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Left: Example of a tomb at Al Ayn. (Public Domain) Right: The recently unearthed Iron Age site in Oman.  (The National)

Secrets of Iron Age Oman Revealed By Copper Mining Necropolis

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Archaeologists in Oman’s Al Sharqiyah governorate have discovered an Iron Age settlement, copper mine, and necropolis with 45 tombs.

The tombs are located 700 meters (2296.59 ft.) from an ancient settlement that the team of archaeologists believe dates to the beginning of the Iron Age and was used until the early Islamic era. They think it was inhabited by a culture invested in copper mining.

In a project studying Iron Age settlements in North Al Sharqiyah, Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture, working with Germany’s Heidelberg University, discovered the copper mining site in Al Mudhaibi. According to a press release by the Ministry, the tombs cover an area of 50 to 80-square meters (538.2-861.1 sq. ft.) and were found “very well preserved.”

A Snapshot of Iron Age Oman

The Al Sharqiyah site is one of several significant archaeological finds made in Oman over the past decade which were discovered by a team of excavators from the archaeology department at Sultan Qaboos University working with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture. And this new site, according to a report in The Times of Oman, is the “most preserved” site, where the stone buildings and tombs have been preserved by nature for over 3,000 years - offering archaeologists a snapshot of ancient life frozen in time.

Specifically, the undisturbed method of burials, according to the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, features the social status of the deceased through the “length of the tomb” and stories are told by the different types of artifacts buried with the interred.

The tombs are “very well-preserved.” (Times of Oman)

Ancient Powerhouses of the Fertile Crescent

A growing list of Oman’s ancient sites have been recognized by the UN over the last few decades. In 1988, Bat, Al Khutm, and Al Ayn, in Al Dhahira Governorate of north-west Oman, gained recognition as UNESCO World Heritage Sites because they are the most complete settlements and necropolises from the 3rd millennium BC in the world.

Ancient cultures in Oman created “beehive tombs” and in January 2018 the largest trove of Iron Age weapons in the region was discovered at Mudhmar East, including more than 3,000 arrows, daggers, and axes. The data gathered from the archaeological sites of Bat, Al Khutm, Al Ayn, and Mudhmar East will be added to the information that “will” be gathered from this new site, and together they will greatly add to the archaeologists’ understanding of what Oman might have been like in prehistory.

World Heritage Grave at Al Ayn, Oman. (Public Domain)

And all evidence so far lends weight to the theory that copper mining and the fabrication and offering of copper tributes helped fuel these ancient powerhouses of the fertile crescent.

High Expectations for What Lies Beneath

Smaller single-chambered walled tombs, like the newly discovered examples, began being constructed at the start of the 3rd millennium BC and more elaborate multi-chambered tombs have been found dating to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC. But beyond these newly discovered necropoli, while primary reports from the new settlement and copper mine in North Al Sharqiyah are thin, the archaeologists will no doubt be expecting to find similar ancient irrigation systems discovered at the other sites, and maybe even the quarries where the building stones used to create their monumental works were mined.

Orthographic view of an Early Iron Age hut tomb in Central Oman. (Pyule/CC BY SA 4.0)

Orthographic view of an Early Iron Age hut tomb in Central Oman. (Pyule/CC BY SA 4.0)

Oman, Dos and Don’ts

If this article has inspired your imagination and you are searching flights to Oman, you might be asking yourself how safe is Oman for travelers and what types of crime should one be worried about there?

Omanis are generally relaxed and polite people and in their fantastically wealthy country strict religious, moral, and legal codes are adhered to, and as a deterrent, all types of crime are severely punished. Like anywhere in the world travelers can fall victim to petty crime, but by taking the usual precautions to protect your valuables and being aware of your surroundings most people remain safe and unharmed.

A World Nomads article, however, does advise that women should take care when traveling alone, especially when out at night and should take a taxi rather than walking. And, because the Sultanate of Oman is an absolute monarchy, the Sultan has the final say. It’s also worth noting that as Oman is an Islamic country Sharia law shapes the legal system so it is advised to dress with modesty and at all times respect the local law and cultural traditions, particularly during the time of Ramadan.

Top Image: Left: Example of a tomb at Al Ayn. (Public Domain) Right: The recently unearthed Iron Age site in Oman.  (The National)

By Ashley Cowie



This sounds very much like the remains of the copper mine and Sumerian-style Ziggurat north of Sohar visited by Thor Heyerdahl and his guide, the Italian Archaeologist Paolo Costa. These ruins are described in Heyerdahl's book "The Tigis Expedition" (1981, pp.206-218).

Stephen L

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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