Oman : 40 years of explorations along the seashores


Emma Abdulaal

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Whether you are from a country or just visiting, it is always interesting to learn new things about the place you call home and this was certainly true for the Women’s Guild of Oman (WGO) members who attended the group’s annual general meeting last week. Aside from the regular agenda and raffle draw, guests at the Mumtaz Mahal Hall were treated to a special lecture by Professor Maurizio Tosi, an Italian archaeologist who has literally been digging into Oman’s past for the last 40 years. 

During his talk, titled ‘The archaeology of the earliest ocean conquest – 40 years of explorations along the seashores of Oman’, Maurizio, who is currently leading three archaeological digs in the sultanate, spoke about the importance the coast played in where people located their homes. “The moment the climate changed and got more arid after 5000BC, Oman’s inhabitants found themselves in the land of scarcity when before they were in the land of plenty. We explored how the Arabs moved from being hunters and gathers to fishermen and navigators,” he said.

During their investigations, the team excavating the sites around Oman have been able to prove that links between Oman and India in terms of trade have been taking place for longer than originally thought. Maurizio showed that these important trade routes have existed since around 4000BC. “The way Arabs were able to conquer the oceans and cross the waves was due to their social structure, which was based on cooperation. We are discovering now how closely knitted people lived together,” he added.

An important part of what allowed Oman to do this, aside from working together, was to do with mastering the coastal winds to their advantage, something that also allowed them to move frankincense as far as Rome and China. Maurizio also spoke about the links between Italy and India and added, “We previously didn’t have archaeological proof that the Romans and Indians were communicating until in the city of Pompeii - destroyed in 79AD by Mount Vesuvius - they found the leg of a table carved in ivory from Mumbai. At the same time in India, they unearthed a wine jar from Pompeii a couple of years before it was destroyed.”

Through the excavations that are taking place in Qurm, Maurizio’s team discovered dumping areas for food remains and because the diet for Oman’s earlier costal inhabitants comprised mainly seafood, a large amount of the debris consisted of shells and fish bones. Unfortunately, many of the fish bones were too small to be preserved properly, but due to the size of the shells, the archaeologists were able to analyse the thinly layered dump sites to see how eating habits changed annually.

In the area of Ras al Hamra, Maurizio also found houses from around 4000BC, which were right on the coast, showing that people lived close to the source of their food. They have even been able to see that tuna was one of the most consumed fish, whereas fish like mackerel were less common. Some of the sites that Maurizio wanted to investigate were unfortunately being developed and after some difficulty he was allowed to work in one certain area where the team went on to find around 500 graves. “This site can tell us everything about early fishermen in Oman, from what they ate and what they died from,” he said.