Urban Planning
Landscape Ecology




Work package: Archaeological investigations in respect to the origin and development of oasis settlements in Oman

Contact Person: Dr. Jutta Häser, German Protestant Institute of Archaeology, Amman

Scientific staff and PhD students: Dr. Jutta Häser, Dr. Jürgen Schreiber

Objectives: The research is focused on processes of transformation throughout history, regarding the architecture and material culture, the economy and ecology of the oasis settlements in a regional and interdisciplinary approach. The aim of the archaeological study is the investigation of the settlement in respect to their establishment and development as well as their ecological setting.

Study locations:



Archaeological survey at Jabal Bani Jabir (Maqta and Jayla) in 2003

Location: The Jabal Bani Jabir in the southern Hajar mountain range of northern Oman represents one of the driest climates on earth. This area is topographically important as the up to 1850 m high Shir plateau divides the coastal zone of the Arabian Sea from the inner-Omani Sharqiya. The extended Shir plateau is also the origin of four major drainage systems, Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab to the east, Wadi Bani Khalid to the south, and Wadi Khabbah to the north-west.

Methods: The survey in the surroundings of Maqta was based on aerial photographs (OM81-73-110-190 and OM81-73-110-191 at the scale 1:20,000) taken in 1981 by the National Survey Authority of Oman. The positions of all identified archaeological sites were registered by GPS. The tombs at the edge of the sedimentation depression above Maqta were photographed from a height of about 100 m using a helium balloon. This work was carried out by the team of agriculturalists conducted by Prof. Andreas Buerkert.

Three prehistoric tombs seen from the helium filled balloon © 2003 Buerkert

A group of tombs between Mibam and Jaylah – discovered by Prof. Bürkert - was also registered, examined and photographed. The already-mentioned tombs on the Shir plateau were not the subject of the survey since these have already been described in detail by Yule and Weisgerber (1998). However, they were visited several times to allow typological comparisons. All finds of pottery sherds were classified by ware type, shape and dimension. Subsequently, the sherds were dated according to an existing pottery typology.

Results: The survey in the surroundings of Maqta did not provide evidence of any settlement older than the existing one. In particular, no traces of the early Iron Age fortress dated by Yule and Weisgerber (1998) without any pottery finds were detected. However, there were numerous remains of burial places from different periods. Two Hafit-type tombs (Maq16 and Maq17) (late 4th-early 3rd millennium), even without finds clearly recognizable by their outstanding position and their building technique, were detected on the slope at the south side of the road at the entrance to the central housing area of Maqta. They are probably identical to Maqt1 of the survey by Yule and Weisgerber (1998).

Hafit-type tombs situated in the depression at Maqta 2003 DAI Orient-Abteilung Berlin

Another Hafit-type tomb (Maq18) is visible on the southern crest of the sedimentation depression above the central housing area of Maqta. Just below the Hafit tombs at the edge of the depression, there are also some Umm an-Nar tombs (3rd millennium B.C.) which were described as houses from the same period (Maqt5) by Yule and Weisgerber (1998). The round building Maq3 is constructed with large boulders and an entrance to the south-west. In the center of the building traces of a compartment wall running north-east–south-west are visible which indicates that this building was a tomb rather than a house. The same is true for Maq14 which presumably originally had several chambers. Its southern part is heavily destroyed and it is possible that it was used for burials during a later time. The constructions Maq4–Maq6, and Maq8 are ring-walls with inserted or attached walls. Due to the pottery found in their surroundings it is very probable that they were originally Umm an-Nar tombs and later used for secondary burials. In the Islamic period they may have been used as foundations for houses. A small Islamic cemetery (Maq2) is situated about 50 m south of the prehistoric tombs. An oval tomb of a double wall of stones and an inner filling of small stones is located between the Islamic graves (Maq1). Such tombs appear frequently on Islamic cemeteries to emphasize the position of a high ranking person. However, on the cemetery there were scattered several early Iron Age sherds which may point to its interpretation as an early Iron Age tomb. Inside the modern settlement no prehistoric or early and middle Islamic pottery was found.

In spring 2003 about 20 km south-east of Maqta along the traditional footpath between Jaylah and Mibam 15 new Hafit-type tombs (Jay1–8, Jay12, Jay13, Jay15–19, Jay21) were discovered, however, there are likely more in the surroundings. Some tombs are more or less dilapidated with some being used for later burials.

Three of the newly discovered Hafit type tombs at between Jaylah and Mibam 2003 DAI Orient-Abteilung Berlin

Two very demolished cist graves or wolf traps were also found (Jay14, Jay22). Close to construction Jay14 a sherd of the late Iron Age (300 B.C.-900 A.D.) was discovered which might prove the use of one or more of these buildings during that period. Jay9–Jay11 were round constructions with a diameter of 2.5 m and a height of 0.4 m. They could be also tombs but there is no proof for this assumption. Jay20 is a 1.2 m high construction built of a double-corbelled wall of which the upper part is not closed. Probably, this was also a Hafit tomb, and the outer walls were robbed. A small Islamic cemetery is situated close to Jay7.

Reportedly, there also are tombs on the mountain crest above Jaylah; however, their type and position could not be examined. Finally, a series of Hafit-type tombs are situated on prominent locations along Wadi Khabbah that connect the Shir plateau with the inland oasis of ash-Shariq and Suma’iyah.


The archaeological project was financed by the German Institute of Archaeology, the Sultan Qaboos University Muscat and the German Research Foundation.



Buerkert, A., Schlecht, E. & Haeser, J., 2007.  Der Wandel der Oasen. DFG - Forschung 2/2007, 16-21.

Haeser, J. 2004. Transformationsprozesse in Oasensiedlungen (Oman), Jahresbericht der Orient-Abteilung des DAI. Archäologischer Anzeiger 2004/2, 354.



Siebert, S., Haeser, J., Nagieb, M., Korn, L. & Buerkert, A. 2005. Agricultural, architectural and archaeological evidence for ecological adaptation of a mountain oasis: a scatterred agro-pastoral settlement in Oman. Journal of Arid Environments 62 (1), 177-197.  


  Yule, P. & Weisgerber, G., 1998. Prehistoric tower tombs at Shir/Jaylah, Sultanate of Oman. Beiträge zur Allgemeinen und Vergleichenden Archäologie 18, 183–241.

© Jutta Häser