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Science And Nature

Scent and spice: AlUlas incense road

In the wonderful world of the desert, water is vital for settlement and civilization. The AlUla valley, where Dadan stood, had water in abundanceboth ground water and surface flows of seasonal rains off the encompassing mountains, collected and stored for use during dry months. Archaeobotanistsspecialists who study trace proof ancient plant growthare in a position to identify crops cultivated at differing times through history. We realize that dates, pomegranates, grapes, and wheat formed area of the mix in earlier centuries at Dadan. Later, Hegras farmers were growing types of wheat and barley, lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and figs, and also dates and pomegranates. Increasing this remarkable variety were fodder crops such as for example vetch, which helped support livestock including sheep, goats, cattle, chickens, and camels.

Such plenty, watered within these oases, encouraged visitors to settle. By at the very least 2,500 years back, the AlUla valley served as a transit point for long-distance trade. Archaeologist Abdulrahman Alsuhaibani notes that AlUla held a strategic position on the major north-south caravan routes through Arabia. Merchants would lead camel caravans on months-long journeys greater than a thousand miles over the desert, from southern Arabia to Dadan and beyond, targeting distant markets round the Mediterranean and additional afield.

Why would traders make such journeys? The gains could have been substantial. Initial forays could have been made carrying aromatics such as for example frankincense and myrrh, and semiprecious stones from South Arabia such as for example agate. Then, as networks developed, trade expanded to add spices from the Indian subcontinent and beyond increasing already long-traded commodities such as for example textiles, leather, tools, and arms. Alongside came new influences in art, architecture, culture, and language.

An especially highly prized asset was frankincense, probably the most sought-after commodities in the ancient world, says historian Michael Macdonald. This resinhoney-colored, whitish as well as greenforms in lumps from the sap of just one single very special tree, named Boswellia sacra in Latin, that grows only in the semi-arid highlands of southern Arabia and adjacent lands in the Horn of Africa. Burn frankincense, and the smoke released includes a uniquely heady, powerful scent. It became necessary to numerous kinds of rituals through the entire classical civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome. South Arabian farmers would harvest frankincense along with other aromatic resins and spices, such as for example myrrh, bdellium, and myrobalan, in vast quantities, and send it north to advertise.

Many routes converged on Dadan, which quickly became famous, even mentioned in the Old Testament because of its significance in cultural and commercial exchange. Reflecting the Lihyanite kingdoms importance, the Roman author Pliny the Elder described the top of the Red Sea, known today because the Gulf of Aqaba, beneath the name Gulf of Lihyan.

Merchants from the far-distant South Arabian city of Main, which lay near a significant way to obtain frankincense, even setup residence in Dadan. This group has been a colony of traders, surviving in peaceful coexistence making use of their hosts, says Macdonald. Alsuhaibani concurs, talking of the AlUla valleys long tradition of openness in this era. The Maini (Minaean) traders enjoyed special status within their adoptive community, which took on international prominence: at the moment, in comparison, Greek sailors and traders were paying tolls to Lihyanite tax collectors.

Trade in luxury aromatics reached its peak following the Nabataean people took control in the initial century BCE. The Nabataeans, a tribe originally from the Arabian interior, blended components of diverse cultures together in a distinctive civilization, fueled by wealth from their commodity dealings, particularly in frankincense. They carved fabulously elaborate tombs in to the sandstone cliffs that surrounded their trading city of Hegrabuilt a brief distance from Dadan on a desert plain just north of the AlUla valleyand drew water from cisterns made to capture rain along with greater than a hundred wells. Archaeologists have unearthed numerous small alabaster jars at Hegra, ideal for holding spices and aromatics, along with glazed pottery from the east and delicate glassware from the north and west. With a web of trading routes linking to South Arabia, the Red Sea, the Nabataean capital of Petra (in what’s now Jordan) and the markets beyond, Hegra could funnel the way to obtain frankincense along with other luxury goods to customers at all points of the compass. Subsequently, it imported high-quality crafts and products from far afield. The oasis prospered.

The Roman Empire annexed Nabataea in the next century CE. Initially this might have expanded Hegras horizons still furtherthere is evidence that Roman soldiers from North Africa and elsewhere garrisoned the townbut in addition, it signaled decline. As historian Franois Villeneuve puts it, Hegra was way too a long way away from the centers of Roman capacity to sustain political or economic investment. This change in priorities forced a shift in trade patterns. Traditional overland routes had recently been overtaken by maritime shipments (having an interim hybrid sea-and-land journey sustained through Hegra), but after the Roman Empire was in decline, demand for Hegras luxury commodities also diminished. The Romans may actually have abandoned Hegra in the 3rd century.

The AlUla valley continued to aid populations throughout subsequent centuries, trade ebbed and flowed. Nonetheless, that certain vital luxury commodity which those dreams and accomplishments were basedfrankincensenever lost its capacity to delight. Even today, burning frankincense from southern Arabia continues to be a key section of cultural interactions in lots of elements of the Arab world and beyond, its indefinably rich aroma filling reception rooms and meeting halls. The long history of the natural emblem of abundance and hospitality remains rooted in the mercantile skill of the ancient peoples of AlUla.

Journey through time and energy to uncover the rich history of AlUla here.

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