Sunday, October 18, 2015

Fabled Sumhuram

A rock inscription at Khor Rori describing the town, its name, and period of settlement    Inscriptions at Khor Rori reports that the town, called “Sumhuram,”was founded on royal initiative and settled by Hadrami emigrants, which most scholars idferntify with the frankincense esdporting port of Moscha Limen mentioned in this repion in the 1st century maritime gide Periplus Marais Erythraei.
    The ancient famed city of Sumhuram (Smhm: “His Names is Great”), which has been attributed to the Queen of Sheba, but was factually the basis or fort to protect the Frankincense Trail that left this area of Salalah westward toward the Red Sea, then northward to Mediterranean and Red Sea regions to Mesopotamia, India and China. The Neolithic inhabitants of southern Arabia were engaged in this long-distance trade with the Arabian littoral and from there into Mesopotamia. However, the further eastern site of Khor Rori, when combined with historical and archaeological evidence, it is that Shisr could be either Ubar or the Omanum Emporium of Ptolemy, whilst Khor Rori has been associated with the Moscha limen of the Periplus Maris Erythraei, meaning Khor Rori was not involved in this trade until between the first century B.C. and first century A.D., and Sumhuram was not built until that time. By the 2nd century A.D., Sumnhuram was built—dominated dominated by a huge fortress
Yellow Arrow: Sumhuram built along the khor of the Rori river; White Arrow: Anciently, the river was connected to the sea between the rock promontories, referred to here as the West and East Cliffs. The Rori moves falls downward about 3 miles from the Wadi Darbat which overlooks the entire plain that stretches for 1.5 miles between the sea and the Qara Mountains
    This group of archaeological sites in Oman represents the production and distribution of frankincense, one of the most important luxury items of trade in antiquity. They constitute outstanding testimony to the civilization that from the Neolithic to the late Islamic period flourished in southern Arabia. The Oasis of Shishr and the entrepôts of Khor Rori and Al-Balīd are excellent examples of medieval fortified settlements in the Persian Gulf region.
    The port of Sumhuram/Khor Rori (the Moscha of classical geographical texts) was founded at the end of the 1st century by LL'ad Yalut, king of the Hadhramawt, to control the trade in Dhofar incense. Indian seamen who had brought cotton cloth, corn and oil in exchange for incense found themselves still far from home and decided to overwinter there, waiting for the favorable monsoon winds to take them home. It became a favorite stop-over on the route home and eventually was turned into a port. Soon it became the hub of the trading settlement on this coast during the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. Its close links with the powerful Shabwa state in Yemen made this small fortified town very rich. The process of disintegration began in the first half of the 3rd century A.D., when the site was reclaimed by the sea and by natural vegetation. Khor Rori lies 18 miles to the east of Salalah on a hilltop on the eastern bank of a sweet-water outlet (khor). The remains of the fortress are located on a rocky spur running east-west. It forms part of a wider defensive system, details of which still can be distinguished. The walls are built from dressed-stone facings with rubble cores. The most heavily fortified part is on the north, where the entrance is located, which itself is a massive structure with three successive gates on the steep entry path. It is flanked by the remains of towers.
    This large inlet extends inland and has several natural places where ships could moor, making it the likely reason that Khor Rori and Taqah (2 miles to the west) were called Merbat (“the moorings”). According to radio-carbon dating and Dr. Eduard G. Rheinhardt, assistant professor, School of Geography and Geology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, (2001), the final closing of the harbor’s mouth occurred in 1640 to 1690 A.D.
Two rock promitories, called officially the (Yellow Arrow) Inquita’a Taqah and (Red Arrow) Inqita’a Mirbat. Dependidngon the area around the cliffs overlooking the sea, the height varies from 60 feet to 90 feet, which would have provided ample opportunity for Laman and Lemuel to throw Nephi over into the depths of the sea (1 Nephi 17:48)
    Two huge cliffs flank the entrance into the Khor Rori, referred to as as (east cliff) Inquita’a Taqah and (west cliff) Inqita’a Mirbat. These flanking rock promontories created breakwaters that allowed ancient ships to sail out 400–450 yards into the Indian Ocean proper with protection from the surf before they needed to pick up the current. This was the great strength of Khor Rori as a port; the natural breakwaters provided protection from both the summer southwest monsoon and the winter northeast monsoon winds. Thus the port could be used all year for shipping and shipbuilding.
