Continuing my journey along the ancient frankincense trail in Oman, we had left the verdant shores of Salalah behind and were now entering the Omani part of the fabled empty quarter.
The landscape was lunar with undulating sand dunes to one side and rough rocky terrain to the other but this desolate place had an intriguing secret to reveal and this is where we were heading. After a very bumpy ride, we eventually reached the lost city of Ubar.
Ubar has been described as the Atlantis of the sands, a once thriving city on the frankincense trail that was a center for the grading, storing and distribution of the frankincense. It was mentioned in the Koran as Irim and in the thousand and one nights stories but had since disappeared into the shifting sands and was thought to have been lost forever but it was thanks to modern technology that it was discovered again. In February of 1992, The Los Angeles Times ran a story written by Thomas H Maugh II, the newspaper’s Science writer, detailing how the Lost City of Ubar was found.
In Maugh’s report, he described that amateur and professional archaeologists based in Los Angeles worked together using a combination of high-tech satellite imagery and old-fashioned literary detective work to discover the fortress buried under the shifting sands of the Empty Quarter. The researchers announced that months of work yielded the discovery of an eight-sided structure built on a large limestone cavern that due to the weight of the city, collapsed into a massive sinkhole. Maugh detailed how Nicholas Clapp, the leader of the expedition, convinced scientists in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to allow him to scan the region using the agency’s Challenger radar system. The images they took would eventually reveal ancient trade routes, their convergence and branches, made by passage of hundreds of thousands of camels.
When I went to see it around 10 years ago, the site is still mostly under the sands with not much evidence of this great city to be seen or any excavation work going on. I do hope the excavations will continue at some point as I feel there are a lot more secrets there yet to be discovered!
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