Exploring Bountiful in Arabia: Recent Travels
By Garth Norman
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I have recently had an incredible experience being able to travel in the Book of Mormon land “Bountiful” in the region of Dhofar Oman, on the Indian Sea coast of Arabia. The Book of Mormon history is becoming more real, both in terms of our understanding of it as history, and with respect to its contributions to ancient history.
I truly feel a new beginning in Book of Mormon exploration is upon us with doors opening after many years of arduous plodding. I thank George Potter and his Nephi Project for his invitation for me to make an archaeological exploration of pertinent locations in this region, and for making the Oman exploration trip possible and fruitful.
George Potter’s prime candidate for Nephi’s ship building dock at the Khor Rori inlet is truly impressive. I felt a bond with Nephi as I stood on the edge of a high mesa cliff on the edge of inlet and viewed the waves crashing against the cliff below where Nephi’s brothers may well have threatened to throw him to his death.
Recent excavations of the earliest citadel city of Sumhuram located on the inlet shore that managed the frankincense trade industry dates to the latter part of the fourth century B.C., according to recent excavations. We observed several cuts in the rim rock on adjacent shoreline of the inlet that were probably used for boat docks. One had a smooth flat taper that could have been used for beaching ships for repair, or building and launching a ship. An un-excavated stone structure nearby beckoned a shovel at another day to see if it might date back to Lehi’s time.
With Ali Ahmed Al Shahri, a local antiquarian as our guide, we inspected pictographs in a cave in the nearby mountains. The pictographs depicted three sailing ships. Ali has collected similar pictures of 35 ships in the Dhofar area in a variety of styles and comparative sizes. He hopes to be able to date them by testing the paint pigmentation.
Ali had recorded ship pictographs in the isolated Wadi Sayq canyon, favored by some as Lehi’s Bountiful for its isolation, but no spot along this coast was isolated from the view of passing ships and occasional visits.
Recent excavations of the city citadel uncovered a room that was used as an iron ore smelter. We wonder if Nephi’s earlier discovery of local iron ore for tool making could have utilized or even started this smelter development.
Smoothly cut stones in a shrine complex were measured where I found both the Royal Babylonian cubit (49.5 cm.) and Royal Egyptian cubit (52.5 cm.). This was confirmed by using my marked meter tape, which I developed for comparative study in 1984 after discovering these measures at Izapa, Mexico. These two primary ancient standards for measurement from the two earliest major civilizations in the Middle East indeed have a long and far flung history.
I was struck by the striking similarity of many petroglyphs recorded by Ali with those I have recorded at the Parowan Gap and elsewhere in southern Utah that may date back to the same time period, and that have a long history. These include spirals, concentric circles, fields of circles, lattices, parallel zigzag lines, two circles connect by a line, rows and fields of dots, rows of parallel lines, and more. I recall a petroglyph from Lynn Hilton’s exploration in Arabia of strange human stick figures identical to those in the Southwest U.S., with arms and legs forming opposing right angle U’s.
The ancient world was a much smaller place to seafarers than we have been led to believe by my isolationist American anthropologists colleagues. A map in the new regional museum at Salalah, Oman, shows the sea trade network extending from Dhofar west to South Africa, and east through the Sea of Japan to China. The extent of the sea trade network seems to be confirmed by my measurement of a stone box in the Cleveland Museum in 2002 from China with width, height and depth measures based on the Royal Egyptian cubit.
Well my friends, it seems to be no greater feat for the ancient sea traders to stretch from South Africa to China, than to keep going east along the Pacific coast of America. Chinese ship anchors found in San Francisco Bay from an apparent ship wreck are proof enough, but are curiously ignored.
The Egyptian and Babylonian cubits could have arrived at Izapa by this coastal route, as well as by crossing the sea with Nephi’s ship. Crossing the Atlantic with the Mulekites and possibly the Jaredites, and whoever else, is also becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
The rich “Bountiful” lands of the Dhofar mountains and the sea coast are being advertised by the Omani travel bureau as the “bountiful” of Arabia in a pamphlet we saw at our hotel. This land is everything George Potter and Richard Wellington have told us in their excellent book Lehi in the Wilderness, which you can get on our AAF web link if you don’t already have it. I am now re-reading mine with renewed interest and insights.
No Isolated Journey
We have tended to read Nephi’s brief account of the Lord leading them on an eight-year journey through the wilderness to southern Arabia, where they spent a few more years, as a journey in isolation. George and Richard explode this myth. And the clue that father Ishmael died and was buried at a place called Nahom, which has been found with stone carvings bearing the name, confirms their involvement with other peoples. Lynn Hilton argued for Lehi making a significant impact on Lehanites, which George and Richard explored further in route from the Valley of Lemuel on the sea of Acaba.
So, we may suspect that Lehi could have similarly had a significant positive influence and interaction with peoples in the region of this Bountiful land in Dhofar. And that Lehi was led here to a world shipping port where it would be possible to design, build and equip a sailing ship large enough, and then get his men trained sufficiently to sail it to America.
Why should we assume the Lehi colony had to live in isolation and build and sail the ship with no help, as some suppose, just because the brief text does not mention other people – even though there were ship builders not far up the coast, who would have been sailing by seeing their project?
We may never know the exact location of Lehi’s Bountiful and ship-building port, but then again, who can see what future archaeology digging might reveal.
The Book of Mormon is indeed taking its place in helping construct ancient history.
See my new Book of Mormon Geography Map and Book just off the press by going to our Ancient America Foundation website, https://www.ancientamerica.org, under the menu “Bookstore.” An order form is available for purchase.
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2007 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.