Under the Patronage of H.E. Sheikh Nahayan Mubarak Al Nahayan

The Emirates Natural History Group, Al Ain Chapter, PO Box 18057, Al Ain  September, 2004– Issue #220

Welcome! and Welcome Back ! - A New Season Begins

    Here we are, once again - a new season has begun for the Al Ain Emirates Natural History Group. This year looks to be getting off to a fine start. Here is the roughed out Trip Schedule for major events in the 2004-2005 Season.
   Iftar dinner: on a Tuesday
   Camel Souk Tour (Salmeen)
   Ramadan begins October 16thish
   Eid Al-Fitr, 14-16
   Mussandam trip –long weekend
   Christmas Eve in the desert (December 24)
   IZ Triple Crescent hikes
January, 2005:
   IZ Triple Crescent hikes
   20th January to 6 February – break.
  Turtles trip
   Musah/Khutwah hike
   Inter Emirates Weekend
  Music Festival - March 3/4
   Jebel Shams
   Photo competition.

The Al Ain Camel Souq 

 The Musah to Khutwah hike - 2003

Jebel Shams cliff walk in Oman.

 The group meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at the Intercon hotel for an 8:00 pm presentation by a variety of speakers. Membership is 50 Dh for a single, or 80 Dh for a family. Friday mornings generally finds a group heading out to a wadi, an oasis, a mountain or perhaps to an underground falaj. New members are alweays welcome. Full family participation is encouraged. The youngest participant was still in the snuggly on one outing, and I'm not telling the age of the oldest participant, but she climbed Jebel Qatar with hardly a pause and put some 50 year olds to shame!
     It has become expected that the group lead a Friday morning outing, and we try hard to vary these - wadis, oases, mountains, sandy dunes and ancient townsites all are within easy access. We hope to see you soon.

This broadsheet is published free to families in the Al Ain area. If you are a member planning an activity with a natural history theme please notify us so that others can join you. Everybody is able to contribute to ENHG and Emirates recordings. For further of our activities please visit our website: www.enhg.org or join our e-mail discussion group at Topica.com. The Group meets at 7.30pm on 2nd & 4th Tuesday of the month, usually at the Intercontinental Hotel, check Topica for details. New Members are welcome.


The ENHG   Newsletter…              September, 2004– Issue #220
      Nizwa, Oman - Weekend Outing
Last April the group went on a trip to Nizwa - the trip was sooo fantastic it took some extra time to prepare this article                                                           by Geoff Sanderson
    The Nizwa trip has become a ritual for the Al Ain Group and each year there are new members who have never been there and established members who want to go back. With any trips, the time factor is all important and fortunately we are close enough to Nizwa for it to be a comfortable Wednesday night to Friday night return trip. It is, allowing for border crossing, about a 3 hour journey via Mezyad border post (Jebel Hafeet). The Hilton carpark is the best launching pad as it is at the beginning of the route to Mezyad.
     Travelling to Nizwa in the evening means you miss the first sight of the high mountains, about 20 minutes after Ibri. If possible we try to get away earlier, jobs pending, to hit the mountains at sunset. Wow what a sight. They rise over 2000 metres straight out of the plains. The rest of the journey, until near Bahla, has the high mountains on the left and first the plains then lower hills to the right. We travel straight through to Nizwa Wednesday night, reaching the Magan Guest House (or wherever else you stay) at a time when a restaurant is needed. Food is basic so keep expectations modest to low.
     Thursday morning after a night on Magan’s firm beds we leave at 8.00am with about 24 people. That is a workable number and even then we split the group, some go to the 3000+ m high Jebel Shams to do the cliff walk, almost an all day journey; others visit several “pet” sites at a much lower altitude. Amongst the ‘pets’, Tanuf, the ruined mud walled village is first, en route to Bahla and Fort Jabrin. Tanuf is set near the entry to Wadis Tanuf and

  The village at the end of the cliff walk on Jebel Shams located beside the waterway, just above the cathedral   fault.                                           photo by Will Moore

together make a fascinating awakening to the heritage and grand scenery of the region.
    After Tanuf we travel to Fort Jabrin aiming to get there before the tour buses, we have managed it so far. Our favorite tour guide Hamad is always there to greet us, beaming and bouncing about the place eager to show us this very special attraction. Fort Jabrin is beautifully restored and on the “must visit” list. If you have not been there well, you must.
     We spend a good two hours at Jabrin then we have to race back to Bahla to get to the Souk before it starts to shut down for lunch. I vow that the next trip to Nizwa will have a 7.30 am start from the Guest House (or earlier) so we can spend enough time at the Bahla souk as well as get to the potter. It’s all rather squeezy unless bed can be exchanged for being on the road.
    Bahla Souk has the now famous silver smithing brothers, who smile lovingly at us as they empty their buckets of

