Khaleef Falaj

Khaleef Falaj

by Brien Holmes

The seven oases of the ancient settlement of Al Buraimi -- now divided with two oases in the city of Buraimi, Oman, and five oases in the city of Al Ain, UAE -- were irrigated with a complicated system of wells and aflaj (singular: falaj) systems. Each system consisted of a series of vertical access shafts that lead to the horizontal falaj channel. Some of these access shafts are more than 20 meters deep in some of the larger systems. Workmen were lowered -- or climbed -- down the shafts to dig and later maintain the water channel. The vertical shafts are usually about 10 meters apart. In the mountains, falaj systems were more often above-ground constructions though some, as at A'Dahir, were a combination of under-ground and above-ground.

Illustration of falaj construction.

The falaj at Khalieef, near the spur that runs along the border between the UAE and Oman at Foha, consists of XX access shafts and a section of wide, deep subterranean channel.

Over the years, witness by the remains of control panels, I-beam steel bars that once suspended pumps, and other evidence, water was pumped from these access shafts. Originally, however, it is assumed the water was collectd and diverted to the oases at the community now known as Khalieef, a suburb of Al Ain between Hili and Foha.

The falaj system is less than two kilometers from the remains at the Hili archaeological park and the hundreds of Hafit period tombs on the low mountain range beside the Buraimi industrial park.

Thanks to Geoff Cosson for joining me to survey the falaj and take all of the photographs below.


The line of access shafts looking west towards Foha.

The hand-dug access shafts are now lined with cinder blocks and have concrete caps.

The area has been graded and much of the soil surrounding the shafts has been removed.

Recording the coordinates of pot sherds found near the system.

A small number of the shafts have been drilled in recent years and have circular caps. The excavated material remains in a doughnut shape around the cap.

Detail of the recently drilled access shafts.

Photo showing the proximity of the system to the new road between Hili and Foha along the border fence.

Taking a GPS reading of one of the access shafts.

Brien (in the middle distance of the photo) standing at the point where three falaj channel systems converge. In the foreground, a split in one of the three systems.

Another view of the converging systems.

On the opposite side of the road, a large channel has been excavated by machine though the access shafts remain.

Access shafts on this side of the road are large circular shafts leading to a very large subterranean channel several meters in width and height.

Another of the large circular access shafts with what appears to be a ramp leading to the opening.

Standing in one of the large access shafts that has been filled with debris and blown sand.

The remains of a wooden cover or a beam for raising water perhaps.

One of the large access shafts (foreground) with what appears to be mud debris piled up around the shaft.

The end of the system is covered now by camel pens. Beyond, faint remains of access shafts.


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