Salalah: Part B - Frankincense

Oscar White Muscarella

Research Fellow - Retired

Ancient Near Eastern Department

Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, New York


Dear Dr. Muscarella,

Cc: Family and Friends

Oscar, I am sure that you are familiar with the Biblical passage from the Book of Matthew referring to the Gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. But perhaps it is puzzling for the modern mind to understand that two plant products, two dried resins, were once equivalent in value to gold. 

Frankly, I was not familiar with the properties of frankincense.  But apparently, from ancient times (8000 years ago?) until today, the medicinal as well as religious uses of frankincense (and myrrh) are well-known and well-respected. 

The frankincense resin is harvested from the bark of tress that grow in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula.  The resin dries into crystals.  The crystals continue to be a major export commodity of the Sultanate of Oman, and hence, the name of the Museum.  **   The Museum of the Land of Frankincense.

My thanks, once again, go to you Oscar, my Ancient History Professor and friend.  Thank you for your support and your encouragement.

My thanks go also to Susan, my generous host in Salalah (  In a small terra cotta bowl, Susan placed a few frankincense crystals atop heated coals.  The house was immediately suffused with a fog of the most delightful and exotic floral aroma.    

Susan also recommended that I take a drive west of Salalah towards the border of Yemen.  There, above the sea and along twisting mountain roads (the word in Arabic is “zig-zag”), I found the most wonderful scenery and rock formations including the al Marneef Cave. 

I also stopped at a small outdoor restaurant where the choice was between roasted camel meat or grilled kingfish and rice.   The fish was fresh and delicious.

When I passed the restaurant again heading back to Salalah, the camel meat was sold out.  But they offered me a camel meat stew.

Oscar, do you remember Tad’s Steak House in Manhattan?  Let’s just say that the $2.00 Tad’s Steak is a filet mignon compared to the camel meat!