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The ʿUqdat al-Bakrah Early Iron Age workshop find

in the Empty Quarter of the Sultanate of Oman

The story of a striking discovery opens on April 1st, 2012. United Arab Emirate tourists coming back from a 10-day off-road trip to Oman's back country decide to camp south-west of the Ḍank roundabout on the main ʿIbrī-Buraimi road before returning home. Far removed from settlements, roads and people, this beautiful, natural edge of the Rubʾ al-Khālī (Empty Quarter) sands, with high dunes rising from the flat sabkha is dotted with lonely ghaf trees. The visitors pitched their tent in a sandy low area known as ʿUqdat al-Bakrah (literally 'the camel's neck'), with reference to some geological formation which vaguely resembled a reclining camel. Exiting the tent early the next morning, the visitors found at their feet a large scattered collection of weapons and other implements made of copper, in all some 700. They immediately contact the antiquity authorities, who first hold the reported find of an 'ancient battlefield' to be an April Fools prank. Later, verifying the exact site position was possible with the GPS, but determining the site name, at first was difficult since travelers are rare who one could ask until an official map became available.


Just as our Heidelberg-based study group created an internet virtual museum for the Ẓafār Site Museum in the Yemen, in 2014, it began to develop a similar enterprise for Oman, based first on the 3D scanning of artefacts from ʿUqdat al-Bakrah which the newly built National Museum in Muscat had accessioned. At one of two ends of a promenade, the museum lies prominently opposite the ceremonial Qasr al-ʿAlam Palace. The crème de la crème of 681 archaeological finds from ʿUqdat al-Bakrah were restored, curated and exhibited in the National Museum. The newly 3D recorded finds from ʿUqdat al-Bakrah served as the base for our nascent virtual museum.

An international study group from the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy and Oman pooled their efforts into a new catalogue study of the ʿUqdat al-Bakrah discovery. The finds appear to have been robbed grave goods from nearby ʿIbrī area, some of which were melted at the site for re-sale. Copper was far more common than iron at our site. The perpetrators evidently sought a place far enough in the desert that the families who owned the tombs could not easily pursue them. It needed water and fuel for the melting operations. This was a highly unusual find. This monographic study is now available:

P. Yule–G. Gernez (eds.), Early Iron Age Metal-Working Workshop in the Empty Quarter, al-Ẓāḥirah Province, Sultanate of Oman, Universitätsforschungen zur prähistorischen Archäologie, vol. 311, Bonn, 2018, ISBN 978-3-7749-4112-0

Professor Dr Paul A. Yule

Sprachen und Kulturen des Vorderen Orients - Semitistik
Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Schulgasse 2
D-69117 Heidelberg

Email: paul.yulet-onlinede