldest human settlement and dates to the Stone Age, making it around 10,000 years old. Archaeological remains from different dates have been discovered here, the earliest representing the Stone Age, then the Heliocene Age and finally, the Bronze Age. Findings have consisted of stone implements, animal bones, shells and fire hearths. The latter date back to 7615 BC and are the oldest signs of human settlement in the area. Other discoveries include hand-moulded pottery bearing distinguishing pre-Bronze Age marks, heavy flint implements made from slivers of quartz, and sharp, pointed tools and scrapers.

On a mountain rock-face in the same district, animal drawings have been discovered. Similar drawings have also been found in the Wadi Sahtan and Wadi Bani Kharus areas of Rustaq. These drawings consist of human figures carrying weapons and being confronted by wild animals. Siwan in Haima is another Stone Age location and some of the archaeological finds have included arrowheads, knives, chisels and circular stones which have been used to throw at animals.

Oman in the Fourth Millenium BC

Ras al-Hamra, in the north west of Muscat, contains evidence to show that the region had human settlements in the fourth millennium BC. The site consists of settlements heaped one on top of the other. The layer representing the dwellings is composed of sand, shells, fishbone, ash and coal. Interestingly, no pottery remains have been found.

Other archaeological finds include a symmetrically shaped pit, such as might be used for waste disposal, fire hearths, flint tools, snare weights fashioned from rock crystal, and hunting hooks made from copper and seashells. Hunting fish and turtles appears to have been the principal activity of these dwellers.

There was evidence that the lotus tree was widespread, as well as mangrove swamps, sorghum and mulberry bushes. The inhabitants of this time built their homes from branches and reeds. The dwellings were circular in shape with a central excavation.

A burial ground was unearthed at this site which contained 220 skeletons lying on one side in a foetal position facing the sea (the source of their subsistence), their arms folded upwards and back. In some cases the hand was folded firmly over an oyster. However, in one case a pearl was discovered. This pearl is one of the oldest examples found in the Gulf. In many cases, the skeleton was adorned with jewellery made from shells, including rings and bracelets, along with necklets made from stone beads with shell pendants shaped like leaves.

Oman in the Third Millenium BC

There are many locations throughout the Sultanate which represent the third millennium BC, including Bat, Ras Al-Hadd and Samad Al-Shan.

Bat is east of Ibri in the Dhahirah region. A burial site located at a distance of 1 - 2km north of the village was discovered which consisted of 100 burial sites made from stone. These have become known as the Bat Tombs and they are circular in shape, constructed from blocks of local stone and incorporating two walled enclosures, one inside the other, constituting the burial structure. Parallels between these tombs and those found at Umm Nar in the United Arab Emirates have been made. A fine quality of terracotta earthenware has been found at both sites and the interior walled enclosure of the tombs has had the effect of sectioning it into several chambers.

The vestiges of six square-based stone towers, marking out and enclosing rectangular shaped dwellings has been unearthed. It has been calculated that the height of one of the six towers was over ten metres. Carbon dating has placed the structures at 2750BC.

Water channels have been uncovered which were probably used to deliver water from a more remote spot, making them some of the first examples of the aflaj irrigation system in Oman.

The Samad Al-Shan site is located in the wilayat of Al-Mudhaibi in the eastern part of the Sultanate. There are a number of ring-shaped graves huddled together which are built from large stone blocks and three different types have been identified:

  1. The men's graves contained iron and copper weapons, such as daggers, knives and arrowheads as well as large earthenware jars and shells used as drinking vessels.

  2. The women's graves have deep stone vessels and earthenware flasks for storing viscous liquids such as essences and shells containing a green substance used as a cosmetic, together with a variety of shells.

  3. Dual graves, containing the skeletons of men and women together.

Archaeological studies of the artefacts from this site have established that it dates back to around 500BC. The pottery has been hand-made from a coarse clay and fired at a moderate temperature. It was coated inside and out and decorated with one of three patterns:

  1. A fishbone design

  2. A grid of crossed lines

  3. Inscriptions from Southern Arabia

    These decorations date back to 200 - 50BC and were impressed onto the vessels before firing. The size and function of these vessels were as follows:

  4. Large water storage jars

  5. Cream-coloured vessels used for storing grain

  6. Earthenware flasks used for storing viscous liquids

  7. Small, dark-coloured bottles which were probably used for burial purposes only

Recent excavations have unearthed the skeleton of a she-camel which was situated close to the rest of the burial site. It was adorned with a necklet of stone beads which date the burial to the Iron Age.

