Dating back to the bronze age, the Jaylah Tower Tombs are not what you’d expect in such a desolate place like Salmah Plateau. “Discovered” in the early 90’s by archeologist Paul Alan Yule after seeing arial photographs in the book A Day Above Oman, by John Nowell, Dr. Yule teamed up with Gerd Weisgerber to document, map, excavate, and restore at least one of the tombs with the help of the German Omani Association in 1995.
Jaylah Tower Tombs
|Overview: Amazingly well preserved ancient tomb site accessed only by four-wheel drive.|
|Time: 1-2 days|
|Length: 50-110 km|
|Difficulty: Requires a proper 4x4, and good car control|
|Dist. from Muscat: 150 km|
The Jaylah tower tombs gravesite has over 90 tombs spread out over a large area. Most tombs are mostly inaccessible, but many are literally right next to the track, making this site super accessible and convenient. There are a number of different types of tombs. Towers, like pictured above, feature a conical shape with an interesting double wall. Stand up to 8 meters tall, and 7 meters in diameter. Other tombs in the area classified as beehive tombs, or “wolf traps”, among others.
Yule and Weisgerber had a difficult time pinpointing the exact time period of the tombs for several reasons, but mainly because the tombs have or lack features never seen before in the bronze age. Similar tombs are the “Nawamis” in the Sinai that are dated to the late Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age (3500–2500 BC), as well as other tombs in the sultanate at Halban and Bat.
What I find most remarkable, and it appears the scientist do as well, is the good condition of the tombs. Think about it, these things are 3,000 years old and still standing tall. The researchers note that the local population fears the jinn or “spirits”, and this is possibly connected to the condition of the tombs. I’d say that are spot on, but what do I know?
It’s not completely clear why the tombs are placed here, and what their purpose was. We do know that there are no known large settlements in the area, now and 3,000 years ago. But with the tombs being built on top of hills, it’s clear the tombs were build to be seen from far away, and likely important people were buried inside.
The research by Yule and Weisgerber can be found online, which I link to in the sources section at the bottom of the page. It’s a good read, albeit a little dry, but essential information if you are planning a trip to the Jaylah Tower Tombs.
My Most Recent Trip to the Jaylah Tower Tombs
My mate Mathijs contacted me, letting me know he was going to be visiting Oman, along with his girlfriend Marjolijne, on business, and had a some days set aside for getting off the route to explore Oman. Based on his time and schedule I suggested Selmah Plateau and visiting the Jaylah Tower Tombs. They were sold.
I met Mathijs in 2011 when I first arrived in Oman. We share a passion for sailboat racing so we both got involved in the local expat sailing scene where we met. Mathijs lived and worked in Sohar at the time, about two hours from Muscat, so we didn’t always see each other, but we still managed to share shanties and tall tales over a few too many beers. This trip was quite special because I got to share with Mathijs a greater part of Oman, as well as share with Marjolijne as few good drunken stories featuring her boyfriend, but I digress.
Our goal was to reach the Jaylah Tower Tombs in one day. Camp overnight, then travel across the plateau to Ibra, where I would point my Dutch guests towards al Hamra, where their next destination lie.
The trip went well. We had a bit of rain recently so I decided it was better to take the “all-weather” track up the mountain, which is the southern track closer to Sur. The recent rain made the tracks on the plateau really muddy, but the lingering clouds made for a real special time.
We slid through the village of Qurun just as the villagers were sitting down for lunch. I wasn’t sure if the road to Ibra would be washed out or not, so I stopped to check with them if the track was passable. I also wasn’t 100% sure of the track I needed to take. These guys will know, and as luck would have it, a government official from the “big city” was visiting them to check on how things were holding up after all the rain. He was familiar with the condition of the track, so we obtained our information and directions along with an invitation to stay and share a special meal the villagers made for the official: Arseeyah, my favorite! (not really, but it’s very Omani)
Being invited to share a meal or dates and coffee is quite common in Oman, and something you are going to have to get used to if you spend any time here. I am sure to build a little extra time into my day if I know I will be transiting through villages for these occasions. It is culturally very rude to decline an invitation, so accept the offer and enjoy the Omani hospitality.
After lunch we made camp with no fanfare and got a great chance to explore the tombs closer with the beautiful cloudy weather. Cool, cloudy weather is a rare treat in Muscat, so I try to enjoy it when I can. Unfortunately the cool, cloudy weather made for a cold and windy, miserable night for my guests.
Mathijs and Marjolijne were sleeping in the open which made their night unusually cold with the exposure. Next time I’ll have to sort out a tent for them on the rare occasion they’d need one.
In the end we had a fantastic trip and one I’d recommend to anybody. Mathijs wrote to me his thoughts about Salmah Plateau and the Jaylah Tower Tombs:
Driving along I once more realized the stunning beauty of Oman which is all around, once one dares to leave the beaten track. We went out to visit the Tombs and actually stayed the night on the plateau. Though it was windy, cold and uncomfortable we consider this night perhaps the highlight of our trip. How can one describe the feeling to camp at a place where for thousands of years humans have been, but leaving not (or relatively little) marks. The villages we crossed through were beautiful and the encounters with the local people truly did show the good side of the Omanis.
Explore More Near the Jaylah Tower Tombs
Jaylah Tower Tombs Tips and Things to Consider
- The campsite marked in the GPX files is near the off-road track on a large flat area. Try to get as far away from the off-road track as you can for the most privacy, however chances are only one or two locals will pass but not bother you.
- Sunrise and sunset are the best times to photograph the tombs.
- It can get quite windy on the plateau, consider a tent or wind break for sleeping.
- Temperature at night can be quite cold 10C or below with windchill, be sure to bring warm enough bedding and a jacket.
- Read my dedicated Salmah Plateau post for more info and Salmah Plateau.
Do you find it creepy to sleep in a graveyard? Leave me a comment below:
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“Excavation Project: The Tower Tombs of Al Jaylah.” German Omani Association. Web. <http://www.deutschoman.de/en/projects/research-subsidies-german-omani-association/excavation-tower-tombs-al-jaylah/>.
Yule, Paul, and Gerd Weisgerber. “Prehistoric Tower Tombs at Shir/Jaylah, Sultanate of Oman.” University Library of Heidelberg: Propylaeum-Dok. Beiträge Zur Allgemeinen Und Vergleichenden Archäologie, 18 (1998), Pp. 183-241, 11 June 2009. Web. <http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/propylaeumdok/volltexte/2009/291>.