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16 May 2010
Bat: a 5,000-year-old cemetery in Oman

The story of the archaeological site of Bat (Oman), a cemetery consisting of around 400 ancient tombs, dates back 5,000 years. Bat is a circular building of square-shaped hard rocks, with two external walls and a third interior one, which is divided into numerous dome-shaped rooms that look like a 4m high beehive. From the inside, the cemetery is divided into partitions to bury the dead. The graves also contain pottery, vases made from rock, rosaries of precious stones, bones and wood.
     The site, which lies in the north-eastern Ibri town in the Adh-Dhahirah province of Oman, became famous when the International Heritage Committee of Unesco listed it among the world's places of international value and put it on the Natural International Cultural Heritage list.
     Omani ministry of culture and heritage started several archaeological missions to excavate in Bat since 1973. Through these excavations, pottery and rock-pieces were discovered in Bat, resembling those discovered in the cemeteries belonging to the Umm al-Nar Civilisation, which was in United Arab Emirates between 3000-2700 BCE. "Excavation missions recorded that the oldest tombs in Bat were in the Hafeet era (3000-2500 BCE), then the tombs of al-Alf al-Thaleth (the third thousand) in the era of Umm al-Nar (2700-2000 BCE)," said Hassan Abdel-Lawati, general manager of the Department of Antiquities and Museums, affiliated to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.
     As well as the numerous tombs discovered then, huge rounded towers were found with water wells in the middle of some of them. "The ministry has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bochum Museum in Germany for an expert to restore the tombs. So far, they have restored five tombs, with the assistance of an Omani team," Abdel-Lawati said.
     The Omani ministry of culture and heritage is very keen to have the buildings excavated and has signed several memoranda of understanding with the US University of Pennsylvania to dig and excavate in this region. Although the ministry has assigned a special tour guide to Bat, citizens of Ibri do their share in guiding tourists who head to this area, 350km from the Omani capital, Muscat, to see this international monument. "We can't consider ourselves not to be a part of this cemetery, because whoever has no past, has no future," said Hamad el-Gaberi, a citizen of Ibri.
     The secret of the tombs' survival has mainly to do with the huge rocks on which the tombs were built, according to Khamis el-Baridi, a resident of the area. "Despite the numerous corrosive elements that harmed its ceilings, the tombs survived for thousands of years to be a witness to the Omani civilisation and to become a staple of our tourism," Khamis said.

Source: Gulf Times (15 May 2010)

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