At the Ras Al-Hadd site in Sur, an edifice has been discovered which is constructed of brick and sub-divided into several elongated chambers. It is thought that these were used for storage. A workshop for carving flintheads was also identified in which were found fragments of red shert, a type of flint specifically associated with the pre-historic period. The workshop was also used as a production unit for making jewellery from shells, such as rings, beads and pendants.

A number of pots were found, the most important dating back to the third millenium BC. These are of the Harappan type and probably belong to the last of the Mohanjudaru Dynasty from India. Red terracotta earthenware was also found, with dark stripes and illustrations. Other archaeological discoveries include pieces of burnished pottery of the Sassanid Islamic period and also African ware and Chinese porcelain.

The buildings are distinguished by their unique use of brick. This is the only district in Oman and its environs, including south of Iran, Baluchistan and the Sind Valley, where brick was used during the Bronze Age. It has been surmised that the inhabitants of Ras al-Hadd were pioneers of using brick as a construction material, a practise which persisted for more than 1500 years in Oman.

The most commonly found artefacts are flint implements: chisels used for boring holes into beads, hammers, stone snare weights and shell ornaments such as rings, necklets and oyster shells containing antimony. A variety of beads have also been unearthed, made from red carnelian and lapis lazuli, as well as green porcelain vessels dating to around 1800BC. There were also large quantities of bones from fish, turtles and sharks.

Oman in the Second Millenium BC

There are a number of sites scattered over Oman which date back to this period. These include the Mikhailif site and the Al Waset site in Batinah. Many smooth, soapstone vessels have been discovered at these areas as well as ornaments characteristic of the period, bronze spearheads, arrowheads and knives.

Oman in the First Millenium BC

The most important site dating back to the first millennium BC is located in Sohar. A settlement was unearthed there in which were found constructions below the buildings of the first century AD, indicating a flourishing settlement. The artefacts discovered show that Sohar was a significant trading centre at this time. Merchant seals were found and a type of fine terracotta earthenware, possibly imported from India. Other forms of pottery included Chinese porcelain of a type found in abundance in the first century of the Islamic Age, confirming that trade with China was flourishing then. This trade continued until the 14th century AD.

The succession of strata at the site shows the gradual decline of trade and the subsequent stagnation of the city as a result of the overlordship of Hormuz passing to Qalhat near Sur. Thus trade and its attendant enterprise and tax revenue were relocated there.

The fortification of Sohar was raised by order of one of the princes of Hormuz with the purpose of imposing a trade blockade on the town, until it was severely reduced and the inhabitants were forced to flee. After the Portuguese had been expelled from the region, Sohar saw a trade revival and an increase in its mercantile exchanges in the Far East.

Frankincense  brought the city of Dhofar in the south of the Sultanate to worldwide prominence. Dhofar was the prime source of this exotic commodity and also of gum. Frankincense was in the forefront of commodities traded in the past, particularly once it had caught the attention of the early historians around 400 BC, such as Herodotus, Pliny, Ptolemy, Strabo and Diodorus.

Field studies carried out in Dhofar indicate that frankincense was transported by land and sea across the world. The crop was collected for outward transport from Ras Fartak port (Jebel Al Qamr) to Yemen and the rest of Asia, via Aden port. The land route started to the west of Dhofar and passed through the Nejd to the south of the Arabian peninsula, then swinging north to Najran and on to Gaza. However, the most significant route was that which linked Dhofar with the east of the Arabian peninsula and continued to Sumer, in Iraq.

