Saturday, December 27, 2014

Jatredite Direction of Travel – Part IV – Stopping at the Great Sea

In the first two of these four posts, we discussed the impossibility because of the terrain for the Jaredite party to travel out of the Valley of Nimrod in any direction but to the southeast in order to reach the Great Sea. In the last post, we discussed crossing the “many waters,” passing the "sea in the wilderness," and continuing down the coast of the Persian Gulf, then crossing the desert following the old trade route to Salalah on their way to the Sea.
Continuing with this discussion, the last Jaredite prophet, Ether (left), tells us: “For behold, it came to pass that the Lord did bring Jared and his brethren forth even to that great sea which divideth the lands. And as they came to the sea they pitched their tents; and they called the name of the place Moriancumer; and they dwelt in tents, and dwelt in tents upon the seashore for the space of four years” (Ether 2:13).
    Here is where the Frankincense trees grew and the old Frankincense Trail headed west along the Incense Trade Route, a network of major ancient land and sea trading routes linking the Mediterranean world with the Eastern and Southern sources of incense, spices, and other luxury goods—a route that stretched from Mediterranean ports across the Levant and Egypt through Northeastern Africa and Arabia to Indian and beyond. Parts of this Incense route reached its peak of importance roughly between the 7th century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D.
The much earlier trade route across Arabia was controlled by Babylonian exiles in a Chaldean colony at Gerrha (left), which was an important port of entry for goods shipped from India, where they were packed onto camel caravans and moved north to Mesopotamia, west to the Mediterranean, and south to Salalah, and then west from there to Yemen, Egypt, and east Africa. It was along the southern trade route from Gerrha that the Jaredites traveled to Salalah. In the opposite direction, from Salalah toward Mesopotamia, came caravans carrying frankincense—a resin, like myrrh and aloes wood—when burned, gave off a pungent, pleasurable smell. This seemingly minor characteristic, however, was esteemed so highly in ancient cultures that almost all the peoples of the Mediterranean and the Middle East thought it vital to their religious rituals. They believed the fragrant white smoke from smoldering incense soothed the angry gods. The temple of Ba'al, in Babylon, burned two and a half tons of frankincense a year, and in Rome, the emperor Nero burned an entire year’s production of incense from Arabia at the funeral of his wife, Poppasea.
A grove of Frankincense trees on the south or coastal side of the Qara Mountains
    The mystery that surrounded the ancient Frankincense trade began thousands of years ago, “In the days when frankincense was valued not only for temple ritual but for domestic use, the trade in these mountains [was] very active, and the cunning old Sabæan merchants, who liked to keep the monopoly of this drug, told wonderful stories of the phoenix which guarded the trees, of the insalubrity of the climate and of the deadly vapours which came from them when punctured for the gum. In antiquity, Aelius Gallus was sent to Arabia by Augustus on his unsuccessful campaign to discover where Arabian gold and frankincense came from” (Theodore and Mabel Bent, Southern Arabia, BiblioBazaar, 1900). In this region the Frankincense trade flourished for thousands of years as one of the most important trading activities of the ancient and medieval world.
    This southern trade route from Gerrha ended at Salalah, connecting to the Frankincense Trail that headed west. Beyond the Qara Mountains, on the coastal (south) side of the hills, were ancient groves of trees, then through the mountains and into the Salalah area, the dry, barren desert of the Rub’ al Khali ended abruptly, replaced by a verdant paradise, particularly during and directly after the monsoon season, called the “Khareef,” which was from May to September, and sometimes lasting into early November.
Salalah during the monsoon season provides a luxuriant scenery of lush greenery. It is considered a nature and beach lover’s paradise, it has a beautiful landscape with wide white sandy beaches, mountains, lush vegetation, coconut palms and wildlife
    Salalah was the traditional capital of Dhofar, originating after its neighboring settlement of Khor Rori, probably in the first century A.D., and reached the peak of prosperity in the 13th century because of the incense trade. The area consists of three divisions: a coastal plain (called the Garbeeb), a mountain range, and a plateau. The coastal plain varies in width from about 10 miles around Salalah, to practically nothing near Muscat, where the hills descend abruptly to the sea. The highest point, Jabal Shams, is at 9,777 feet in the Al Jabal range of the north, and the plateau has an average height of about 1,000 feet, and mostly stony and waterless, extending to the sands of the Rub' al-Khali. The coastline southward to Dhofar is barren and forbidding, but at Salalah, a semicircular fertile plain extends to the foot of a steep line of hills, some 4,920 feet high, and forms the edge of a stony plateau also extending to the sands of the Empty Quarter, with the coastal strip having a climate similar to that of Los Angeles, California.
Salalah, called the Garden City of Oman, sits in a cup-shaped bay surrounded by Mountains which hold the monsoon rains along this part of the coast and creates a lush verdue that is unique in the desert kingdoms of Arabia
    Khor Rori, 24 miles east of Salalah, was the area settled along this coastal area, beginning as an outpost for the kingdom of Hadramawt beginning around the 2nd century B.C. The settlement was called Sumhuram, and was founded on royal initiative by King  Il’ad Yalut of Hadhramaut when he took over the incense-producing areas, built the port of Sumhuram, and secured a monopoly of the frankincense trade. The area is mentioned in the first century A.D., probably 60 A.D., but no earlier than 20 A.D., in the navigational manuscript Periplus of the Erythraean Sea that listed the ports and coastal landmarks and their approximate intervening distances, so sea captains could be aided in their navigation.
The inlet at Khor Rori. Top: The left, or east bank or cliff; Middle: The right, or west bank or cliff; Bottom: A distant view of the inlet, an extension of the Wadi Darbat that originates in the hills above and behind (on the north) of Khor Rori
    This settlement of Sumhuram at Khor Rori was first discovered by James Theodore Bent during his travels in the region in the late 19th century. The site has been excavated by the American Foundation for the Study of Man (AFSM) in the early 1950s and by the Italian Mission to Oman (IMTO) since 1994. The excavations have uncovered the ground plan of the settlement and has attested maritime contacts with the Ḥaḑramite homeland, India and the Mediterranean. This all bears out that Sumhuram (Khor Rori) was not occupied prior to 200 B.C. Obviously, at the time of the Jaredites, it was, like all the southern coast of Arabia, vacant of people and without settlement.
Ruins of Sumhuram, the first settlement at Khor Rori. Top: Looking south into the Sea of Arabia; Bottom: Closer view. The ruins set on a slight hill on the west bank of the inlet and the top shows the left bank or cliff at the inlet mouth
    The ruins of Sumhuram, the first settlement at Khor Rori, existed from about 200 B.C. until 500 or 600 A.D. before being abandoned. About this time, the silt brought down through the Wade Darbat from the hills above Khor Rori eventually led to the formation of a sandbar (below) at the mouth of the inlet and blocked the sea access to the site.
(See the next post, “Jaredite Direction of Travel – Part V,” for the The Matches of Salalah and Khor Rori to Moriancumer)

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