The potter's kilns at Bahla - probably modeled on the same
design as the 1000 yr old copper smelting kilns we find signs
of all over the region 
                                                  photo by Geoff Sanderson
old silver jewellry on the floor and rub hands together with glee as the ladies ooh and ah over pieces they last saw in a National Geographic magazine.
     Dragging folk away from the Souk to reach the potter before 1pm is a struggle. The potter and his family live in a cottage on a very narrow street and it is here that ENHG newcomers start to realize why we restrict the numbers of both people and trucks. There is nowhere to park more than 5 trucks and even 5 is a squeeze. Our potter, nonetheless would welcome the world if they could fit. He and his delightful large family are keen to have us stay, of course to buy pots, but that almost seems as a by the way when the family turns out to chat. The potter’s kilns are just a short walk away.
     From the squeeze of Bahla Potter we will, in time


The ENHG   Newsletter…                September, 2004– Issue #220
Nizwa, Oman - Weekend Outing cont...
visit the restored Bahla Fort but this is very much future tense as it is
way off completion. Bahla Fort, Bahla village and oasis, collectively
form a World Heritage site and a worthy one at that.
    Rumbling stomachs drive us to Wadi Ghul, the dramatically deep wadi at the foot of Jebel Shams where lunch spots beckon amongst huge boulders and waving Date Palms.
     There is no such thing as a free lunch because wadis kids have spotted us from miles away and before you can say Jack O’Shaunes-sy they are before us with woven goat hair mats, woven goat hair key rings and woven goat hair whatsits. We have been kind to them in the past and will continue to be.
     Way above us the other group is still on the cliff walk heading to or sitting at the amazing village that clings to the mountainside. The village, now abandoned is as it has been when occupied; although it sees few visitors because of the difficult access. The place reminds us of the tenacity of mountain people along with a desire to escape the tribal warring that was once a way of life (and death) in these parts.
     After lunch we retrace our steps for a while then turn off to Al Hamrah, a still partly occupied ancient mud wall village that sits on a rock slope at the foot of the mountains. Al Hamrah is a quite beautiful sight from the high point above the town. The view extends beyond the village to the Date Palms filling the valley below. Small mosques and old houses as well as the village proper with its many alleyways, marvelous doorways and 3 storey mud brick houses fringe the oasis.

Al Hamrah village - note the 3-stories - all mud-brick                                                   photo by Geoff Sanderson

     Way above Al Hamrah is the mountain village of Misfah, once reached by a very tricky donkey track but now (almost sadly) by the donkey track with a tarmac coating. Here again you will be quick to discover that motor cars were not planned for. The village, now more accessible, is seeing more and more visitors; quickly filling the few parking spaces and at times testing the tolerance of the locals. It is the most charming of all the places we visit, despite its rather treacherous water and feet polished rocks to be negotiated as we clamber from terrace to terrace.

The Nizwa goat souq, Friday morning - What better way to judge
your meat?   
                                                                                                 photo by Will Moore
    Misfah is the last destination before returning to Nizwa. From high up the mountainside we look ac-ross a valley soaked by the setting sun. Descending, we watch the pink light washing the mountain peaks and turning any clouds a flamingo colour. It is around this time that the cliff walkers have also made it down and maybe knocking on the Bahla potter’s door for a taste of what the rest enjoyed that day.
     It is usually a pretty tired group that struggles up the stairs at Magan Guest House somewhere around 6 to 7 pm ready for a wash and a feed.
     Friday morning is time to buy a goat, not for breakfast though. The famous Nizwa Goat market begins circling the Date Palms at sunrise. Sellers cir-cle with their goats and the buyers spread along the route offering a price for the goat that takes their eye.
     Both men and women are sellers and buyers. The goat souq is on the edge of the rest of the souq, a mind bending display of fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, coffee, spices, dates, muskets and general hardware, clothing, jewelry, metal work, and lots of locals chatting, hawking and being generous with their pleasant demeanor. Brien Holmes is usually found in the backroom of the coffee seller’s shop: the shop sign says nothing about coffee, but the aroma is a dead give away. By 10.00am after an 8.00am arrival at the souq, most folk have done their buying and are ready to hit the road for Al Ain.


