Salalah: Part A. Copper

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 found the copper!

In 2007, I wrote to you and told of my visit to Lothal in India, the site of the Harappan Civilization (3300-1300 BCE).   

Located in the Indus Valley, in what is now the Indian State of Gujarat, and neighboring Pakistan, and into Afghanistan, this advanced civilization of more than five million was known for its navigational prowess, city planning, art, astronomy, metallurgy and the manufacture of delicate copper jewelry.

The copper jewelry was traded around the ancient world across the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea to East Africa, Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Where did the Indus Valley obtain the copper? 


The copper was imported from Oman. *

In the modern (and ancient) southern port city of Salalah, The Al-Baleed Museum of the Frankincense Land has an excellent exhibit of the archeology and maritime history of Oman.  Copper was mined in ancient Oman and shipped across the Indian Ocean to destinations that included the Indus Valley.  There, the copper was transformed into jewelry that was shipped back to Arabia and beyond.    

Adjoining the Museum, and along the coast of the Arabian Sea, the Al-Baleed archeological dig has uncovered several municipal buildings, homes and religious sites from the 12th Century trading port of Zafar.   From here, frankincense was shipped across the sea to India in exchange for spices.

And speaking of archeology Oscar, on my trip to the vast desert called the Empty Quarter, my guide took me to the legendary city of Ubar (Wubar) near the town of Shisr.  Lost to the world for more than a thousand years, this “Atlantis of the Sands” was an important trading post for the Arabian frankincense.*

Is there a lesson here?

Despite the small size of the ships and the vast expanse of the Empty Quarter and Arabian Sea, long before the Greeks and the Romans, disparate cultures communicated and traded.  At least two industrialized and flourishing societies (Arabia and the Indus Valley) cooperated with each other for the prosperity of their respective civilizations and for the benefit of their citizens.**


PS Oscar, are you curious as to why the museum in Salalah is called the Museum of the Frankincense Land?  See Salalah: Part B. Frankincense - soon to be published.


**Oman has a rich trading history to go along with its ancient civilization as recent archeological survey's have dated settlements from as early as 8,000 years ago. This early civilization was based on fishing and agricultural systems fueled by monsoon rains. Many of the crops grown today such as bananas, dates, and wheat have roots in these early agricultural systems.

As early as 5,000 years ago the mineral wealth of Oman became evident as copper mines and smelters have been identified from excavations near the modern city of Sohar.   Ships from Oman traded with Mesopotamia and India in products such as copper, building materials, and fine marble.  From its earliest days then Oman presented a picture of an industrialized and successful society.