The Noble Quran and Archaeology
Discovery of 2000 years old City of Ubar in 1992
City of Iram with lofty buildings, as described by The Noble Quran
By Zakaria Virk, Toronto, Canada
Power point presentation given at The Noble Quran and Science Conference Toronto April 12, 2014
The topic of my presentation is The Road to Iram, a long lost city located in the southern part of Sultanate of Oman, on the Arabian Peninsula. Iram had several names in the past, like Ubar, Wubar, and as described by Ptolemy Omanum Emporium. In 1329 Ibn Battuta visited shores of Oman and wrote that “half a day’s journey east of Mansura (old name for Salala) is the abode of the Adites”. Meaning people of Ad.
An American documentary maker Nicholas Clapp has written a book The Road to Ubar, after the discovery of the fabled city. Currently the city is called Shisr.
I am going to discuss in the next few minutes lost city of Ubar, its discovery after 2000 years buried deep under the sands of Oman. What interests us is the fact that it is mentioned in the Noble Quran, Sura al-Fajr, verses 6-8
Hast thou not seen how thy Lord dealt with Ad, Iram possessor of lofty buildings, the like of which have not been in this part of the lands. (89:7-9)
George Sale’s first English translation of the Quran, 1782 edition, the translations of verse 8 is given as: “The people of Iram, adorned with lofty buildings”. In the ancient world lofty buildings would have been towers. Just the way cities in the modern world are known by their landmark towers, like Eiffel tower in Paris, CN Toronto Tower, and Burj Khalifa towers in Dubai.
For hundreds of years, people thought Iram was just a myth. No one thought that Iram would ever be found, or that it even existed. Many had searched for Ubar, including T.E. Lawrence- Lawrence of Arabia (1888-1935). Then in 1930 Explorer Bertram Thomas discovered the Road to Ubar. In Thomas footsteps expeditions in 1932, 1945, 1953, 1956 and finally 1991-92 sought the city.
In the 80’s Nicholas Clapp, an amateur archaeologist stumbled on the legend of Ubar while poring over historical documents at Huntington library in San Marino, California. He arranged two expeditions to Oman with a team that included professional archaeologist and NSA space scientists. At any given time 40 people, mostly students from the US, and scores of volunteers were involved in the excavations. After 3 years of hard labor, in 1992 they discovered the city buried under 12 metres of sand. It was heralded by Time magazine as one of the 3 major scientific events of 1992.
The team was led by a California amateur archaeologist and film maker Nicholas Clapp and Britian’s famous adventurer & Poles explorer Ranulph Fiennes, American archaeologist Juris Zarins and California lawyer George Hedges announced that they had found Ubar. Expedition was funded by government of Oman.
The conclusion they reached, based on excavations at the site of a Bedouin well at a place called Shisr in Dhofar province, Oman, and an inspection of NASA satellite photographs taken by space shuttle Challenger, was that this was the site of Ubar, or Iram of the Towers/ Pillars, the name for an ancient city destroyed by a natural disaster.
The antiquity of the site was clinched as Juris Zarins and his student’s unearthed shards of orange color dot-and-circle pottery, the hallmark of the People of Ad.
Archaeologists believed Iram existed from 2800 BC to 300 AD. The actual site of the fortress of the lost city of Ubar, is near the Wadi close to the center of the image. The fortress is too small to be detected in this image. However, tracks leading to the site, and surrounding tracks, appear as prominent, but diffuse, reddish streaks. These tracks have been used in modern times, but field investigations show many of these tracks were in use in ancient times as well. Mapping of these tracks on regional remote sensing images was a key to recognizing the site as Ubar in 1992. This image, and ongoing field investigations, will help shed light on a little known early civilization.
The archeologist reported that Ubar appeared to have been a much more extensive city than once thought. Beyond the walls of its central city, measuring about 150 feet by 180 feet, were buried remains marking about 20 other occupation sites, some as far away as six miles. These were presumably camping areas for the caravans and others who came to enrich and enjoy themselves at Ubar.
Further digging led the archeologists to evidence that people had been living at the Ubar site for at least 5,000 years. Its peak occupation, though, was in the Roman period of the first, second and third centuries after Christ. The city's fortunes seemed to decline with those of the empire. Geologists on the expedition suggested that an earthquake could have caused the center of the city to collapse into the limestone caverns that underlay the region.