The ENHG   Newsletter…                September, 2004– Issue #220
Nizwa, Oman - Weekend Outing cont...
     I managed to persuade a few, at this last trip, to come with me to Manah, about 15kms out of Nizwa. This is a magni-ficent, now abandoned, mud wall village built by the tribes that left the Queen of Sheba’s Marib Dam area of Yemen, about 400 years ago. When the dam broke they high tailed it to this part of Oman bringing with them the construction skills still seen in Yemen’s capital, Saana.
     Manah is an extraordinary place well worth delaying the return trip to Al Ain. There are caves under the township where goods were stored and where women and children hid during raids. Not many raids would have succeeded however as the city has a double outer wall. The plaster work in the mosques and the carved doorways are memorable as are the myriad of alleyways, twists and turns.
     By somewhere between 12 and 1 it is time for the return trip to Al Ain, a time when you start to feel sorry for the drivers. The Nizwa trip is indeed a great journey, one you will never forget and you will carry an irresistible urge to return.

The ancient mud-brick city of Manah - a cool passage-way.                                                   photo by Geoff Sanderson

 Ibri - Reccy and Upcoming Trip
Back in July, a small band of heat-resistant ENHGers drove out to Ibri to reconnoiter for a future trip. We had "passed through" on several occasions on our way to Jebel Shams, Nizwa, Wahiba, etc. but had never properly explored this region. As it is only a couple hours down the road, it seemed a good place to look. Here are some excerpts from Geoff's diary of their trip.
Wednesday, 14th July
     A small group of hardy, weather beaten travelers left Al Ain Wednes-day afternoon with the temperature hovering around 46 deg. The border had its predictable delay and took about an hour, leaving us about 20 minutes of light before the night des-cended. Duplication of the road to Ibri is not far off completion but in its incomplete state there was a bit of guesswork for drivers from time to time. Nonetheless, an easy trip and we sat at the dining table at the licensed Ibri hotel by 9.00pm. Ibri Hotel is very good, inexpensive (15.8 OR for a single and 21.2 OR for a double), food is good, beds good, no complaints.

Salayf skyline across the wadi - "The sight of the fort silhouetted above the ridgeline must have been very welcoming for those weary travelers." 
                                                                               photos by Will Moore
Thursday, 15th July
     Thursday morning we were on the road that leads to Nizwa, at 6.00am. We only had a short drive to Salayf Fort. In the early morning light the fort was a dramatic sight glaring down from the escarpment. The vast limestone shelf, pitches westward, offering a perfect elevated site for the fort with views east and west. At the entrance there is half the original door in place and the other half lies in charcoaled ruin. The light is superb for photography at 6.30am so we shuttered away as we climbed the rough lime-stone ways through splendid decaying houses with the water jug ropes hanging empty, some ceilings collapsed by the rain, discarded Korans scattered over the floor of the mosque and old doors closed for the last time. For at least a thousand years, Salayf was a major stopover for the camel caravans carrying Frankincense from Salalah as well as many other tradable goods.


The ENHG   Newsletter…                September, 2004– Issue #220
Ibri - Reccy and Upcoming Trip cont...
    The sight of the fort silhouetted above the ridgeline must have been very welcoming for those weary travelers. The sloping shelf extends upward and eastward above the fort to the watchtower. The light shimmered and shadowed its way over the white cobbley stone resting on the white mosques and minarets of Salayf and its extensive oasis below.
     A little further on we were both educated and entertained by a farmer who was so pleased to introduce us to the many varieties of dates now in their full and glor-ious colour (something you do not experience at other times of the year). Varieties included the orange coloured Barrot (we think that is the way the sound is spelt), the red of Khanezi, yellow of Khalasa, Mun and Khasab. It was a revelation to learn that the much sought after Khalasa or Khalas, the ultimate date, came from Ibri and Salayf, a fact not readily revealed by those in the UAE.
    By the time we had finished at the oasis, after no less than five skink pursuits, it was nearing 10 am and the temperature was pushing 41deg, though we were not feeling oppressed.
Friday, 16th July
      There are days in our lives, even moments that make it all worthwhile being here. Friday 16th July was one such day. By 6.00am we were on the way to Al Ayn (Oman’s Al Ayn) In the distance, through the mist, Jebel Mischt took shape, almost high enough to be a cloud. The sharpness of morning light held the Jebel in clear outline but that was all, the rest was in shadow.

