Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Mysterious Sumhuram

The way theorists have written about Sumhuram, an ancient city on the inlet of Khor Rori to the east of Salalah, one might think it was a mysterious city of antiquity. Perhaps because the Queen of Sheba is said to have had a palace there, or that it was the beginning of the famed Frankincense Trail that swept across Arabia, or perhaps it was because of the Rub’ al Khali desert. Whatever, the reason, the facts do not support any mystery.
Aerial view of the Salalah Plain; Bottom: Looking out to sea across the Khor Rori inlet from the ancient ruins of Sumhuram. The entrance to the inlet is now covered by a sand bar, but anciently ships from all over sailed into the inlet from the Sea of Arabia beginning around the 1st century B.C.
    Khor Rori lies on the eastern end of the bowl-shaped plain of Salalah, and along the eastern shore of the inlet of Khor Rori sits the ancient ruins of Sumhuram, perhaps one of the most important pre-Islamic settlements in the entire Dhofar region since it sits on the end (or beginning) of the Frankincense production region.
    The first phase of the settlement, which was established behind a monumental gate to the city where great quantities of iron and bronze objects have been discovered, first by James Theodore Bent in the late 19th century A.D., which has later been excavated by the American Foundation for the Study of Man in the early 1950s and by the Italian Mission to Oman since 1994. First believed to have been established as early as the late 4th century B.C. and continued on through the 4th century A.D., more modern dating has placed the beginning closer to the end of the 3rd century B.C., and continuing only through the 1st century A.D.
    It is believed that Khor Rori is the ancient frankincense exporting port of Moscha Limen mentioned in this region in the 1st century maritime guide Periplus Maris Erythraei. It is believed to have been founded as an outpost for the kingdom of Hadramawt in modern Yemen once the Nabataeans started exporting frankincense from the Hymraite ports.
The port of Sumhuram (Smhrm - "His Name is Great") was founded on royal initiative and settled by Hadrami emigrants at the end of the 1st century B.C. Rock inscriptions (left) record that it was established by LL'ad Yalut to control the trade in Dhofar incense. It is identified as the Moscha of classical geographical texts, where Indian seamen who had brought cotton cloth, corn, and oil to exchange for incense, overwintered, waiting for the favorable monsoon winds to take them home.
    The inlet itself is a substantial port that has seen Greek, Roman, Indian, and other early traders dating back to the 1st century
    Though contrary to archaeological findings of the site, some theorists claim that Khor Rori and Sumhuran were occupied during the time Lehi reached his Bountiful, thus making a stronger case for a different site a few miles to the west of Salalah; however everything yet uncovered in the Sumhuran/KhorRori area suggests it was not actually settled or occupied until 400 B.C. at the very earliest, and not officially as an actual settlement until the 1st century B.C., as noted by the ancient Greek seafarer’s manual, Periplus of the Erythrean [Red] Sea, (naming the Khor Rori inlet at Salalah as Moscha) and describing navigation and trading opportunities in the area for mariners who might be sailing in that area—obviously, if it had been occupied for some 600 years or more by then, there would have been no need for his detailed instructions as to how to reach this inlet and where it was exactly located.
    Actually, and as typically the case, there is no mystery when Khor Rori was first established. The problem lies in this date not matching the dates of other sites favored by some theorists, such as Khor Karfot. However, despite writing meant to discredit Khor Rori, there are trees in the area of Wadi Dirbat just above Khor Rori, the greenery and “bountiful” conditions Nephi writes about, including natural beehives in caves that have been harvested there for millennia, and the other conditions we have written about in these pages over the past.
    In addition, there are two cliffs at the inlet to Khor Rori in the photo below (red arrows) where, despite some theorist’s claim to there being no such place, would have been perfect locations to throw Nephi into the sea. After all, any old mountain would not do, it had to be a cliff facing that dropped directly into the sea for the body to reach, as Nephi recorded it, “when I had spoken these words, they were angry with me, and were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea” (1 Nephi 17:48, emphasis mine).