Ptolemy I was the first geographer to draft a map of the Dhofar district in which he identified the Salalah Plain (Khwar Rawri) as the region where frankincense was cultivated. He also highlighted an area which he named Suq al Omaniyeen (the Omani Marketplace). Other studies show that the Omanis controlled the principal districts on the south coast of the Arabian Sea. Muslim historians made reference to Ubar or Wabar, placing it in the northern part of Dhofar. Nashwan bin Said Al-Homeiri also referred to this place, but believed it to be in the territory occupied by the Aad tribe (the eastern part of Yemen). The historian Al-Tabai speaks of Ubar without specifying its whereabouts in a reference to its having been stricken with drought. At all events, there are many references indicating that the Aad clan was settled at Ubar. The Quran also records a tale of the Aad who were destroyed and buried without their domicile being known. Thus it can be concluded that Ubar was not the name of a city, but of a substantial territory, the precise location of which is a matter of debate between historians and archaeologists.

From the earliest times, Dhofar was a habitat uniquely suited to the cultivation of the frankincense bush, although it appears that the use of frankincense as a traded commodity did not occur before the Neolithic Period, some 8000 years previous. During the Islamic Era, frankincense trade traversed the routes of the Neolithic Period which were constructed by the Arabs and Romans. The frankincense route from Oman to Egypt travelled by way of the Negev and Sinai. Thus, trade may have occurred between the Arabian peninsula and Dhofar during the Neolithic Period.

Certainly, South Arabia was once endowed with many rivers and lakes and consequently, traversed by many roads, in particular across the Rub al-Khali. The evidence for this comes from vessels and implements associated with the Neolithic Period which were found along the length of the route and at various sites throughout the Arabian peninsula. Further evidence came in the form of paintings on rock faces in the west of the peninsula and in Yemen. Finds along the route to Sumer in Iraq were all characterised by the same feats of decoration.

Oman did not confine its exports to raw frankincense, or olibanum. By blending this with a form of tallow, it was possible to process it into incense for religious rites. Ivory and perfumes were also among Oman's exports during the Neolithic Period. Investigative surveys stumbled on a quantity of Sumerian tablets bearing the name bokhur (incense) and records have described bokhur as "extracted from the frankincense bush".

In conclusion, from approximately 5000 BC to around 1800 BC, Iraq's need for incense, as supplied by Dhofar, grew. Some time around 2000 BC the region probably witnessed a change of climate and the environment began to experience drought and gradual desertification. This happened around the time inhabitants began to domesticate the camel for use in the overland caravan route. Archaeological findings in the peninsula and in Egypt prove that the land trade became an established reality circa 1500 BC.

At all events, the locality known as Shasir was the Nejd/Dhofar district's principal trade centre for the northern land route which began at the start of the Neolithic Period and which appears to have been associated with trade between Dhofar and the north of the Arabian peninsula to Sumer in the south of Iraq. It is possible that the trade links between Dhofar and Sumer extended from the earliest times to trade with Gaza and Ancient Egypt.

Shasir continued to thrive after the end of the Bronze and Iron ages. Recent excavations have unearthed traces of fine buildings, suggesting a well-populated place on the trading activities of its citizens. During the Middle Ages, many sources refer to their uncommon enterprise in the export of incense, horses and gum. It is likely that Shasir retained its trading prominence up to the start of the 16th century, when its inhabitants left and relocated in the surrounding regions.

Field surveys carried out in 1993 on the Salalah Plain discovered a similarity in the buildings excavated, particularly at the Ain Hamran site, with those of the Shasir district, sharing many identical architectural features. A large group of buildings at Balid in Salalah were also found. These studies ascribe considerable significance to this locality as a busy trading post engaged in the export and import of goods, as evidenced by the presence of a variety of coins and ceramic vessels, dating to the 14th century AD. Archaeologists also found parallel samples in Shasir, establishing that a link existed between the region to the interior of Dhofar and the coast right up to the 15th century.

From this brief outline, it can be seen that Oman was home to a civilisation which went back in time continuously to the pre-Islamic Age. Throughout the Islamic age itself, Oman enjoyed a cultural expansion on a par with the other Islamic lands, with which it communicated through trade and navigation.

Emergence of Islam

Historians cannot give specific dates as to when Islam emerged in Oman, but documents indicate that the Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) contacted Oman's leaders in 6th Hegira (AH - from the Islamic calendar). The first Omani called to the Islamic faith was Mazin bin Ghaduba Al-Tay who declared that he had destroyed the idols and '..come before the Messenger and converted to Islam.' Following his revelation, Mazin travelled to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and dedicated himself to the faith of Islam, to obeying its laws and to spreading the word of Islam to the unbelievers. The Arab Islamic Conquest continued from the time of the Prophet's death in 11th century AH for around 100 years. With Oman's strong merchant trading links, it was instrumental in spreading the word to other countries such as Persia.

