Land of Frankincense, Oman

One of the UNESCO World Heritage designations is the Land of Frankincense in Dhofar in the south of Oman, incorporating a group of archaeological sites connected with the production and export of frankincense. They constitute outstanding testimony to the civilization that, from the Neolithic to the late Islamic period, flourished in southern Arabia. The Oasis of Shishr and the entrepôts of Khor Rawri and Al Balid are excellent examples of medieval fortified settlements. Ptolemy identified 3 areas in the Dhofar region in which the frankincense tree (Boswellia sacra) is still found today.

Differences in soil and climate, as well as different species of trees, produce different resins; Dhofari frankincense is reckoned the best in the World. Frankincense is tapped from the Boswellia tree when it is 8 to 10 years old, by slashing the bark and letting the resin bleed out and harden into what are called tears. There are a different species of frankincense trees, each producing a slightly different type of resin. Tapping is done 2 to 3 times a year with the final taps producing the best quality.

The Neolithic inhabitants of southern Arabia were engaged in long-distance trade and with the passing of centuries, the frankincense trade became an established network, from the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Egypt in the west to Mesopotamia, India and China in the east. Incense was used in many different religions through history.

The best place to learn about the history of the Frankincense cultivation and trade is the Museum of the Frankincense Land, situated on the outskirts of Salalah. Not only is the visitor shown the history of frankincense but is also given an excellent introduction to the history of Oman. One gallery deals with the prehistory of the area, illustrated with many finds, videos and reconstructions. Another is devoted to the maritime history of Oman, including a full size reconstruction of a Baghla boat, which used to ply the oceans between Oman and the Sultan's lands in Zanzibar and Mombasa. Displays and interpretations are modern and excellent.