Architectural Feats in Oman Throughout the Ages

Oman is currently a hotspot for travellers. It’s also a place that is receiving increasing attention by archaeologists. Oman features a stunning landscape, which includes an expansive sand dune desert, a myriad of wadis (intermittent rivers), numerous mountainous outcrops, a lengthy coastline, and more. Amidst these natural wonders, humans have been building permanent structures in the region since antiquity. This post will provide a brief overview of the some of the architectural feats you can expect to see in Oman that span from the Bronze Age to the present.

Tombs

There a variety of funerary monuments in Oman, some of which date back to the Bronze Age in Arabia (roughly 3100 – 1300 BCE). Below are two examples of Bronze Age tombs that are present in Oman.

Hafit Tombs

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Hafit Tomb at al Ain

Hafit tombs are cairn-like structures that date back to the earliest part of the southeastern Arabian Bronze Age (ca. 3100-2700) (The dates of the Bronze Age can vary depending what part of the world you are in). There are over 100,000 documented Hafit tombs in  Oman. Given the sheer number of known Hafit tombs, there is a degree of variation, especially regionally; however, the overall conceptual structure is relatively the same. Usually, they can be found on the hilltops and other elevated areas. Once you train your eye to see them, you will spot them everywhere.

Hafit Tombs
Hafits tombs on hills in Bat, Oman

Umm an-Nar Tombs

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Umm an-Nar tomb located in the Umm an-Nar cemetery in Bat, Oman.

Umm an-Nar tombs possess a large, circular foundation and numerous chambers. In antiquity, these tombs were adorned with an outer wall composed of smooth, white limestone. Some sites feature this outer wall; however, it is more comon to see these tombs as pictured above.These tombs appear on the landscape from about 2700-2000 BCE. Like Hafit tombs, there is variation, but the overall conceptual structure is relatively the same throughout Oman.

restored umm an nar tomb
A restored Umm an-Nar tomb in the Umm an-Nar Cemetery of Bat, Oman.

Towers

As with tombs, there are a variety of towers in Oman and below are two examples of towers that are found on the landscape.

Umm an-Nar Towers

Umm an-Nar towers are a curious bunch. They are large (roughly 20m in diameter) circular stone enclosures. There is a great deal of variation amongst Umm an-Nar towers and their purpose and function is still debated by archaeologists.

Islamic Period Watch Towers

Islamic period (ca. 600 – 1750 CE) watchtowers can be found atop a number of hills and mountains in Oman. Their primary purpose was to provide a structure for community members to keep watch over the land. Most Islamic towers are constructed using a combination of mudbrick and stone.

Historic Mudbrick Villages

Up until fairly recently, most of the inhabitants of Oman lived in structures made out of mudbrick. Mudbrick is a type of building material that is composed of water, soil, and a temper (usually dried plant materials like straw), and baked by the sun. Currently, village populations have abandoned their mudbrick houses and now live in homes made out of concrete; however, many historic mudbrick structures still stand and are worth a visit.

Agricultural Structures

Oasis agriclture practices have been prevalent in Oman since the Bronze Age. Part of the success of this subsistence strategy was the design and creation of a number of structures that aided agricultural activities. Below are two agricultural structures that are very visible on the Omani landscape.

Date Palm Garden

The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is a core component of oasis agriculture in Oman. Date palms serve numerous functions including edible fruit for eating, building material for construction, and shade for certain plants which can’t thrive in strong, direct sunlight. Date palm gardens are carefully organized and structured in order to create conditions conducive to plant growth. These planned gardens still hold social and economic importance and they can be found throughout Oman.

Falaj

The falaj system is series of sub-surface channels that uses gravity to move groundwater across long distances and into settlement areas in order to irrigate crops.The earliest archaeological evidence of the falaj system in Oman appears to be from the Iron Age (ca. 1300 – 300 BCE); however, some scholars have proposed a Bronze Age origin. In the past, most falaj systems were constructed using stone, but now many falaj systems have been fortified with concrete. Many villages and towns in Oman still use the falaj system to irrigate their crops and these channels remain highly visible.

Forts and Castles

Oman is home to over 1,000 fortifications, some of which include forts and castles. Most of these fortified structures were built between the Iron Age and Islamic period. These structures are very prominent on the landscape and there has been a push over the last decade to prepare more of these sites for tourism.

Modern Concrete Houses

As mentioned earlier, most Omanis live in buildings made out of concrete. Once these structures are built, they are colorfully painted and adorned with vibrant details, which include mosaic tiles, majestic columns, ornate windows, are more. They are definitely a sight to behold.

Mosques

A mosque is the place worship for followers of Islam. Throughout Oman, there are mosques at almost every turn and these structures hold deep cultural significance and value. There is a lot of variety in terms of size and decor. Some mosques, like the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, are open for visiting and viewing by non-Muslims.

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Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.

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