Oman is a wealthy state. We have seen various expressions of this wealth in the last two weeks. They come in form of prestigious development projects like the botanical gardens or the university, in form of a rather wasteful usage of water and in form of cheap fuel, I mean when did you last fill you 120 l tank for 45 €? For Omani citizens the governmental welfare is almost limitless. There are no taxes, free healthcare, education, and a piece of land to build on for every married adult. All of this wealth pours from a single source: oil. One can discuss the sustainability of this situation, but that is not where I am going with this.
The point is that geological resources have transformed this country from a medieval state into a modern society. The oil-transformation of the 1960s is not the first time in history that this happened. About 4,000 years ago, the hunter-gatherer communities discovered that they could use charcoal to extract copper from certain colourful rocks and with this entered the Bronze Age. The copper was mostly used for tools, weapons and jewellery. The remains of the smelting process are found all over the country: heaps of black slag, remains of the clay ovens and the charcoal. For the production of charcoal, a certain plant was used that we have seen on various occasions: Avicennia marina. The mangrove has the most caloric wood that occurs in Oman and was therefore the logic choice.
The ore deposits themselves stem from the ophiolite sequence that we have dissected in detail, except for the uppermost layer. Something that we catch up on Friday. In Wadi Jizzi we visit an outcrop of pillow lava. When basaltic magma erupts on the sea floor, the rapid cooling and high pressure cause it to form pillow-like structures. However fascinating the lava pillows are, they are not the source of the copper ore. For this, we have to find a different place on the ocean floor, a place where superheated waters emerge from vents, called black smoker. Black because the hot water is saturated with minerals that precipitate as soon as they come in touch with the cold seawater. Black smokers are a very extreme environment, besides the ore deposits that are often associated with them, they also provide energy for a rather unique ecosystem. This ecosystem is fundamentally different from every other known to men, as it thrives off chemosynthetic bacteria and is thus independent from sunlight. Among all the fossil black smokers in the world, there are only a few where remains of organisms are found and, of course, the one we see in Oman is one of them. At this point, I want to quote one of our participants: ‘I didn`t expect that worms would ever get me this excited.’
This sums up beautifully what this fieldtrip does: it gets you excited about the weirdest things. I never expected to be excited about a sheep that was roasted in a pit for 24 hours, I never expected to be excited about not showering for two weeks, I never expected to fall in love with this unheard off country and all its different colours, but here we are. And with this our last day has come.
Traditionally the last day of our journey is the most exhausting one. In the morning, we have our last Nutella-banana-chubz for breakfast and leave Candyland behind. Our destination is ‘The Wave’ a newly build lifestyle district that strongly reminds of Dubai and only makes you feel slightly misplaced in your dirty fieldwork-wear and greasy hair. From there we take a boat out to the coral reefs offshore of Muscat, to learn about recent carbonate production of course. Sadly, this educational trip requires snorkelling and swimming with sea turtles – bummer. Back on shore our last stop is the old souq of Mutthra, with an age of over 200 years one of the oldest market places in the country. The time-honoured market greets us with a strong frankincense smell and cramped shops bursting with remotely Arabic kitsch.
It is surprisingly empty – a result of the absence of cruise-ships. Slowly but surely the world events beyond our campsite catches up to us.
Hours later, when we check in at the hotel, for the most of us it`s clear that our travel arrangements back to Germany are in jeopardy due to a certain pandemic. While this is stressful, the last two weeks are worth it and we have dealt with worse – flat tires, scorpions and camel spiders, the absence of toilets, sore muscles, mean killer-mosquitos, sunburns, minor injuries, empty haram-boxes and the loss of hammers, cups and personal hygiene. I still heard someone say it was the best fieldtrip of his or her life and that speaks for itself.
P.S. If someone finds a hammer at As Sifah beach – E. owes you a crate of beer.