The stairway leading up to the fort from the water reservoir.                                               photos by Will Moore

  Al Ayn Necropolis in front of Jebel Mischt - note the line of tombs along the rise.                                                                                                      photo by Geoff Sanderson
Then as we rounded a bend in the wadis there it was, the Al Ayn Nec-ropolis, a line of tombs punctuating the ridge top. Nothing could, this day, surpass the grandeur and wonder of this sight, man’s tiny marks silhouetted against the might of Jebel Mischt. Only at this time with mist, bright light and shadow could the scene be quite so stunning. I just stood and stared, emotional, inspired, deep in wonder. Sint was rich with the vivid colours of ripening dates adding a wonderful dimension to the trip, a dimension that only the July traveler would experience.
    Our friendly Shebab advised the road to Sent was straight, no worries. My sixth sense told me it couldn’t be that easy but I decided to paint a rosy picture for Bob, he was driving.
      It was here that we had our first view of Sent, several hundred metres below the road, a beautifully maintained oasis and open fields stretching along the white stoned Wadis Al Ala. Further upstream was the village hugging the hillside. Some of the village was in a newer vernacular and much of it still in the original stone. No abandoning of the old village here, no wholesale shifting to a new site, the old mixed with the new, real organic village growth. We discovered enough space to park about 5 “trucks” (Brien’s alias for 4 WD’s) and there is a fascinating walk awaiting a winter time trip. The walk would take us along the ‘white’ wadis, return through the oasis and then up through the village. I am certain the villagers would welcome us, as is the Omani tradition.


The ENHG   Newsletter…                September, 2004– Issue #220
Map Corner - Jan Huyghen Van Linschoten
(1563-1610)                                                                  by Peter Hudson
    A Dutchman; an adventurer and a traveler! By today's standards this map maker would be called a spy! He joined the service of the Portu-guese Archbishop of Goa and through that office traveled extensively throughout the Indian Ocean and South East Asia before returning to Amster-dam in 1592.
     There he settled down and wrote his autobiography with a full account of the regions he had traveled in. He proved to be an able commentator on what he had seen both as an eyewitness and in what he had learned from the Portuguese archives in Goa.
     His account, “The Itinerario” was first published in 1596 and contained a number of fine maps possibly copied from manuscript originals by the Portuguese Bartolemeo Lasso. As the Portuguese jealously guarded such materials in the interests of strategic security, Linschotens maps are among the finest to appear. He was truly privileged to have had such excellent access to what was essentially a top secret library. …Put more simply; he was a spy.
     As the secretary to the Portuguese archbishop in Goa he succeeded in collecting the secret navigational charts which the Portuguese

The Linschoten map by Jan Huyghen Van Linschoten (1563 - 1610)

used for sailing to the East Indies and once there,  from port to port.
   On his return from Goa, Linschoten collected these documents along with his own descriptions into two works which smashed the Portuguese monopoly on the East Indian trade.
     His maps are expertly engraved; the copper plates being done by Arnold Florent Van Langeren (1580-1644). Embellish-ment includes ornate wrought iron style Cartouche filled with text whilst the sea contains a huge compass rose, galleons and a giant sea monster.
Book Review: 1421 the Year China Discovered the World                                                                                                                                                                                            by Stephen Roney
   This book is an “international bestseller that is rewriting history.” So the cover says; it does seem to be creating a stir. I found it displayed prominently in a Hong Kong bookshop, after finding friends reading it in Shenzhen, China.
   Author Gavin Menzies claims that Chinese fleets, in 1421, circumnavigated the globe, mapping the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, Greenland, the Arctic Ocean, and the fringe of Antarctica. All this 70 years before Columbus, and 100 before Magellan. It is an exciting theory.
   What is Menzies’ evidence? There are no records; but many Chinese records were destroyed. A retired Royal Navy submarine captain, Menzies argues largely from old charts. They show, he says, that someone must have visited these various shorelines before the voyages of record. And this, he reckons, can only have been the Chinese. History does record a remarkable feat of Chinese navigation at this time: a vast fleet that reached the east coast of Africa.
   At first glance, Menzies’ expertise in navigation seems to

                 Cover and spine of the soft-cover book.

offer special insight. By stretching and tucking it here and there, for example—something he justifies by arguing the Chinese did not know longitude, and to account for prevailing currents—Menzies makes a section of a 15th century Korean map, the Kangnido, look like Africa. Even so, Menzies is ultimately unreliable.Here, he excerpts only a portion of the map, and he does not mention that it shows China much larger than Africa, and omits India


The ENHG   Newsletter…                September, 2004– Issue #220
1421 the Year China Discovered the World cont...
altogether. This is uncontroversial: the Kangnido is commonly believed to show Africa. Given such latitudinal lapses, Menzies’s tinkerings with longitude seem arbitrary. And much less than the breakthrough they might appear.
    On the Pizzigano map of 1424, again, by their “position… alignment and size,” Menzies iden-tifies Guadeloupe and Puerto Rico — three-score years and ten before Columbus. But their relative position on the map is actually opposite to that of Puerto Rico and Guadaloupe; they are several thousand kilometers too close to Europe; and they align north-south while Puerto Rico runs east-west. Menzies does not mention this. On the 1513 Piri Reis map, Menzies spots an illustration of a “dog-headed man.” This, he asserts, is a Patagonian mylodon, and so proves that someone other than Patagonians must have been to Patagonia, only twenty-one years after Columbus.

