Samuel Kutty and Sandhya Rao Mehta
The relations between Oman and India are embedded in history with millennia old commercial, cultural, religious and economic linkages owing to geographical proximity and personal ties.
Archaeological excavations indicate that Oman-India relations stretch back to thousands of years, to the earliest period of the Bronze Age.
Linked by the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, these coasts have interacted continually, creating cross fertilisation of ideas, cultures, religions and ways of life which continue until today. Far from common perceptions that these ties are modern, the Gulf littoral and the shores of Indian coasts have engaged in frequent contact, as the ports along the northern coast of present day Oman have been an entrêport for goods going to the desert interior, as well as further to Africa and the Mediterranean.
Emerging archaeological evidence in Oman dates its maritime tradition to the sixth millennium BCE, with establishment of links with the Greeks in the Erythraean Sea. The links with the Harappan civilisation, part of the Indus Valley, has also found much evidence in Northern Oman, as far back as the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age began around 3000 BCE on the Indian subcontinent, leading to the beginning of the Indus Valley civilisation.
Owing to their location along the Arabian Sea, the inhabitants of Harappa are known to have traded all along the Red Sea. By 3000 BCE, travellers in canoes and rafts moved between towns and trading ports in the western coast of India and along the Sea of Oman. Archaeological findings from ancient Harappa have been found in the upper Gulf area, including Qalhat and Dilmun. These include pottery and inscribed coins, shards with engravings in the Indus Valley script, carnelian beads and a Harappan jar dated 2400-2000 BCE. These confirm continuing trade relations in the Harappan outposts on the Makran coast in the later Bronze Age.
Historian Vogt states that “Harappan impact on the Oman peninsula possibly started as early as the middle of the third millennium BC.”
Continuing excavations and discoveries in the 19th and 20th centuries provide important archaeological data regarding the Indus Valley civilisation’s technology, art, trade, transportation, writing, and religion. Oman’s links with Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro have also been confirmed by archaeologists from Sultan Qaboos University, along with the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, with their discovery of ancient pottery comprising of jars from one of the settlements in Dahwa, located 24 km west of the Wilayat of Saham on the edge of the Hajar mountain range. These jars, which were made either in Harappa or Mohenjo-Daro, the twin cities of the Indus Valley, date back to the early Bronze Age (2500-2000 BCE).
Archaeologists believe that these jars were used to transport products from the Indus Valley by small boats across the Indus River to the shores of the Arabian Sea. They were transported by larger boats to a port near Saham and then carried on shoulders for 24 km inwards through the edges of the Hajar Mountains to the Dahwa area.
The presence of Sindh pottery in Dahwa indicates the extent of trade activity that prevailed between Oman and Sindh during the early Bronze Age. This archaeological site is the oldest settlement to date to have been discovered in the north of the Batinah plain.
Jamal al Moosawi, Secretary General of The National Museum, Oman, elaborates: “The Oman-India relations have roots in the Bronze Age. At that time, Oman’s first recorded civilisation, Majan, had established sea borne trade with the Indus Valley civilisation. Archaeological evidence in the eastern province of Oman, such as Ras al Jinz and Ras al Hadd found archaeological items such as Harappan pottery, shards, objects associated with ornamentation, besides stamp seals with iconography that is, no doubt, associated with the ancient Harappan civilisation. In addition, there are archaeological indications that Indian settlements had presence in eastern provinces of Oman as far back as the Bronze Age.”
In another discovery, pieces of pottery dating back to the Harappan civilisation were found at Ras Al Hadd in Oman. The shards of pottery that were found date back to the 3rd millennium BCE. Archaeologists also found tools and stone stoves that were used for cooking, in addition to collections of beads used to craft necklaces and other jewellery. Conducted by the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism in collaboration with a joint Italian-American excavation team from the University of Bologna in Italy, archaeologists were able to unearth many pieces of pottery that showed them how people lived during that era. These archaeological discoveries at this site demonstrate the depth of commercial and cultural relations between the inhabitants of the civilisation of Majan and the Indus Valley in the third millennium BCE.
Excerpts from the book Across Sea and Space: Oman-India ties published by the Ministry of Information