The discoverers/ explorers
There were 4 Americans and one English who did the all the work to discover this city buried 600 feet deep under the sand for last 2000 years. Nicholas Clapp, an award-winning film-maker & amateur archaeologist, started work on this project in 1981, and it took him 10 years to get it off the ground. The digging started in 1991, and the city was found in January 1992. Dr. Juris Zarin is an archaeologist. Sir Ralph Fiennes, famous English adventurer first to cross the Antarctic continent, holder of several endurance records and George Hedges is a lawyer. Dr. Ronald G. Blom, a geologist and specialist in spacecraft remote sensing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Archaeologists believe Ubar was buried under the city of Shisr. The photographs were taken in 1984 from space shuttle Challenger by using radar imaging system, most of the work on these images was done by Dr. Ronald Blom, of Jet Propulsion Laboratory. https://science.jpl.nasa.gov/people/Blom/ Dr Blom had sent his published papers on this subject in 1996. And his radio interview was broadcast on CBC radio, the tape for this interview I had received from CBC radio Toronto.
Space images of Oman where Iram/Ubar is located.
Ubar could be a region, a tribe of People of Ad or a city. Built by the legendary King Shaddad ibn Ad as an "imitation of Paradise," The city was renowned for its imposing architecture, vast groves of fruit trees and fabulous wealth. It was a staging point for the caravans with frankincense traveling to Iraq, Egypt, Israel, Greece and Rome.
Fortress of Ubar:
The fortress was octagonal; its walls were 2 feet thick, 60 feet long and 30 feet high. It had 9 towers, at the corners each 30 feet high. Dr Juris Zarin, lead archaeologist believed fortress dates back to 1000BC, and artifacts found here date back to 5000 B.C. Part of the fortress had collapsed at the bottom of limestone cavern. One hypothesis is that it came to an end around 350 AD.
Reconstructed citadel of Iram showing 9 towers, and water well in the centre, hallmarks of this city
Dr. Zarins believes since the city mentioned mentioned in the Quran is having towers or pillars, that this then is the strongest proof so far that the site they had unearthed was the city of Ubar (Erum).
Other descriptive features of their buildings were, as given in the Quran :
Do you build monuments on every high place, seeking vain glory. And do you erect palaces as though you will last forever (26:129-130).
No one bypassed Shisr with its reliable water source; it was a necessary stop for all caravans passing through. Whoever controlled Shisr and its water, could control the incense trade.
Ubar was the city of People of Ad in the desert, shipping centre of incense trade. Ubar was where it was supposed to be. Built by the legendary King Shaddad ibn Ad as an "imitation of Paradise," the city was renowned for its imposing architecture, vast groves of fruit trees and fabulous wealth. The 10th century Arab historian, Al-Hamdani, hailed Ubar as first among the treasures of ancient Arabia. Ibn Batuta also mentioned this city. Muslim Geographer had on his world map indicated where People of Aad lived. It was Bertram Thomas who wrote a book in 1932 Arabia Felix and mentioned this mythic city.
Age of Ubar:
The site for excavation was ancient. Ubar was founded by Prophet Noah’s grandson, a first patriarch of the People of Aad. The items found at the site dated 900 b.c. or earlier. People of Ubar/Shisr were inventive, producing orange pottery decorate with a motif of dots inside circles. This style was unique to this part of Arabia, Dr. Juris Zarins believed.
Glorious Quran refers to this city as Iram in chapter al-Fajr as ‘zaat al-imad’ city of lofty buildings or city of towers. Ubar’s 9 towers guarded the water source in the surrounding 50,000 square miles. The great well of wabar, Muslim historian Yaqut Abdullah says, was the city’s principal feature.
End of Iram
Mr. Clapp, main discoverer of this city believes Ubar had been destroyed in a great cataclysm whose exact nature was unclear. Different tales had spoken of a great wind, a divine shout, or it sinking into the sands. The legend of Ubar climaxed as the city ‘sank into the sands’. Ubar was not burned, sacked, decimated by plague, or rocked by a deadly quake. It collapsed into an underground cavern (sinkhole). Of all the sites in the ancient world, Ubar came to a unique end. The site's buildings were built over a large limestone cavern, which at some point in the distant past collapsed due to earthquake, plunging much of the city into a gaping hole. The ruins were eventually buried in drifting sand.
