Salut / Sumhuram (Oman): sites of exceptional historical value

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Salut in the Wilayat of Buhla in the Governorate of A'Dhakhilia, and Sumhuram in the Governorate of Dhofar, are full of exceptional beauty and historical value said Prof. Alessandra Avanzini, Head of a mission from the Italian University of Pisa working on the two sites. "The IMTO has been working at the port of Sumhuram and in the surrounding area for over twenty years. The long history of the port, the urban layout, the life of its inhabitants are much clearer today. The port had been active from the 3rd century BC to the 4th century AD and the date of its foundation, as I will show further on, is a fundamental historical datum for the history of trade by sea from the Mediterranean Sea to India," she explained."The region surrounding Sumhuram bears testimony to an ancient history. Only few days ago, our archaeological campaign ended on the eastern promontory facing Sumhuram (Inqitat). Its results were spectacular. Some years ago, we excavated a village of the Mediaeval Period, but after our last two campaigns now, we know that the human presence on the Inqitat dates back to a very ancient period: the Palaeolithic Period (60.000 years ago). Also some evidence of Late Neolithic came to light (about 6.000 years ago); a new evidence for the coastal archaeology of Dhofar. The Governorate of Muscat has Al-Watiyya Archeological Site, which is one of the evidence of the existence of coastal settlements during the Neolithic period (10,000 BC). It is characterized by the existence of various caves, rock paintings, and water dams," She added. She said that the palaeo -ground in Inqitat (Terra Rossa type) bears witness to a long history of climate change; it is the result of higher water availability in the past and of dense vegetal cover. "We discovered that the ruins of a large village were used in the Classical Period (about 2.000 years ago) but there are indicators that the village has been in use from the Bronze Age (4.000 years ago) and the early Iron Age (about 3.000 years ago). Contacts by land and by sea with the north of Oman in the 3rd Millennium are well-known. The historical importance of the area is justified by the trade of a precious good: frankincense," the head of the Italian mission added. As far as Sumhuram is concerned, she explained that the excavations of Italian Mission proved that its foundation dates to the 3rd century BC, and collocates the port of Suhuram in the period when the commercial network between the Mediterranean Sea and India was defined. She furthered said: "For several years, it has been accepted that only during the Roman Empire (the lsted century AD) did ships dare to face the open sea from Arabia to India being pushed forward by the monsoon. Today it is, clear that a few centuries earlier there was already a communication network going from Berenike in Egypt to Sumhuram until Pattanatn and Arikamedu in India. Sumhuram is at the core of this commercial network, the actual bridge between east and west on the rising trade and cultural route between faraway lands. The large quantity of amphorae produced in Italy and found in Sumhuram shows the long-lasting contacts with Mediterranean cultures. The strongest links since the foundation of Sumhuram were with India: the finding of pottery, Indian objects, a Brahmi-Tamil inscription seems to indicate the presence, although temporary, of Indian communities in Sumhuram.

"Surnhuram's inhabitants were not just merchants but also fishermen, as witnessed by the large quantity of shells and small fish bones found in their houses. Their diet consisted mainly of seafood. The presence of whale bones, used as bases for columns or small tables shows the ability of the inhabitants in Sumhuram to hunt big sea animals. An activity that was not easy at all in the ancient world.

The city was small (less than ten thousand square meter, with 200/300 inhabitants) but very well-organised and lively. It is sufficing to say that in Sumhuram there were public toilets in the area of the temple: this may not seem important at all, but it actually indicates the good quality of life of inhabitants in Sumhuram. Some production areas were found in the city: a pottery kiln (the first intact kiln found in Arabia), kilns to produce plaster, ovens to bake bread.

Close to the market area, where there was also the city mint, a large area for the production of metals was found. Over this year's campaign two furnaces were discovered, they were not only used for creating small metal objects, but rather for metalworking proper. Ours is a multidisciplinary team: not archaeologists only, but also architects, botanists, geologists, scholars studying ancient pollen, archaeozoologists," she added.

Prof. Alessandra Avanzini concluded saying: "The analysis of the latter has shown the presence of animals that could not be found anywhere else in the city like camels, cattle, sheep, big fish. Their heads are absent and traces of butchery suggest that they were cut into large portions. The most probable historical conclusion is that the fortress was used to collect food for the sailors who arrived at the port, not for the inhabitants of Sumhuram who ate shellfish, sardines, and a few goats. The sailors did not need just frankincense, but certainly water and food before facing their journey towards faraway lands all around the globe.