is a country shaped like a Hershey’s kiss on top,
located in Southwest Asia on the southeast coast of the
Arabian Peninsula. Bordering the United Arab Emirates in
the northwest, Saudi Arabia in the west and Yemen in the
southwest, its coast is formed by the Arabian Sea in the
south and east, and the Gulf of Oman in the northeast. The
country also contains Madha, an enclave enclosed by the
United Arab Emirates, and Musandam, an exclave also separated
by Emirati territory.
has seldom been in the public eye other than for the use
of its military bases by U.S. forces in recent years. American
and British bombing raids were launched in 1991 from Oman
against Iraq in the Gulf War. A decade later, U.S. forces
stationed there were involved in raids against Afghanistan
and Osama bin Laden. Qabus ibn Said as-Said, hereditary
sultan functions as an absolute ruler. More benevolent than
his father, previous sultan, he has improved the country
economically and socially. Oman’s oil revenue has
been consistently invested in the national infrastructure
— roads, schools, hospitals, and utilities—which
will aid the country in its goal of becoming more and more
a tourist destination.
desert covers most of central Oman, with mountain ranges
along the north (Jebel Akhdar) and southeast coast, where
the country’s main cities are also located: the capital
city, Muscat, Matrah and Sur in the north, and Salalah in
the south. Oman’s climate is hot and dry in the interior
and humid along the coast. (Below: Wadi Shab)
As a conceptual art project,
Common Ground 191 will use the soil of Oman as a 1/191st
part of the medium to be used in the final 50’ x 50’
fresco. Oman’s soil, however, has unusual constituents—ancient
oceanic rock folds, fossilized shells, meteors and stardust.
Ian Alsop of the University of St. Andrews investigated
ancient rock folds up to 70 million years old in Oman. Such
folds give insights into how the plates that make up the
earth’s crust form and move. Along with colleagues
from Oxford University,
Dr. Alsop found examples of rock folds larger and more clearly
exposed than any found before. “As rocks deep underground
are pressed and heated, they melt and begin to flow. This
forms folds, like a rucked-up carpet,” explained Dr.
Alsop, an international expert on folds. The folds in Oman
show that the rocks moved many tens of kilometers while
deep within the earth. They also show what Dr. Alsop calls
“huge amounts of shearing,” which refers to
the stresses that deform the rock. “The folds that
we have been analyzing in Oman are unique in that they display
some of the largest, best exposed curved geometries exposed
anywhere on earth,” says Dr. Alsop, who works in the
School of Geography and Geosciences at St. Andrews in Scotland.
Oman has rugged mountains split by steep wadis or dry riverbeds,
which expose many of these folds in great detail. Such folds
may be pushed as deep as 100 kilometres underground before
returning to the earth’s surface in a dramatic mountain
range. Also visible are portions of crust, which were once
under the ocean.
past millennia Oman was covered by ocean. Fossilized shells
exist in great numbers in areas of the desert up to 50 miles
from the modern coastline. Geoscientists and geologists
think of Oman as heaven on earth for this reason. More amazing
photos of Oman’s ancient fossilized shells can be
seen at http://www.pbase.com/amaimani/oman_geology
are relatively small extraterrestrial material bodies that
reach the Earth’s surface. Approximately boulder-sized
or less – meteorites are fragments resulting from
the collision of asteroids. Upon entering the atmosphere
they heat up and form a meteor or shooting star.
meteorite has a maximum diameter of seven centimetres (Photo:
Peter Vollenweider.) Found in the Sayh al-Uhaymir desert
in Oman in 2002 by Swiss scientists, the lunar rock has
been on display at Bern’s Natural History Museum.
The 206-gram rock, which contains high levels of radioactive
elements, has revealed new information about the Moon.
The meteorite, SaU 169, which is named after
the discovery site in Oman’s desert region of Sayh
al Uhaymir, is unique, according to Edwin Gnos of Bern University’s
Institute of Geological Sciences. Although small in size,
it has high concentrations of uranium and thorium. Only
lunar dust brought back by United States Apollo space missions
is known to have similar properties. SaU 169 allowed scientists
to gather information about the age of one of the largest
lunar craters, Lalande, according to an article published
in the magazine “Science”.
“We first noticed the rock when we
drove through the desert in January 2002. We got out of
the car to have a closer look,” said Gnos at a news
conference in Bern on Thursday. “The rock appeared
to be unusual. Initially we were not sure whether it was
a meteorite or not,” he added. The object was later
analyzed with the help of experts in Germany, Sweden, the
US and Britain. Their findings made it possible to determine
the age of the “Mare Imbrium” region on the
Moon, commonly known as the “Sea of Showers”.
Scientists now believe the sea was formed around 3.9 billion
years ago. “The rock dates back to the beginning of
viable conditions on Earth,” said the scientists.
It was hurled into space about 340,000 years ago from the
lunar surface. It is assumed that the rock finally landed
in the desert less than 10,000 years ago.
only about 30 pieces of lunar rock have been found on Earth.
But hundreds of other meteorites fall from the sky every
year. A Swiss team of scientists, headed by Gnos and Beda
Hofmann, has been carrying out geological research in Oman
since 2001. The mission is the result of 35 years of collaboration
between the two countries and is supported by the Swiss
National Science Foundation. In February 2001 Swiss geologists
found a meteorite from Mars in Oman’s desert region.
The rock weighed 223g and was named “Sayh al Uhaymir
094”. “Oman is one of the best regions [to find
rocks], because the area is vast and remained untouched
for a long time,” Marc Hauser, a member of the Swiss
team, told swissinfo in an interview two years ago. “Meteorites
are fascinating messengers from space,” he added.
“They give us pointers as to when our solar system
came into being.”
* * *
all the meteors and showers of stardust explain the excitement
in Oman when its first planetarium was built as an annex
to the Oil and Gas Exhibition Centre. It was created as
a gift to the nation on the occasion of the 30th anniversary
of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The stars, planets
and other heavenly bodies are projected onto the domed ceiling
and realistically simulate the movements of the heavens.
soil was collected for the Common Ground 191 project by
Derek W. Hoffman, a member of the American Embassy in Muscat,
the capital city. Derek wrote: “Oman’s soil
sample was collected from the shore of the Gulf of Oman,
from the beach that runs behind the United States Embassy
in Muscat, the Sultanate’s capital. Nearby stand other
embassies, including those of the United Kingdom, India,
Jordan, Iran, and France. Despite the differing policies
of each government, the beach can be seen as a symbol of
the hope shared by their peoples for a more peaceful world.
The sample was collected on September 11, 2006, the fifth
anniversary of history’s most devastating terrorist
attacks. The dreams we share are the common ground on which,
enhancing mutual understanding, we can work for a better
you, Derek, for your contributions to the project, and for
your words of inspiration. We have the soil of all the other
embassies you mentioned, so Oman’s will contribute
to a little international neighborhood of peace in Oman,
and now the US in the Common Ground 191 artwork. The soil
sample of Oman is like a kiss shipped to Common Ground 191,
a sweet metaphorical kiss containing past, present and future--geologically
and in terms of the human experience on earth. The sand
from the beach in Muscat is likely composed of miniscule
particles of shells, meteorites, stardust, footprints, perspiration,
and those invisible but tangible wishes for peace. It is
also coincidental that this sample was taken on the fifth
anniversary of 9/11, as that was the date Gary Simpson conceived
of the project. The word for peace in Oman is salaam.
The Sultan's Palace in Muscat (above) and the capital city
at night (below)