Iram was destroyed when it sank into a sink hole.
People of AaD
People of Ad harvested finest frankincense in antiquity from groves high in the Dhofar Mountains of today’s Sultanate of Oman (then it was Yemen). Aad was 4th generation of Prophet Noah. Iram was the Capital of Aad.
The people of ʿĀd were extremely powerful and wealthy and they built countless buildings and monuments to show their power. However, the ʿĀd people's wealth ultimately proved to be their failure, as they became arrogant and forsook God and began to adopt idols for worship, including three idols named Samd, Samud and
Ubar, could only be seen from space before excavations were made. A city 12 metres below the sands was uncovered by excavations.
Hara. The main source of their wealth of frankincense trade. . It was doomed to destruction because its people sinned and invented new ones.
Holy Quran says: arrogant and unjust were the men of Aad. “Who is mightier than we?”. They used to say (Revelation well explained)
The most important evidence showing that ‘Ad were buried by a sand storm, is the word “ahqaf” used in the Qur’an to signify the location of ‘Ad. The description used in the 21st verse of Surat al-Ahqaf is as follows;
Mention (Hud) one of 'Ad's (own) brethren: Behold, he warned his people about the winding sand dunes: but there have been warners before him and after him: “Worship ye none other than Allah: Truly I fear for you the Penalty of a Mighty Day.”
Ahqaf means “sand dunes” in Arabic and it is the plural form of the word “hiqf” which means a “sand dune”. This shows that ‘Ad lived in a region full of “sand dunes”, which provided the most logical ground possible for the fact that they were buried by a sand storm. The team led by Clapp found another city near the coast, AinHumra (Red Springs) but there were no sand dunes. So according to Quran, the city of Iram/Erum had to be near where there were sand dunes. Indeed and there were sand dunes near Shisr.
Shisr (Iram of the past)
Shisr is located in the south-eastern part of the Rub al-Khali (Empty Quarter) with its expansive sands. This is mentioned in the Holy Quran: and make mention of the brother of Ad (Hud) when he warned his people among the sand-dunes (al-ahqaf). (46:22). The remarkable feature of Ubar is that there are sand-dunes nearby, thereby verifying the facts outlined in the Quran.
Frankincense is the gum or resin of the Boswellia tree, used for making perfume and incense. The Hebrew word for it is labonah, which means "white," referring to the gum's color. The English word frankincense comes from a French expression meaning "free incense" or "free burning." The aromatic resin for the frankincense so prized in ancient times as a symbol of wealth and holiness and a substance used in embalming and fumigation. In Oman it is even chewed for medicinal purposes. The price for 1lb was close to $1500/- . These days one can buy Oman frankincense from Dhofar region on the internet: www.oman-shop.com
Tomb of Hud in Hadhrmaut, Yemen
Hud (Eber of the Old Testament)
In the Glorious Quran Prophet Hud (AS) has been mentioned 63 times, in 11 chapters. Hadrat Hud (peace be on him) warned People of Ad of the terrible fate that would befall them if they failed to renounce their debauchery, idol-worship, arrogant and wicked ways. In the western world many people thought People of Ad, or Prophet never existed. This astonishing find proves them wrong, the Noble Quran was right all along.
King Shaddad bin Ad :
The Adite King known for his arrogance and vanity.
A small tribe living in the Dhofar mountains who claim direct descent from People of Ad.The Shahra referred to Ubar’s residents as Irema, as Irem (or Iram, Erum) is Koran’s name for Ubar. They have a phrase take him to the Irema, means get rid of him.
Ubar’s sister city discovered after Ubar. This was an Aad fortress controlling the maritime shipment of frankincense. In architecture and purpose it was like Ubar.
- Nicholas Clapp, The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands, Houghton Mifflin (1999) ISBN 0-395-95786-9. Available at Amazon.com
- Ranulph Fiennes, Atlantis of the Sands: The Search for the Lost City of Ubar, Bloomsbury (1992), ISBN 0-7475-1327-9.
- Zakaria Virk, Urdu book Ramooze Fitrat, article Iram ka ibratnak anjam. Toronto, Canada, 1996.
- New York Times, Article, the Frankincense Route Emerges From the Desert,
April 21, 1992