The Kangnido map - full view. The smallish appendage to the left
is supposed to be Africa; but note the relative size of China.

    He fails to mention that science holds the mylodon, a giant ground sloth, had been extinct for ten thousand years. He also fails to point out that the map describes a beast of seven spans. Four feet, at a stretch. A mylodon rampant was ten feet tall. This suggests the quality of Menzies’ research: he tends to suppress contrary evidence, and leap to unwarranted conclusions. By the end of the book, one suspects the Nazca Lines, Stonehenge, and certain unexplained shadows on Mars, to have been Chinese. Concerns with Menzies’s methods aside, there is actually quite a bit of evidence that foreigners visited Australia, the Americas, and other parts before their “official” discoveries. More controversial is Menzies’s assertion that it was all done by the Chinese.
    L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, after all, features a Viking settlement a thousand years old. This is not arcane stuff: it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa far earlier. There was no need for European mapmakers to go to China—farther afield than America itself—for such knowledge.
Yet for Menzies, even stone pillars in Africa and New Zealand inscribed in Malayalam and Tamil are proof the Chinese were there. Never mind South India’s own ancient seafaring traditions. His basic argument is this: for such “immense” distances, “a huge fleet must have been required.” Considering “every navy in the world,” Menzies deduces that “there was only one nation at that time with the material resources.” This is a non sequitor: a longer distance does not require a larger fleet. Rather the reverse. Would it have been easier to put a thousand men on the moon, than one? It also supposes that such discoveries must be made at once, rather than incrementally over the centuries.
     I suspect here the prejudices of a lifelong bureaucrat: all must be done by government, to a schedule, by official plan. Europe, Asia, Arabia and India teemed with sea traders and fishermen. Could none ever have sought new trade outlets, new products, new places to fish? Could none ever have been blown off course even? Probably only at the Renaissance, and in Europe, would it have occurred to anyone to announce such discoveries. Shrewder to keep trade secrets to yourself, and exploit them privately. Columbus, a dreamer, was probably merely the first man foolish enough to give away the information free. Menzies at least has not made that mistake. His website, at http://www.1421.tv/, is funded by advertising. The book, in paperback, costs 9 pounds ($25.00 Canadian).
I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend? ~Robert Redford, Yosemite National Park dedication, 1985
I have no doubt that we will be successful in harnessing the sun's energy.... If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago. ~Sir George Porter, quoted in The Observer, 26 August 1973


The ENHG   Newsletter…                September, 2004– Issue #220
Monthly Presentation #1:
Al Ain - Between a Rock and a Rough Place -            by Geoff Sanderson
     This year, Geoff Sanderson started off the presentation roster with, "Al Ain - Between a Rock and a Rough Place." The rock is obviously Jebel Hafit, but the reference to a "Rough Place" had the one hundred attendees guessing - until he spoke of the Empty Quarter!
    As someone intimately involved with the last fifteen year city plan for Al Ain, and as someone even more intimately involved with the next one, he has a view of Al Ain that few people do. Always informative and entertaining, Geoff managed to present both historical information and logistical rationale for why things are as they are, and then he followed up with some indications of future development trends. The current focus on environmentally based planning gives one hope that the water shortage prob-lems can actually be overcome, that roads, cars and pedestrians can co-exist peacefully, and that Al Ain will not spread out and engulf the entire desert within the next twenty years. On behalf of the 100 people gathered for the presentation in the ballroom of the Intercon hotel, "Thank you, Geoff, for a very informative evening ."

                  Al Ain - The Garden City of the UAE.                 photo by G. Sanderson

Words like tolerance, understanding, and learning all come to mind along
with..... 'enjoy this wonderful city, follow the changes, take an interest, don't
expect it all to be the way you like it and appreciate the effort's the leaders
of this city are making to retain its heritage, restore compromised environ-
ment as well as evolving character to make it more and more liveable'.
Geoff   S.
 Recycling Project Gets Underway            
Thanks,” to the Professional Investment Consultants Middle East Limited (PIC) for funding, and “Thank you,” to the Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) for expanding their project to Al Ain, and “Thank you very much,” to the Al Ain English Speaking School (AAESS) for providing space and encouragement. Why, you ask?

