Deep in the interior of north-western Oman’s arid landscape sit some of the most preserved and intact remnants of the Bronze Age. Intimate and awe-inspiring, the preserved remnants of an age now lost in Oman come alive again at the UNESCO-recognised 3rd-millenium-B.C. tombs and structures of Bat, al-Khutm and al-Ayn.
Dotting the ridgelines and arid valleys surrounding Ibri, in north-western Oman, a collection of almost-5,000-year-old historic relics remind travellers to the far-flung desert valleys that they are amongst some of the most vibrantly rich history in the Gulf, if not the world. This 3rd-millenium-B.C. collection, which is made up of the tombs, settlements and necropolises of Bat, al-Khutm and al-Ayn, is not only a UNESCO-recognised World Heritage Site, but is also recognised by UNESCO as one of the most complete and unscathed series of remnants from the Bronze Age.
Bat, which lies roughly 25 kilometres from Ibri, and about 300 kilometres via Nizwa, is perhaps the most recognised of the three historic sites, and for good reason. Here, beehive-shaped tombs sit silently as they have for millennia overlooking from ridge-tops the over 100 dry-stone tombs and several mud and stone towers that were created during the Hafit era in Oman on the dried terraces below. While the various single-chamber and multi-chamber tombs have become understood more intricately over the years by the archaeological community, the towers which sit only half-complete still pose something of a mystery to archaeologists and historians, but are speculated to have held superstructures which once sat imposingly against the vast Omani backdrop.
Here, beehive-shaped tombs sit silently as they have for millennia overlooking from ridge-tops the over 100 dry-stone tombs and several mud and stone towers that were created during the Hafit era in Oman on the dried terraces below.
Both al-Khutm and al-Ayn present much of the same, but those in these areas will find that the picture has been painted much less clearly. Al-Khutm is just two kilometres from Bat, and is similar, though on a smaller scale, and is the proud home of a number of the tombs that are so iconic in the area, as well as an oval-shaped tower that sits alone atop one of the nearby hills. With very few signs and instructions, this site, as well as al-Ayn, offers travellers a unique look into the age of antiquity in its deafening silence and overwhelmingly antiquated feel. Often times more complete and whole than the ruins you will find in Bat, al-Ayn is perfect for travellers that are seeking to really break off of the trodden path in Oman, but beware, as once you are amongst this vast collection of tombs there are very few services or conveniences to be had – so eat and drink well before trekking out to this remote desert resting ground. With both the towers and tombs that exist as well in Bat, the sites in al-Ayn remain largely similar, but the surroundings in which you are viewing them become much more desolate and serene.
Spliced into this network of Bronze Age craftsmanship also exist fossils and remnants of what were once towns, necropolises, quarries and irrigation waterways – and while many of them are hard to navigate, by enlisting the help of a local guide which can be done by contacting the concierge at The Chedi Muscat, the entirety of this scattered collection of historic preservation can be unlocked and viewed to full effect. Often a long trek from the likes of Muscat, and one that ideally is done as an overnight with accommodation being made in nearby Ibri, or the further out Nizwa, the trip is certainly worth it, as there are very few places in the world where walking amongst ruins from nearly 5,000 years ago is not only doable, but doable in the peace and quiet of both history and your own mind.
Note: Bat, al-Khutm and al-Ayn are all located roughly three hours from Muscat, and can only be accessed with a 4WD vehicle. For more information regarding a trip and/or guide to these UNESCO World Heritage Sites, please contact the concierge at The Chedi Muscat (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(Featured image: The many ridge tops and valleys make for spectacular views just outside of Ibra where Bat, al-Khutm and al-Ayn are located. A day can be spent here exploring the tombs that call the area home, and particularly nice is dusk, when a golden light is cast over the ruins that make up this UNESCO World Heritage Site.)