I had to go see the Bat and Al Ayn tombs, because I love old things.
Now, I may have never mentioned this but when I went to university I did my degree in Archaeology. In hindsight, it was perhaps not the wisest choice as to get a job doing archaeology involves either a lot of seasonal field work, or going on do to further education, neither of which I was super likely to do (I once had a job interview where they asked me what I thought about doing archaeological surveys in northern B.C. in winter, and all I could think was ‘Brrrrrrr’…clearly not the answer they were hoping for!)
But it instilled in me a fascination with ancient times. I love history, but not the type you have to study in school. I hated that ‘who invaded who and when and why’ kind of stuff we had to learn because politics is really NOT my thing. But give me personal objects from the past with a story attached and I’m all over that. I’ll stare at historical photos for ages, and I always want to know about ancient ways of doing things.
And I guess this is one reason I love cemeteries. I can wander among graves for hours, looking at the names and dates and creating links between families and people, wondering at their stories and what life was like for them all those years ago.
So are you surprised that when I found out about the 5000-year-old UNESCO-listed Bat and Al Ayn tombs I simply had to go see them for myself?
At first I wasn’t sure exactly where to go, but once you’re in the area you start seeing these things all over the place. Any little lump on top of a hill is probably a tomb. I’ve seen similar ones near Rustaq and I’m sure they’re scattered all over the countryside in this part of Oman. It kind of seems like the whole area is one huge, spread-out necropolis!
There are, however, two areas where they are concentrated. These are generally referred to as the Bat tombs and the Al Ayn tombs.
The Bat tombs have a big fence around them, so it doesn’t seem all that welcoming to visitors. There are a few basic rock tombs here scattered over the hilltops, and from behind the fence on the gravel road you can see one or two that may be partly reconstructed, but the fence stops you from getting a better look.
There is, however, a section where the fence has some gaps in it, and you can easily drive your car through. I parked and went for a walk up the hill for the view, but I didn’t go as far as the reconstructed ones. This is quite a large area and I wanted to still have time before sunset to find the second area of tombs! Maybe if I go back one day with more time I’ll go further.
The Al Ayn tombs are much more spectacular. I mean, not the tombs themselves. Although they are much more intact than some of the ones I saw at Bat, they’re still just big piles of rocks with nothing inside, but what do you expect for 5000-year-old tombs? Just the fact that they still exist is incredible.
But the setting of the tombs at Al Ayn is unreal. Twenty-one of them are lined up along a hilltop with a stunning backdrop of Jabal Al Misht (Comb Mountain), a huge mountain popular with rock climbers, and from the tombs there are views across the village to the mountains behind. What a spectacular spot to be buried.
And if you want (and you’re not too claustrophobic) the tombs have little door openings so if you’re not too big you can crawl inside to….I don’t know….play dead or something.
History of the Bat and Al Ayn Tombs, in a nutshell:
These tombs, along with local irrigation systems and a couple of towers nearby, were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988 as ‘the most complete collection of settlements and necropolises from the 3rd Millennium B.C. in the world.’* The smaller, single-chambered tombs like the ones at Al Ayn have been dated to the beginning of the 3rd millennium BCE, while the bigger, multi-chambered ones are from the later half of that millennium. Either way, that makes these tombs 4000-5000 years old.
Not much is actually known about these structures. No human remains have ever been found here, and only a few artifacts. So while it is commonly accepted that these are tombs, that assumption may be based solely on the fact that nearby at Hili in the UAE, similar but larger structures from the same era have contained numerous human remains. So maybe these rock piles at Bat and Al Ayn aren’t tombs at all, but actually had a different use. Perhaps one day we will know.
How to get to the Bat and Al Ayn Tombs:
Please, if you go to any of these tombs, consider that this is an archaeological site with possible significance for local people and the history of Oman. Don’t move or take any of the rocks or anything else you find. Except for rubbish. Please feel free to take that away.
You can find these tombs easily enough using Google Maps. For the Bat Tombs, search for ‘Bat Tombs’ or ‘City Pat Archaeological’, and that will get you there. The Al Ayn tombs are the ‘Al Ayn Beehive Tombs’.
For the Bat Tombs, if you’re coming from Sohar or Ibri, get off highway 9 at the village of Ad Dreez, and head along the road going roughly southeast for about 15kms. Just before the village of Maqabil you can turn left, the road turns to gravel, and the tombs will be on your left. For a different view of the area, about 1km before the turnoff you can turn left at the Shell gas station and the tombs will be on your right.
From here to get to the Al Ayn tombs you can continue down the gravel road past the City Pat Archaeological towards Ablah for about 21km, then turn left. I don’t know if this road is gravel the whole way or just a bit, so that’s up to you.
An alternative is to go back to the Shell gas station, take the road going roughly northeast, and after about 24kms there’s a turnoff onto a quiet and beautiful road through the mountains. After about 10kms on this road, take the left turn, and you’ll see the tombs on the hill to your left.
If you’re coming from Nizwa, take the right turn off the highway for Amlah or Ablah, and stay on that road for about 25 minutes.
When you arrive in the village of Al Ayn, you can park just opposite a mosque. From here, a short walk across the wadi, along some narrow paths through the houses and fields, and across another wadi gives you easy access to the tombs. Or, if you have a 4WD, there’s a gravel road that goes right up to the base of the tombs. Really, though, I quite enjoyed my walk through the village’s fields, with local girls smiling and waving at me.
So when you’re in Oman and you happen to be in this area, make a stop in Bat and Al Ayn, because where else can you see 5000 year old tombs?
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