The ENHG has been able to organize a "paper and can" recycling project in Al Ain, because PIC have provided the funding for a large recycling bin, and because the AAESS have agreed to have the bin placed on the AAESS grounds, and because the EEG will organize transport of the product back to the recycling plant, when the bin is full. Hopefully, the students will assist in spreading the word and in actually bringing the recycling into reality.

Starbuck's in Al Ain Mall are already on-board recycling their 4-5 copies of used newspapers daily. This amounts to a stack more than one meter high each month. Want to get involved? More on this in the future.

Dig a trench through a landfill and you will see layers of phone books like geographical strata or layers of cake.... During a recent landfill dig in Phoenix, I found newspapers dating from 1952 that looked so fresh you might read one over breakfast. ~William Rathje, The Economist, 8 September 1990


The ENHG   Newsletter…                September, 2004– Issue #220
Weekly Outings

Jebel Qatar  - (translation - the weeping mountain)

     After a couple of pre-season Friday morning outings to the Jebeeb area and as moonlit walk in the Musah region, the group headed for Jebel Qatar, just a short drive down the road towards Mahdah in Oman. Eleven of us set out, but were soon joined by an intrepid group who caught a ride in with the Omani Police, ever helpful and resourceful. We hiked up onto the first levelling off and wandered about loking at the old settlement sites. Young caterpillars crept about everywhere - a sign that it had rained some few days before (as if the huge donut ruts dug into the flat ground leading in to the mountain by 4 x 4 junkies weren't enough sign that there had been rain) - The heat was getting prety intense as the morning wore on, so we headed in to the shade of the gardens, and sat and enjoyed a light lunch. Brigitte investigated some small pools of residual water shaded by some of the larger boulders and discovered zillions of tiny shrimp-like creatures. Thanks to Zip-loc for making such great liquid containers she was able to bring some home for further study. She writes,

"Dick Hornby discovered these on Jebel Hafit and there is a write-up about them in Tribulus 9.1. Our shrimps are exactly the same, though the colour photograph in Tribulus shows the animal as having a blue hue... ours are quite bright, orange in fact. The rest is the same. Question is, in 1999 Hornby's record was a new addi-tion to fauna of the UAE, whether these clam shrimps have already been recorded in Oman I'm not certain."

                            Clam shrimp - a first in Oman?
                                        photo by Dr. B. Howarth

Jebeeb -                                     by Brien Holmes

    The long wide valley that crosses the Al Ain – Dubai high-way midway between Al Hayer and Al Faqa’a extends from Wadi Sumayni in the east to an area just south of Sweihan. Standing in the valley, facing east, are the imposing gray mountains, prominent among them Jebel Qatarra, a familiar site to motorists returning from Dubai.
    In recent years, with the relocation of camel farms from the Buraimi district of Oman in the months before the border fence was installed, the valley, known as Jabeeb, has become an important center for the breeding, rearing and training of racing camels. The original five kilometer straight track is gone, replaced with a modern oval track, complete with paved road-ways on either side of the red rails.
    At almost any time of the day, a visitor to the valley, will see hundreds of camels being paraded from the farms out to the racetrack, and beyond, most sporting colorful blankets and many carrying young jockeys.
     Many years ago, Dr. Walid of the Al Ain National Museum located an underground fallaj system in the valley well drilling, road building, and the installation of a water pipeline and reservoir have so changed the landscape that the fallaj system can no longer be found. A few years ago, archaeologists confirmed the location of a large Iron Age settlement area about eight kilometers west of the Al Ain – Dubai highway in the valley. Over the years, it has been a popular place for weekend visitors who have often reported finding a variety of beads, bullets, pottery and jewelry.

An ancient well exposed in the bank of the Jabeeb clay pit
                                     photo by Dr. Brigitte Howarth                            


The ENHG   Newsletter…                September, 2004– Issue #220

Weekly Outings cont..