Looking southward from Sumhuram, across the east inlets where (yellow arrows) ways and means were built for the purpose of constructing a ship to set sail through the east and west cliffs in the distance and out into the Sea of Arabia
    The ancient city of Sumhuram, built in the area of Khor Rori, is the most important pre-Islamic settlement in the Dhofar region. Later in its existence Sumhuram was a ship-building site and much evidence dates back to the 1st century A.D., but nothing before that.
    Obviously, then, the area of Khor Rori was not inhabited when Lehi arrived in 600 B.C. In fact, it was not a shipping port, so no timber could have been supplied there until around the first century B.C., 500 years after Lehi left.
    The site has been heavily investigated, beginning as early as the 1950’s by an American expedition (the American Foundation for the Study of the Man–AFSM) directed by W. Phillips and with the archaeologist F. Albright as field director. And since 1996 the Italian Mission to Oman (IMTO), directed by prof. A. Avanzini, has been working in the area of Khor Rori.
Within the ruins of Sumhuram looking south out into the Sea of Arabia (Lehi’s Irreantum Sea). Note how close it was to the entrance to the Khor and how well guarded this port was from outside involvelent
    Hugging the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula, the province of Dhofar (in Arabic, Zafar) can seem like a world away from the rest of Oman. Separated from pretty much everywhere else in the country by a thousand several hundred miles, the region’s history and identity have always been largely separate from that of the rest of the Sultanate. Fabled in antiquity as the source of the legendary frankincense trade, Dhofar boasted one of Arabia’s oldest and most cosmopolitan cultures—whose remains continue to exercise historians and archeologists to this day. The region was only finally brought under the control of the sultans of Muscat in the mid-nineteenth century, while the Dhofaris continued to assert their independence until as recently as the 1970s before finally being brought into the Omani fold.
A NASA image of the Garbeeb between the Qara Mountains (darker area at top) and the Sea of Arabia, a curving half circle with the city of Salalah in the center and Khor Rori far to the right
    Centerpiece of the region is the laidback city of Salalah, of capital of Dhofar and by far the biggest settlement for hundreds of miles in any direction. This is Oman with a distinct, tropical twist: endless white-sand beaches line the coast, while coconut and banana palms replace the ubiquitous date trees of the north and neat little pastel-painted houses stand in for the fortified mudbrick mansions found elsewhere in the country. 
The valley above Khor Rori, along the Wadi Darbat, where fresh water flows down into the Khor and past Sumhuram and out into the Sea of Arabia. During Kharfeef season, this area is well-watered, green, and a virtual paradise; in the valley below at Khor Rori, and along the shore of the Garbeeb it is equally wet and green from the Khareef (for more information on this, see Wednesday, December 31, 2014 post: Jaredite Direction of Travel-Part VII-The Animals and Plants left behind)
    The differences are especially striking during the annual khareef (June to August/early September), when the rains of the southeast monsoon brush along the coast around Salalah, turning the area to a fecund riot of misty green which has no equivalent anywhere else in the Arabian peninsula. During this period Salalah is thronged with visiting Omanis and other Gulf Arabs, who flock here to experience the unusual pleasures of rain – an attraction that might well be considered overrated by most visitors from outside the region – although the magical explosion of green, accompanied by the bursting into life of seasonal waterfalls and streams, more than compensates.
    Numerous attractions dot the hinterland of Salalah, enclosed by the arc of the scenic Dhofar Mountains, including the rugged Jebel Samhan and Jebel al Qamar dotted with wadis, gorges, sinkholes, blowholes and other geological curiosities. Down at sea level, the coast is lined by huge, and largely deserted, strips of pristine white-sand beach, picture-perfect khors (creeks) and a string of further attractions including the quaint old town of Mirbat and the ruins of ancient Sumhuram. Beyond the mountains you enter the vast stony desert which stretches from here to Muscat, where you’ll find the slight remains of the legendary Ubar and, further on, the enormous dunes of the majestic Empty Quarter over which Lehi traveled to reach Khor Rori.

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