Archaeological Site of Salut in Oman

Some 26km southwest of Bahla in northern Oman, Salut may well turn out to be at the centre of the most important archaeological location in Oman; however it’s hardly known and is, at the moment, not ‘open’ for casual visits.

Salut - Oman
Salut – Oman

The site is at the flood plain formed by the confluence of several water courses, especially Wadi Bahla and Wadi Sayfam, and when founded might have been, as it is now, an agricultural area.

The name Salut ( سـلـوت ) is associated with two legends in Oman, both with historical characters. Possibly the most ancient for the period recounted is a visit by King Solomon on a journey between Jerusalem and Persepolis on his magic carpet. Unfortunately, for this legend, King Solomon died many centuries before the foundation of Persepolis. However Salut is also associated with a battle between the Arabs who were arriving from Yemen into a region dominated by Persia, presumably the Achaemenids who did build Persepolis. Was our Salut this legendary location, or was it one of the other Saluts in Oman; textual evidence may be sparse but the antiquities here favour our location.

University-of-Pisa-Salut-Oman-Part-of-the-team-Tiziana-De-Gennaro-architect-Caterina-Careccia-architect-Enrica-Tagliamonte-archaeologist-and-Philip-Ramorino-archaeologist.
University of Pisa Salut Oman; Part of the team. Tiziana De Gennaro -architect; Caterina Careccia -architect; Enrica Tagliamonte – Director archaeologist; Philip Ramorino – archaeologist.

Salut’s main complex was located on a small ‘tell’, the loanword from Arabic that means hill and in archaeology is now used to describe the mound of debris from man-made creations. Salut’s tell was in fact a limestone hill which rises about 20meters above the plain, completely covered by the debris caused by the collapse of the stones and mud bricks used in the construction of a fortified complex.

Tour Group at Bronze Age Tower - Salut - Oman
Tour Group at Bronze Age Tower – Salut – Oman

The removal of the debris surrounding the complex at Salut required that walling which would then have collapsed be consolidated or partially rebuilt. This modern work, though authentic, is identifiable through the use of geotextile in stonework and specific use of straw within mud-plaster.

The core of the complex is a fortified site of around 3,200sqmeters with secondary complexs on the same hill that increases the site to around 13,000 sqmeters. What enhances the importance of the Salute area are the numerous associated structures which surround the ‘tell’.

Salut , like most other antiquities in Oman, was unexcavated until after 1970. It was first surveyed by Harvard University, then Jeffery and Jocelyn Orchard from  University of Birmingham Archaeological Expedition conducted a wider survey with some excavations. The current survey by the Italian Mission to Oman of the University of Pisa , through the Office of the Advisor of his Majesty the Sultan for Cultural Affairs, was planned in late 2003 and the initial campaign undertaken in 2004 under the direction of Professor Alessandra Avanzini. The excavations currently are held twice a year under the immediate direction of Enrica Tagliamonte with supporting team. A team from the University of Sorbonne conducts intermittent excavations outside the new boundary wall that surrounds the immediate area of the Salut hill.

On the upper area of the hill the foundation of a major circular ‘tower’ was located. This is dated to the early Bronze Age 3,000-2,000BCE. The tower has been identified as a tomb, with scattered human skeletons associated with this structure. An irregular manmade platform surrounds this Bronze Age structure and this is the base for an Iron Age period complex of walled structures that represent distinct buildings from the early Iron Age 1,300-1,000BCE, Middle Iron Age 1,000-600BCE and later Iron Age600-300BCE.

Village at Salut - Oman
Village at Salut – Oman

The very prominent protruding tower on the north-east of the hill has material largely dating from the Islamic period, perhaps overlying an Iron Age foundation. A final reoccupation of the site occurred during the medieval Islamic period centred around 1200CE.

To the north of the hill is an excavated village, built on man-made terraces with evidence of Iron Age occupation.

Shrine and BeeHive Tomb - Salut - Oman
Shrine and BeeHive Tomb – Salut – Oman

Overlooking the fortification, to its north, is Jebel Sebekhi. Here are a number of ‘beehive’ tombs which date to the late Bronze Age 2000–1300 BCE. Sharing this hill is what is referred to as a shrine. This six-columned structure overlays one of the beehive tombs and has been rebuilt referring to examples from outside Oman. There are additional beehive tombs on a hill just north of Jebel Sebekhi.

Bronze Age Tower - Salut - Oman
Bronze Age Tower – Salut – Oman

Less obvious than the structures on Jebel Sebekhi are two towers built with monumental stone blocks. Though one being excavated by the University of Sorbonne lies outside the modern boundary wall the other is easily visited as it lies less than 400m north-west of the Salut hill.

Well in Bronze Age Tower - Salut - Oman
Well in Bronze Age Tower – Salut – Oman

Largely covered by silt from wadi floods this tower, when excavated, included not only the Bronze Age commonly associated with similar towers in Oman but additional external walling from the Iron Age. In common with most comparable towers in Oman there is a central well.

Sorbonne University excavations of Bronze Age Tower - Salut - Oman
Sorbonne University excavations of Bronze Age Tower – Salut – Oman

Associated with Salut’s Early Iron Age is a Falaj, one of Oman’s man-made irrigation system, whose underground channel extends for over 4kms north of the site, tapping the aquifer of Wadi Bahla. This ancient irrigation system may have been a sophisticated adaptation to climate change throughout the Middle East.

Bronze Snake from Salut - Al Balid - Oman
Bronze Snake from Salut – Al Balid – Oman

Salut appears to have had cultic associations with snakes, looking very similar to Oman saw-scaled viper (Echis omanensis) with both bronze and pottery examples. Other artefacts found have been bronze ladles, arrow heads, pottery, stone cylinder seals (from the tower N-W of Salut’s hill) and Carnelian beads.

Salut is very worthy of being included in the World Heritage Site listing by UNESCO and it will hopefully have the sign soon.

Author: Tony Walsh

Book author including the current Bradt guide to Oman – edition 4

2 thoughts on “Archaeological Site of Salut in Oman”

  1. Wow. I have only read a passing mention of this site. It looks amazing. And snakes? That reminds me of some Mediterranean bronze age finds. Interesting for sure. I’d love for Oman’s preislamic culture to be documented more. I want to know what people believed before, how they lived day to day… Fascinating. Thank you.

    1. Amira, yep snakes (also worshipped at Samharam), quite realistic as well – they have to be Echis – like most/all others from Salut the one I used slithered to Al Balid 1000km away! The Salut site, like so many others in Oman, is under-written – the University of Sorbonne excavation outside the modern wall suggests why.

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