In January 2020, I co-led the William & Mary study abroad program to Oman (commonly known as Rock Music Oman). As we returned home from that program, little did we know that we were weeks away from a pandemic that would shutter the world and effectively limit global travel for over two years.
It’s January 2023 and I’m happy to report that William & Mary has returned to Oman. This year I’m co-leading the program with my colleague Dr. Abigail Buffington, an archaeologist whose conducted research at ancient sites from one end of Oman to the another. My geology colleague Dr. Dom Ciruzzi has also joined us for part of the trip, he’s an eco-hydrologist. Oman, with its arid to hyper-arid climate, is an interesting place for eco-hydrologists. Our 2023 cohort includes 25 students with a wide array of interests. Once again, we’ve partnered with the Noor Majan Arabic Institute to make this trip a reality.
At the Al Alam Palace in Old Muscat.
On the red carpet at the Royal Opera House during intermission at the opera.
Muscat is our base for the start and finish of the program, it’s a thriving, and sprawling, metropolitan area. Our first stay in Muscat involved visits to the Mutrah souq, the National Museum, the Al Alam Palace, and the Royal Opera House for a show. We also made our first observations of Oman’s fabulous ophiolite. The jagged terrain that surrounds Mutrah originated in the Earth’s mantle, the bedrock here is peridotite which formed 30 to 40 km below the Earth’s surface some 95 million years ago in the Cretaceous.
We’re currently on an 8-day road trip across northern Oman – we’ll travel from Muscat to the mountains to the desert and then onward to the sea. Thus far, during our journey we’ve done field work with geology students from the Sultan Qaboos University. We’ve visited Bronze Age and Iron Age archaeological sites at Wadi Al Raki, Bat, and Al Ayn. We’ve overnighted in traditional Omani accommodations at the historic center of Nizwa and shopped in its busy souq. I type this post from the Sharqiya Sands, a massive dune complex south of the Eastern Hajar Mountains. We’re tucked into a desert camp for a day of reflection as well as frolicking in the dunes. The weather has been exceptional, and dare I say, far better than typical January weather in eastern North America :).
Collaborative fieldwork on the ophiolite with geology students from Sultan Qaboos University.
Early morning camel ride in the Sharqiya Sands.
And, of course, there is camel riding. Nothing says “we’re in Oman” quite like saddling up on a camel and then plodding off into the desert.
Our student cohort is keen to learn about Oman. They’ve bonded into a cohesive group, plus they’ve embraced the rigors of study away, rolling with the bumps that come from international travel and fieldwork in a distant land.
Below are more pictures of our adventures in Oman. However, these images reveal only part of the story, as they don’t fully illustrate the academic angles of our studies in Oman. As we take in both the natural history and contemporary culture of Oman many questions have emerged about globalization, immigration, sustainability, resource management, and, of course, the ophiolite.
W&M’s spring semester will soon be here. Before that academic wave washes over us (students and faculty alike) and turns our attention to other matters, I want to express joy for returning to Oman with students after such a long absence.
On the rocks inside the Ghubrah Bowl.
Mapping out Iron Age building foundations at the Al Raki archaeological site. Many of the building stones are slag left over from ancient copper smelting.
Lively conversation after a traditional Omani meal in Nizwa.
Waiting for sunrise in the Sharqiya Sands.