"Society and Heritage"
Natural Histrory < OMAN ENVIRONMENT

Oman Natural History

Did you know that Oman had once experienced varied climates and environment, and even an ice age? Or that the barren, desolate terrain of Central Oman was once a fertile place with rivers, lakes and trees? And to confound you further, there is another nugget of information that monkeys, rhinoceros, crocodiles and elephants had inhabited this land. No wild theories these, but scientific conclusions derived from fossils prised out of rocks.

 

 

Oman through time: the section providing for the fossil history of Oman at the Natural History Museum — Pictures by Abdullah bin Ibrahim al Shuhi

 

The trunk of what is believed to be Oman’s oldest tree preserved in the premises of the Museum

Fossils facilitate reconstruction of the heritage of a place since life evolved, and in the case of Oman, such hard remains and traces found reflect a picture that is starkly at variance with the rugged features this land came to possess over the ages. Fossils normally originate from the hard parts of animals and plants-shells, teeth, bones and wood, which are buried in sediments and survive the vagaries of times to tell a tale. And what a fascinating tale that these craggy remains have to recount about Oman's past!Studies of Oman's geology and rock history trace its evolutionary process over the periods from Precambrian to Permian (800 to 245 million years ago), Triassic, Jurassic to Cretaceous (245 to 65 million years ago) and Tertiary (65 million years ago).
 

Fossils found in Oman reflect a picture that is starkly at variance with the rugged features this land

 

 

Remains of corals that help reconstruct the fossil history of Oman

The scientific belief is that the movement of the continents over geological times had caused Oman to shift through various latitudes and climatic zones, even moving closer to the South Pole during the Permian period, when reptiles of the carboniferous era evolved into various groups and started to stalk the land, before returning northwards to its present position.For many tourists, the charm of Oman lies in its mountain ranges, and how did they come to adorn the land? The theory is that about 90 million years ago, an ocean existed to the north of Oman, which slowly closed, and a collision occurred between the Arabian and Asian plates. 

 

 

Eye-catching fossil exhibits at the museum

The impact triggered the uplift of Oman mountains, and earth movements which pushed ocean crust onto the land. And there's much more to the country' s past, and for experiencing 'Oman through time', there is no place better than the Natural History Museum of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture at Al Khuwair, Muscat.Aptly greeting a visitor and standing preserved enticingly in the premises of the fossils section of the museum is the trunk of what is regarded as Oman's oldest tree — 260 million years old.

Fragments of teeth and bones of animals discovered in the interior of Oman in 1991

The trunk is of a fossil fir tree — the cells filled with heavy silica or quartz crystals — found in the ancient river sands and gravel in the Huqf region of Central Oman, which has been dated to Permian period. Fossil wood, including complete tree trunks are found in Permian strata of Huqf, and it is believed that this area was once covered with lush vegetation fringing a series of large meandering rivers. The two sections inside, devoted to Precambrian to Permian and Tertian periods, put the visitors on the course to discovering Oman's extraordinary past.

Igneous rock, originally molten in the earth's bowels but solidified at the surface, and metamorphic rocks, igneous or sedimentary hard material of the earth's crust but altered by high temperatures and pressures, are among the earliest pointers to Oman's origin. Next follow corals, 270 million years old brachiopods from Ghneem, where a fossil tree was also found, which probably grew on the bank of a stream and was preserved after falling in mud. Dated 290-245 million years ago, the tree, weighing about four tonnes, almost turned into pure silica, and it is believed that its hardness allowed it to survive.

The sediment around it withered by wind and rain. An interesting exhibit is of 'fossiled track', believed to have been left behind by trilobites (insects, spiders and crustaceans) walking over soft sediments, which was found near Qarn Mahatta Humaid in the interior of Oman. It is traced to Cambrian period (595-510 million years ago) when animals with shells or other hard covering appeared in the seas.The earliest fossils known in Oman are of stromatolites from Mukhadba near Duqm (570 million years ago). Stromatolites are dome-shaped or pillar-like structures built by primitive single celled algae which secrete calcite and trap sedimentary particles.
 

 

Fossilised remains of Ammonites

The earliest fossils known in Oman are of stromatolites from Mukhadba near Duqm (570 million years ago). Stromatolites are dome-shaped or pillar-like structures built by primitive single celled algae which secrete calcite and trap sedimentary particles

The section highlighting the triassic age (245-210 million years ago), the beginning of the period of reptiles on land, including the dinosaurs, offer exhibits of ammonite-bearing limestone from Mudhaibi (220 million years ago). Ammonites are cephalopods like squids and octopusses, which had a wide geographic range but did not last long. They, are, however, taken as ideal guide fossils for determining the age of rocks. The most interesting exhibits from tourists' view-point are the findings made in recent times.

 

In 1991, geologists unearthed fragments of teeth and bones in the interior of Oman, 50 km east of Ghaba. The remains were identified as the bones and teeth of land and shallow marine animals, which had roamed this land 20 million years ago. They included mastodons (early elephant like animals), crocodiles, turtles and a primitive ancestor of the giraffe. The awe-inspiring exhibits are of the tooth of Deinotherium, an early elephant standing four metres tall (17 million years ago), teeth of Gomphotherium, a primitive mastodon about 1.80 metres tall (15 million years ago), teeth of ancestral elephant and monkeys from Thaytini and Taqah in Dhofar (35 million years).

Excavations at two places in Dhofar yielded teeth belonging to animals believed to be early forms of monkeys, rhinoceros, crocodiles and elephants 35 million years ago. These help scientists to picture the environment of Oman in that age.A piece of coal discovered at Wadi Muswa near Sur (50 million years old) also makes a telling commentary on Oman's past. Scientists theorise that during early Tertiary period, swamps existed in the north of Oman, and that trees and plants growing locally were preserved in the stagnant waters, and were gradually compressed to form coal.