Remarkable new discoveries from Iron Age Rustaq Oman

After the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia (BFSA) Annual General Meeting, there was a good chance to listen to Dr Derek Kennet talk about Archaeology in Oman and especially the Iron Age archaeology of a little-studied region in Oman .

Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Archaeology in Oman
Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk about a little studied region in Oman

Dr Kennet has specialised in the study of the Arabian Gulf’s history for many years and is Senior Lecturer at Durham University’s Department of Archaeology.

Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Archaeology in Oman
Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk – red illustrates the Batinah coastal plain of Oman – Rustaq is in the base of the green square.

Looking at the usual map refering to archaeological sites in South East Arabia, especially those of the Iron Age, there is a vast area that might be called ‘Terra incognita’ (the unknown land) of Oman’s Batinah region.

Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Iron Age Archaeology in Oman
Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk – population centres during historical periods

It has had, until recently, little attention from Archaeologists, despite Rustaq being an ancient town, with a name that presumably takes its name from the Persian for a collection or district of villages (Persia incorporated parts of Oman in its Empires during various periods before 630AD appx).

Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Iron Age Archaeology in Oman
Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk – Muwailah, Rumailah in UAE and Lizq and Salut in Oman

The Iron Age in Oman spans a period roughly from 1300 -300BC (separated into Iron Age 1 from 1300-1000BC / Iron Age 2 1000-600BC/ Iron Age 3 600-300BC) though rather perversely Copper/Bronze continued as the preferred metal in Oman, until more recent dates within this period.

This was a period of substantial increase in the number of villages and presumably population growth, development of Aflaj, the water delivery system by channels both overground and underground, the domestication of the Camel, use of hilltops for fortifications and cultic use.

Lizq staircase Oman
Lizq staircase Oman

Sites from the Iron Age period in Oman include Lizq and Salut, on the other side of the major northern Oman mountain range, Al Hajar.

If you are interested in exploring Oman – my update to the Bradt Guide to Oman includes Lizq, Salut and the Ziggurat below – along with Rustaq and its environs. Of course with 360pages – there is a lot more. 

Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Iron Age Archaeology in Oman
Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk – main area of study at Rustaq

Non-the less although the region had an unpromising appearance Dr Kennet lead a small team to study the area, principally that between Wabal Village and opposite Al Woshil in Rustaq, but also secondary areas at Musanaah and As Suwayq.

Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Iron Age Archaeology in Oman
Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk – a surveyed settlement – with areas of different purpose highlighted

Despite this being a survey, rather than an excavation, almost immediately the area turned from Terra incognita into a land of small villages that might even be proto towns with subdivisions of purpose. In fact, such was the density and size of these settlements that the region may well turn out to be an exceptionally heavily developed area.

Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Iron Age Archaeology in Oman
Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk – an interpretation of a possible cultic hill site

Notable and important finds from this survey include an interesting circular site on a hill’s ridge with broad steps inside it and a postulated formal flight of steps ascending from the wadi bed, as at Lizq; this Rustaq site might be a cultic centre.

Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Iron Age Archaeology in Oman
Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk – a possible cultic hill site

A second cultic site is what might be a Ziggurat which would be the second in Oman, the other is west of Suhar.

Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk Iron Age Archaeology in Oman
Dr Derek Kennet BFSA Talk – an interpretation of a plinth structure, possibly a Ziggurat

Suhar is also on the same side of the Al Hajar mountains as Rustaq.

Ziggurat Suhar Oman
Ziggurat Suhar Oman

As with most archaeological sites, the ones Dr Kennet surveyed may not have intrinsic value however with detailed excavations the knowledge they generate and interest that they attract may enable the Oman government to generate income from them through tourism.

Before the talk the BFSA made it clear that they wished to issue grants to researchers of Arabia and (in my opinion) the Rustaq area looks like an ideal location for a team to work in. The BFSA will also be looking for financial support from organisations or individuals who wish to enable ongoing research into the region.

Author: Tony Walsh

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

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