Bronze Age Beehive / Tower Tombs at Halban

April 2003

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The Beehive tombs at Halban, are situated on an elevated coastal terrace at the edge of the Batinah coastal plain and the ophiolite hills, just at the back of the small oasis village of Halban, a drive of some 80 km from Muscat.

The Halban Beehives are within easy drive from Muscat in contrast to the perhaps more famous tombs at Bat, east of Ibri in the Dhahirah region high up in the Oman mountains.
How to get there

Take the Motorway from Muscat to Sohar, passing along Seeb. Some 7 km before Barka is the turnoff to Halban at a roundabout that we nicknamed the 'hut' as it features a large monumental hut in the middle. Turn 3/4 (to left- south), and almost immediately thereafter to the right, on the parallel road of the Motorway. The turnoff left, to Halban is some 830m along the parallel road from the roundabout. This takes you on a scenic route through large agricultural estates, nicely walled-off. 10.8 km from the turnoff is a T-junction, with Halban signposted to the left. The roads turns southwards again in the direction of the black ophiolite hills. Turn left again well before the first houses of Halban, some 750 m from the last turnoff. You can't miss the large beehives looming up above the houses. Parts of the area is fenced-off but you can easily drive close to the beehives an park your car at the foot of the old coastal terrace that provides their foundation.

Coordinates Halban Beehives:

WGS 84: 606176 - 2608251  

After a visit to the tombs it is worthwhile to take a short peep into the village, with old imposing buildings on top of massive ophiolite rock foundations, safe from floods and protected from possible enemies by a large canon.

Beehive tombs at Helban, impressive on their elevated terrace just at the foot of the ophiolite hills

The largest tomb is approximately 4.5 m  high, with little missing. Notice the close fitting dry stone masonry.


Window-like feature in one of the tombs. The dry stone masonry and inward sloping walls created a remarkably strong structure that has survived for many millennia.


View from above, with two clusters of beehive tombs on the terrace in the centre of the photograph, with the oasis if Helban just in the upper left.

Beehive / tower tombs

(information compiled from various WWW sites)

Small cairns in Oman are generally assumed to date from the Hafit Period (3200-2600 BC). These originally had the appearance of a beehive, with a small chamber for one or two burials.

Archeologists believe that larger  tombs as found at Halban date from the Umm al Nar period in the Bronze age, some 2700-2000 BC, some four thousand years old, comparable in age to the oldest pyramids of Egypt. The Umm An Nar Culture is the most important period in neighbouring UAE, notably Bahrain. Evidence suggest that trade in copper with Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley gave rise to the wealthy land of Dilmun, obtaining copper from the Land of Magan, now largely identified with the ancient copper mining areas in Oman and adjoining UAE. The presence of copper ore in the ophiolites near Halban again points to the link with copper and an Umm Al Nar linkage. .

In the 1950s Danish archaeologists excavating grave mounds in Bahrain, northwest of Oman, found 4,200-year-old settlements and temples of the city-state of Dilmun, known as the city of the gods in ancient Sumerian literature (see also Bibby's classic work 'looking for Dimun, 1970). Their 1959 discovery on the island of Umm an-Nar off Abu Dhabi of a second, previously unknown culture contemporary with Dilmun was unexpected. At the site an outer wall enclosed circular graves, 15 to 40 feet in diameter and often two stories high, in which as many as 30 people were buried. Spurred on by the discoveries at Dilmun and Umm an-Nar, Danish archaeologists excavated 200 single-chambered burial cairns in 1961 near Jabal Hafit on the Oman-United Arab Emirates border. There they discovered a culture earlier than that of Dilmun or Umm an-Nar. Excavation yielded jars with geometric designs painted in black, white, and plum red; copper and bronze pins; and stone and faience beads. The jars were the same type as those used in southern Mesopotamia around 3000 B.C. Unfortunately there is little trace of the ancient settlements associated with these tombs.

The Umm al-Nar Period is well known for its circular tombs. The outer walls were faced with well-shaped and smoothed ashlars (facing-stones), internally the tombs  are generally divided into several chambers. They were used for collective burial purposes, not single burials, probably by group of people, most likely a large family, who used them for several generations. In some cases archaeologists found the remains of more than 100 people buried in one Umm al-Nar tomb.

In Oman these tombs have been only 'discovered' recently by the outside world, although of course local people have always known their whereabouts and have their own stories about their origin. The Director of the German Archaeological Mission in Oman, Dr. Paul Yule, happened to look closely at an aerial photograph in the book A Day Above Oman, by one John Nowell, and spotted one of the tombs. It wasn’t long (1991) until Nowell, Yule and other archaeologists located all of the various (apparently communal) tombs.

P. Yule and G. Weisgerber, 1998. The Tower Tombs at Shir, Eastern Hajar, Sultanate of Oman, in: Beiträge zur allgemeinen und vergleichenden Archäologie (BAVA) 18, 183–241, ISBN 3-8053-2518-5.
Digital version:
This is the final report of the mapping, excavation and documentation project of the Early Bronze Age (Umm an-Nar period) tower tombs at Shir/Jaylah.

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@ J. Schreurs April 2003, update February 2010