In the 16th century AD, Oman was invaded by Portuguese troops, who were vying for control of the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. Their occupation lasted around 150 years until they were finally expelled by Sultan bin Saif al-Yarubi in 1650AD, the date which most consider to be the start of Oman's complete independence. The following Ya'aruba Dynasty brought a new-found renaissance to the country and it was during this time that many of the decadent forts and castles were built, some of which are still standing.

In 1718AD, the Imam, Sultan bin Saif II died and civil war broke out over the election of his successor. This war raged for the next 18 years and two factions emerged: one supporting the leadership of Saif bin Sultan, who was, at the time, a young boy; and the other supporting Muhanna bin Sultan who held the necessary qualities to be an Imam. Muhanna was smuggled into Rustaq Fort where he was thus established as Imam in 1719AD. He was not a popular leader, despite his hard work, and only one year later, Ya'arub bin Bal'arab forced him to concede his leadership and killed him. Ya'arub installed the young Saif bin Sultan as Imam and declared his own role as Saif's custodian. However, he abused his role and Bal'arab bin Nasir took over the welfare of Saif in 1723AD.

In 1738AD, a huge battle took place between Persian troops and the Arabian forces in Bahla. The Arabian forces were defeated and Imam Saif escaped to Buraimi where he declared his intention to fight and overthrow the Persians. However, unrest among the people, who now favoured Sultan bin Murshid as new Imam, gave the Persians the opportunity to capture Muscat. On the Persians' attempts to take over Sohar, Ahmad bin Said, the deputy of the town, overthrew them and drove them from Oman.

The Al Bu Said Dynasty

Ahmad bin Said was subsequently elected Imam in 1744 and was a popular and well-respected leader. Despite having to reconcile the warring factions after the civil war, Ahmad bin Said developed and built up the Oman navy into a fierce task force, which assisted in the expulsion of the Persians from Basra. He died in 1783. Ahmad bin Said's son, Said, was elected Imam but he was an unpopular choice and was replaced by his son, Hamad. With Hamad's sudden death in 1792, Sayyid Sultan bin Ahmed assumed power until 1804 when, upon his demise, his son, Sayyid Said bin Sultan acceded to the throne. Sayyid Said nurtured his country's economy and commercial activities. He made Zanzibar Oman's second capital and established diplomatic relations with Europe and the United States. Oman thus prospered and held colonies in East Africa and across the Gulf.

During the First World War, Oman's economy and trade links declined and the country was left in relative isolation until 1970, when His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos bin Said took to the throne.

His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos bin Said

Sultan Qaboos bin Said was born in Salalah in Dhofar on 18 November, 1940. He is the only son of Sultan Said bin Taimur (dec'd) and is of the 8th generation of the Al Busaidi dynasty. He received his primary and secondary education in Salalah, and at 16, was sent to a private educational establishment in England. At the age of 20, he entered the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. After passing out of Sandhurst, he joined a British Infantry battalion on operations in Germany for one year and also held a staff appointment with the British Army.

After his military service, Sultan Qaboos studied local government subjects in England and, after a world tour, returned home to Salalah where he studied Islam and the history of his country. Upon his accession to the throne on 23 July 1970, he moved to Muscat where he declared that the country would no longer be known as 'Muscat and Oman', but would be united as the 'Sultanate of Oman'.

Since this time, Sultan Qaboos has faced many obstacles, not least than when he came to power. Oman today has an excellent health service, a clear road network and many educational establishments for girls and boys, from nursery levels, to university degrees.

His Majesty is a renowned peacemaker and this fact was acknowledged in 1998 when he was presented with the International Peace Award by the National Council on US-Arab relations. He also forges and maintains good relations with other Arab States and partners in the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council (AGCC).

Each year, Oman celebrates the reign of Sultan Qaboos on National Day, 18th November. Festivities take place all over the country and are lavish displays in the Sultan's honour. Year 2000, 30th National Day celebrations will be based in Muscat.