Samharam Archaeological Park (Khor Rori)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Samharam Archaeological Park is an ancient seaport city belonging to the Kingdom of Ḥaḍramawt. The ancient site of Samharam, built in the area of Khor Rowri, Oman is the most important pre-Islamic settlement in theDhofar region. It was not only a major frankincense producer but it was also one of the cental ports on the Incense Route during antiquity.

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The ancient city of Sumhuram is considered a key area of human habitation that flourished from the third century BCE until the fifth century CE. Frankincense trade from the ports of Sumhuram, al-Baleed, Mirbat and Hasik in Dhofar region playeda significant role in the prosperity of the old kingdoms through the trading convoys from Dhofar to destinations as far as Shabwa, Marib, al-Batra (Petra) and reaching the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, the northern coasts of the Mediterranean sea, eastern Indus Valley and China. The periplus is an anonymous Greek work from the first century CE. In this ancient document, Samharam is mentioned in its Greek name of Moscha Limen as a crucial long-disctance trading center. The beauty of the place and the vibrant atmosphere struck the navigators in the antiquity who supposed that the city and its ports were protected by the gods. The Periplus text reads as: "Incense is placed on the quay without any guards watching over it thanks to the power of a god who protects it. Not even a single grain of the precious resin can be stolen or loadedunlawfully. If a grain of incense is loaded the ship cannot sail for it is against the will of the god".

A number of south Arabian inscritions was carved along the monumental city gate. Outside the city wall, a small temple and structures contemporary to the first phase of the city were excavated (circa third century BCE to the first century CE). Among the artefacts discovered was a large number of iron and bronze objects as well as the presence of a workshop for metals, suggests that the city was also a very important center for internal trade towrds south-eastern Arabia and the northern coast of Oman which was rich in copper.

circa 300 BCE - 500 CE

At the archaeological site of ancient city of Sumhuram, dated between the third century BCE and the fifth century significant architectural and archaeological discoveries were made. These include fortifications, temples, multi-storey residential complexes, industrial areas, storage rooms used to store frankincense and other goods, as well as private andpublic buildings inside and outside of the city walls. These discoveries point towards the exceptional wealth and prosperity of the area.

Ancient Sumhuram is surrounded by massive fortification walls with a monumental gate in the north. The site stands on a flat topped hill come twenty five meters above sea level. The Samharam walls are often almost two meters thick on the southern sidewhere the steepness of the slope makes attacking difficult. On the northern side, where the hill opens up inland and which is therefore more vulnerable to enemy attack the walls are more than three meters thick. From th north, the Sumharam has the look of a strongly fortified settlement flanked on two sides by high towers. The fortified city of Sumharam occupies an area of approximately one hectre and is almost rectangular in shape. The gate comple juts out more than twnety meters from the Samhuram walls emphasizing its architectural importance, which made it visible from a distance. The enormous amount of rubble indicates that the surviving walls were once much higher during the city's heyday, standing at least some nine or ten meters. they were coated, at least on the top, by a thick layer of white mortar which gave the defensive system of the complex a look of great monumentality.

The main access to the city was through the monumental gate from the north. The ascent from outside the gate to inside of the city is approximately four meters. A massive isolated wall was built in front of the outer most gate which blocked most of the passageway and provided access through two smaller portals located on either sides.

The ancient city was divided in to quarters; a residential area, temple area, and a section of the ciy contained the store houses and the market square. This square also had a smaller gate which allowed access from the south-east.

Notable Structures

circa 300 BCE - 500 CE

City Gate
The city gate of Samharam was an imposing and monumental defensive structure. The passage through the gate was blocked by three successive wooden doors. A postern gate opened into the eastern bastion and joined through a corridor between the middle and internal doors. Along this passageway, the inscritions detailing the construction of the city were placed. During the long, nearly nine hundred years, history of the ancient city the gate was rebuilt and enlarged several times.

circa 300 BCE - 500 CE

Monumental Building
The monumental building, built around a well (inspect), some 25 meters deep, is one of the most interesting structures in the archaeological site of Samharam. The enclosing walls did not survive much and were rebuilt to the current height during the excavations. The construction of the structure took place in two phases during the antiquity, it was duriing the second phase of its construction when the structure of the well was raised to 3.5 meters from the building floor. It is the largest single structure in the entire complex, spanning some four hundred square meters. It is constructed adjacent to the outer northern walls directly inside the monumental gate of the ancient site.

circa 300 BCE - 500 CE

Residential Buildings
The ancient city of Samhuram had multi-storey residential buildings, where the actual living chambers were located on the upper floors and the ground floors often housed the artisan workshops, storage areas and livestock pens.

circa 300 BCE - 500 CE

Just inside the breach in the outer south wall a lapidarium has been setup, a place where stone (Latin: lapis) monuments and fragments of archaeological interest are exhibited. These items include a water basin, mortars, a seat, hand mills, offering table, stone slabs, pivot stone and a few other items.

Notable Artefacts

circa 300 BCE - 500 CE

Incense Burners
The incense burners dating back to the second century BCE to the fourth century CE constitute a significant group of objects discovered at Samharam. They vary in shape, size and fabric, some were made from stone while others from metals. Incense burners were used both in residential buildings and the temples as well.

A limestone incense burner about thirty one centimeters high was discovered in 2008 CE. In the frontal face of the cubic element, an astral motif is being depicted made from a crescent moon with a disk inside while the lateral faces present an eagle with opened wings and a feline, or a panther.

The most interesting incense burner is about thirty three centimeters in height, composite in shape, and surmounted by a circular cup. The burner displays decorative motifs of three animals on the main-face, a lion and two ibexes. The lion motif, standing on a short support, represents a frontal position with the fore legs realized in full relief. The lion's head is covered in a thick mane and on the muzzle a decoration which resembles the horned tiara of the Mesopotamian divinities.

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