    During the summer of 2004, members of the Al Ain chapter of the ENHG made several weekend trips to Jabeeb, locating at least two sites that yielded a large quantity of items, most about 200 to 300 years old. In September, the group shared the locations with officials from the Al Ain National Museum, in the hope that some of the Jabeeb valley may be protected from further encroachment by development. The most interesting site was an area just beyond the farms, about eight kilometers west of the Al Ain – Dubai highway. Among the dunes, members found dozens of fragments of bracelets, most made of glass but other fragments of bracelets made of stone and ceramic. Officials at the Museum are identifying and dating the fragments which included at least three pieces of a three-colored bracelet and several pieces of twisted glass bracelets. In an area that must have been reserved for women, the members also located several glass kohl applicators, silver jewellery and perfume bottles. The pottery in the area varied from Islamic pottery of indeter-minate age, many Iron Age shards and many fragments from the recent past. The area was also littered with fragments of saltwater seashells.
    Nearby, approximately 200 meters from the “women’s majlis”, was an area where a hunting camp had been located. Around the area were dozens of old rifle cartridges and the lead shot typical of the bullets used up until the relatively recent past (early to mid 20th century). It was obvious from some of the items collected that the bullets were reused several times. Some of the brass cartridges also appear to have been reused. One of the most unusual finds was a pot that had been glued together and reused. Also found were two fragments of a bracelet that had also been glued together. The use of glue was unusual; normally broken pots that could be repaired were repaired by having holes drilled and copper wire used to secure the pieces. Many specimen of geckos and lizards were present and fresh gazelle tracks were photographed on each trip. Plant life among the three-meter dunes was limited.
    In September, members of the Al Ain chapter returned to Jabeeb to document what appears to be a well that has been exposed in a quarry in Jabeeb. The quarry was used to collect material for the road building and other construction projects. The well appears to have been dissected vertically with approximately three meters of the shaft visible. A visitor can clearly see the horizontal lines left as the well filled up with fresh sand after seasonal rains. Around the top of the well were, as expected, many fragments of pottery, most Iron Age. In the same quarry, the members observed, along the walls of the pit, at least four manmade channels cut vertically into the hard subsurface material of the desert. The channels appear to be some sort of construction for water; we are hopeful the channels are not the remains of Dr. Walid’s fallaj system.
    One of the other archaeological highlights of the visits to Jabeeb was the identification of at least four smelters where it appears copper was processed. The supposition is that copper ingots, from the small smelters located in communities in the Hajar Mountains, was brought to Jabeeb where it was used to make utensils and arrowheads. Several bronze arrowheads have been found at Jabeeb, including one Iron Age arrowhead found by the Al Ain members last spring.
    The Al Ain chapter hopes to continue to explore the Jabeeb area and locate additional sites to support the move to have at least some of the area set aside and protected. Officials from the Museum have made at least one return visit to the area and ENHG members will tour the sites with Dr. Walid when he returns at the end of September. The Museum has selected some of the material collected to add to the Museum’s inventory of items. However, most of the items will be returned to the ENHG for the group’s collection at the workroom. Museum staff will clean and document the numerous coins found, as well as the bracelets and other jewelry. It is hoped that a formal report documenting the Jabeeb finds will be drafted later this year and offered to various journals for publication to a wider scientific audience.


The ENHG   Newsletter…                September, 2004– Issue #220

Al Jazeera


Jazeera oasis - an island of green amongst the mountains. photo by G. Buzzell

Looking out of the oasis at the surroundings - ROCK!     photo by G. Buzzell
    There is an old mango tree in the oasis that must be more than 200 years old. We sat beneath it and picnicked. After many photographs of the banana trees in fruit and the orange trees, guava, henna and papaya, we all crossed over the small footbridge back out to the road and while some walked back to get the cars, others wandered off down the road in search of the elusive wadi pools. What a treat that was. The water was actually cold to get into and clean and fresh. Even the fish in there were fresh butting into your legs, feet and any exposed flesh they could find, "cleaning" us for free. It startled many of us at first, and led to a lot of gazing down-ward to see what was happening. I don't know yet what species of fish they are, perhaps someone out there who knows would send me an email? So - after sitting round the pool's edge drying off we sadly had to return to the city to continue our lives here. Many will carry fond memories of this trip for a long time.
Right: The pools downstream are FANTASTIC!           photo byGeoff Sanderson

Al Jazeera   -   (translation - the island)

     After a couple of pre-season Friday morning outings to the Jebeeb area and as moonlit walk in the Musah region, the group headed for Al Jazeera oasis in the Omani mountains. About 30 members gathered in the parking lot outside the Buraimi Hotel. We piled into 8 4x4's and drove over both paved and gravel roads to Jazeera, an island oasis in the mountains of Oman. The weir was almost full, a good sign at the end of summer. A lot of work has been done over the last year and the oasis is looking good. We wandered through the coolness of the oasis and explored the old village. Brien found an old date storage "jar" about two feet by one foot and photographed it. The fluted top was not lidded. down in the oasis, scorpions were plentiful and a couple of specimens were captured to be brought back for study. Mike Gillet captured a couple of bombardier beetles and explained their explosive defense mechanism to all gathered under the tree. An astonished group considered the effectiveness of 30% hydrogen peroxide sprayed in your eyes mixed with other substances that quicken the spread rate and add to the pain, not to mention the flash of light that accompanies the act. It must be a real wake-up call for whatever is attacking the beetle.



