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The myth of the "lost city of the Arabian Sands"

H. Stewart Edgell
Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies
Vol. 34, Papers from the thirty-seventh meeting of the Seminar for Arabian Studies held in London, 17-19 July 2003 (2004), pp. 105-120
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41223810
Page Count: 16
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The myth of the "lost city of the Arabian Sands"
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Abstract

In 1930-1931, Bertram Thomas became the first westerner to cross the 660,000-km² Rubʿ al-Khālī desert, and was shown wide tracks between dunes by the Bedouin who accompanied him. They said "There is the road to Ubar. It was a great city, rich in treasures with date gardens and a fort of red silver [gold?]. It now lies buried beneath the sands of the Ramlat Shuʿayt" in north-western Dhofar. Thomas published this statement in 1932, and this led to a search for Ubar by Philby (1933-1934), Phillips (1953-1956), and Clapp, Fiennes, Hedges, and Zarins (1990-1996). Although Thomas (1933) denied Ubar was a "Lost City", Fiennes (1992) and Clapp (1998) claim to have discovered it at the once walled sinkhole at Shisur [al-Shisar] in interior Dhofar. NASA has published satellite images and online articles about "Ubar" since 1994, showing the sinkhole at Shisur. However, this is 175 km south-east of Ramlat Shuʿayt and is in the stony desert (najd), not the sands. This sinkhole exposes the Middle Eocene Dammam limestone aquifer and is an isolated waterhole. There is no evidence that Shisur was once a city called Ubar, although it was probably a caravanserai on an overland frankincense trade route. Arab historians state that the name Ubar, or Wabar, refers not to a city, but to a wide land in southern Arabia.

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