Tale of a Lost City

Kaushalendra Singh –
SALALAH, April 7 –

Lost cities live in the tales. One such city is Atlantis of sands or Ubar believed to be located near Shisr in the Governorate of Dhofar. Fiction or not, it is worth listening. Mabrook Ahmed Masan who lives in one of the houses in Shisr, says “I heard many stories from my grandfather, who himself used to quote his grandfather to make us believe that the statements were genuine and believable. I was not sure about any wadi (natural canal), mentioned by my grandfather, running in our area until 1992 when a team of archaeologists and explorers did excavation and found some source of water very deep into the sand.”
Many explorers and historians were fascinated by Ubar, the fabled entrepôt of the rich frankincense trade thousands of years ago. In 1992, guided by ancient maps and satellite surveys, archaeologists and explorers have discovered remains of a city deep in the sands of Arabia.
The discovery was the result of the work of a team of archaeologists led by Nicholas Clapp, who had excavated the site of a Bedouin well at Shisr. The conclusion they reached, based on site excavations and an inspection of satellite photos, was that this was the site of Ubar, or Iram of the Pillars, a name found in the Quran which may be a lost city, a tribe or an area. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, another member of the expedition, declared that this was Omanum Emporium of Ptolemy’s famous map of Arabia Felix. But the subject continues to divide the scholars.
A plaque at the entrance to an archaeological site at Shisr proclaims: “Welcome to Ubar, the Lost City of Bedouin Legend”. However, scholars are divided over whether this really is the site of a legendary lost city of the sands.
The place is one of the lands of frankincense sites in the world heritage list. The site is protected under The Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
As per information gathered at the archaeological site, “Ubar was discovered under the desert sands through the use of satellite technology, the remains of the ancient caravan oasis of Shisr were discovered lying approximately 170 km north of Salalah and South of Rub al Khali (Empty Quarter) desert.
Roaming around the site one sees another plaque, which suggests that “the site also has evidences of chess pieces and an administrative building. The low stone walling and small rooms as well as the circular rower contained the remains of a remarkable early medieval chess set, perhaps dating to the 11th / 12th centuries AD.”
The pieces, according to archaeological sources, represent a rather rare example of actual chess sets known from the Middle East. “To the right of this low walling has the main gate, three quarters of which has disappeared in the central collapse.” A small central structure immediately in the front, suggests that this structure would have served as the administrative building of the fort.
There is a square tower, the excavation of which suggests that this medieval age occupation belonged to Iron Age. Evidences are there of some sort of incense production at the site. Just to the north of the square structure there is a small room. “In all likelihood the fort seemed to have served as a transshipment point for frankincense either along southern tier of Rub al Khali (Empty Quarter) or northward to the oasis of Yabrin.”
German tourist Sophia was quite impressed with the location and history she managed to learn from some local residents during her brief stay at the site. “You need to have time to visit such places. Only then you can appreciate the country, which is rich in heritage and culture. In the back of your mind you start reconnecting with the reasons why these Omanis are so hospitable in nature… because they are still very close to the nature and still live the old human values of respect and coexistence.”