The ENHG   Newsletter…                       September, 2003 – Issue #220
2nd Monthly Presentation: -
The juniper woodlands of Jebel Akhdar
                                                  article & photos by Drew Gardiner
     The Jebel Akhdar is the highest part of the Hajar moun-tains, reaching just over 3000m at Jebel Shams. The moun-tains are formed from hard limestone and dolomite in a massive box -shaped anticline. Erosion has cut into the formation and removed much of its roof, so that on the southern side of the mountains, the gradient is fairly uni-form following the tilted slabs along the strata. On the northern side the mountains fall precipitously into the hol-lowed out interior of the anticline. These north-facing cliffs are well-shaded and cooler than equivalent altitudes on the exposed south-facing slopes.
     The climate is semi-arid with an average rainfall of about 350 mm. Frosts are common in winter and there are occa-sional snow falls on the summit. Cloud and fog are not un-common. There are two peaks to the rainfall: late winter and summer, though there is huge variability in annual rain-fall. The vegetation and fauna has links with that of the Zag-ros mountains on the northern side of the Gulf, and there is strong altitudinal zonation from the Acacia scrub at the bottom, through olive / but woodland, to juniper at the tops. Species on the tops tend to be relicts from cooler climatic phases, including Dionysia, Lonicera, Ebenus and Daphne.
     Woodlands of juniper are a characteristic feature of the arid and semiarid mountains of East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. In northern Oman, the species is Junip-erus excelsa subspp polycarpos. This form has a distri-bution from the mountains of eastern Turkey, through the Caucasus, to the dry Himalayan mountains The Oman population is the most southerly by about 4 degrees of latitude. Juniper trees are usually multi-stemmed trees up to about 20 m tall (though
  Hayl Jawari pool
A lightning struck juniper at Hayl Jawari
most are 5 – 8 m). The trunks may coalesce into a single bole up to 3 m in diameter. Juniper trees are either male, female, or occasionally (5%) ambisexual (both male cones and berries).
    Woodlands of juniper are a characteristic feature of the arid and semiarid mountains of East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. In northern Oman, the species is Juniperus excelsa subspp polycarpos. This form has a distribution from the mountains of eastern Turkey, through the Caucasus, to the dry Himalayan mountains The Oman population is the most southerly by about 4 degrees of latitude. Juniper trees are usually multi-stemmed trees up to about 20 m tall (though most are 5 – 8 m). The trunks may coalesce into a single bole up to 3 m in diameter. Juniper trees are either male, female, or occasionally (5%) ambisexual (both male cones and berries).
     There is regeneration in some places. Tree shape is rather variable, from classical ‘Christmas trees’ when young, to large uprights, to flattened growth forms on exposed ridges, and gnarled old trees on cliffs. In some areas they are the dominant vegetation. Lightning strike is a significant factor in mortality.
     While walking in the mountains, my friend Martin Fisher and I noted areas of dead and dying trees, and set up a research project to investigate the causes. We surveyed the complete range of the juniper trees, mainly on foot and by helicopter (thanks to the Royal Flight), and analysis of the results showed that the altitude and shading were the main determinants of tree health. In particular trees at the lower end of the elevation range on exposed slopes, between 2000 and 2400 m were in very poor shape. Many of these trees were dead or almost dead and few were still fruiting. In shaded areas and at higher altitudes the woodlands were in much better condition, with adequate regeneration. A detailed survey of a woodland at Hayl Juwari in the western Jebel Akhdar (designated as a site of special botanical interest) reinforced this observation. The trees growing within the damper wadis are taller, healthier, fruiting more, also suggesting that the poor state of lower woodlands may be due to the conditions becoming warmer or drier.
     Juniper trees produce annual growth rings. These show that the trees grow very slowly, and large trees may be many centuries old. The rings also have a climate signal in that they are variable in width. A preliminary study shows that it is feasible, though difficult, to use the rings as a proxy for past climate (especially spring rainfall).
In general the juniper woodlands are still little impacted by man, though with the increase numbers of roads, houses and tourist developments in the mountains, it is to be hoped that the area is given formal conservation protection so that this unique habitat is preserved.


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