Top: (Yellow Arrow) The Khor Rori inlet where fresh water flows down from the Wadi Dirbat, past the (White Arrow) ancient ruins of Sumhuran and to the Sea of Arabia (foreground). Red Arrows: Two 90 to100-feet high cliffs on either side of the inlet from which Laman and Lemuel could have thrown Nephi into the sea; Bottom: The ancient ruins of Sumhuran. The two cliffs can be seen in the background
    The port of Khor Rori and the city of Sumhuram were the hub of the trading settlement on this coast during the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., during the height of Rome’s far flung shipping empire that brought those of the Mediterranean into the Sea of Arabia in search for frankincense and other trade goods, creating short-lived wealth and fast-growing cities and ports that did not last long.
The powerful and wealthy city of Sumhuram was secure for three centuries behind its huge walls as it overlooked the port of Khor Rori, which drew thousands of traders from the region in search of goods not found in their own lands
    Sumhuram’s close links with the powerful Shabwa state made it a very rich town. At this time it was a small, strongly fortified city covering about an acre. However, the process of disintegration began in the first half of the 3rd century A.D., a process that was completed by the end of the century, when the site was reclaimed by the sea and by natural vegetation.
    While Shisr was already playing a major role in the Iron Age as an important outpost providing traders with water before they entered the desert of the Rub al-Khali, the foundation of the fortified port of Khor Rori/Sumhuram by LL'ad Yalut, king of the Hadhramawt, took place at the end of the 1st century B.C. in the context of growing sea trade between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
    After the decline of Khor Rori during the first half of the 3rd century A.D., the site of al-Balid can be considered to be that of the port which took over the main role in sea trade up to the Late Islamic period In the region of Dhofar the natural setting of Wadi Andoor, Wadi Hogar, and Wadi Dawkah represents the most significant area where frankincense trees grow.
    There is nothing mysterious about this area and the ruins found there. For a short time, about 300 years at most, Sumhuram played an important role in the international trade of the time; however, as different states rose and fell, the trade routes changed and where one city had been wealthy and powerful, it lost its maritime appeal and fell into oblivion. This, then affected the interior sites, like Shisir to the north of Khor Rori, not rediscovered until the 19th century.
Top: Khor Rori today, a quiet, undisturbed, and peaceful inlet when Lehi arrived and where camels roam today and few people visit; Bottom: (Red Arrow) Khor Rori as the hub of ancient travel and trade from Rome (upper left) to India (lower right) and Africa (lower left)—it is easy to see why this port was the center of focus during the 1st Century B.C. and onward until Rome and other such empires lost their power and disappeared into history
    Khor Rori is a peaceful small inlet today, showing no signs of its once robust and busy connections with the world around it. The trees above Khor Rori where Nephi found his wood, the ore at the base of the mountains to the east from which he made his tools, the ways upon which his ship had been built and then slid into the inlet, are all gone now—only ruins remain. Were it not for the Book of Mormon recording this brief moment in history, we would know little if anything about the important role this area played in providing an area from which Lehi set sail for his Land of Promise.

1 comment:

  1. Very well stated. Kharfot is not the site. Just try to ride a camel into that forsaken defile, which is an impossible feat. The goat herders shelter and corral is definitely not Solomon's Temple and pales in comparison with the temple cult at Khor Rori complete with washing rooms and an altar. I have followed the path from the Wadi Darbat down to Kohr Rori and large timber felled in the Wadi can easily be floated. The transport of timber has never been addressed by those who support Kharfot nor the fact that Kharfot is such a difficult place to access that no successive settlers ever desired it. If Lehi's Bountiful was as spectacular as the later Book of Mormon people remembered it to be when they used the name, then Kharfot doesn't meet that criteria. Kohr Rori is a spectacular location not easily forgotten.