Source:Echoes:Ch6:1:Shipbuilding in Arabia

Shipbuilding in Ancient Arabia

Shipbuilding in Ancient Arabia

In Joseph Smith's day the Arabian Peninsula was not well known to Americans and was generally understood to be a desert wasteland, devoid of timber that could have been used for shipbuilding.1 There now exists convincing evidence that an obscure location at the extreme western end of Oman's Dhofar coast, Khor Kharfot, is the probable location of Nephi's Bountiful, where he and his family constructed the ship that carried them to the Americas.{{s|2|Nephi|recorded that the Lord instructed him in the manner of shipbuilding: "Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me" (1 Nephi 18:2). He clearly was sufficiently familiar with the construction of vessels "after the manner of men" to know that the construction the Lord had shown him was not the same. Interestingly, ancient Oman, the likely location of Bountiful, has in the twentieth century been finally recognized for its ancient shipbuilding, a fact that allowed the ancient Omani to earn recognition as the Phoenicians of the Indian Ocean.

Oman, with its borders on the Arabian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, is relatively geographically isolated, and its history, according to archaeologist Michael Rice, is "most notably a record of Oman's marriage with the sea." He continues: "Her people have always been energetic and courageous seamen, probably from the earliest times. Oman's ships are distinctive and her sailors were foremost among the seamen of Islam."3 As early as 3000 BC, evidence exists of Omani contact with other cultures in the Gulf region, and early records speak of the ships of Magan, an ancient place-name usually associated with Oman. Ancient Oman played an important role in early trade routes and, along with the city of Dilmun (probably situated on Bahrain Island to the north of Oman), served as an international center for trade by sea. Long before 600 BC, their trade linked India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Africa, Egypt, and eventually China. In ancient times it was the natural location to build and launch a ship for a journey eastward into the Indian Ocean.

The Omani used a distinctive ship, the "sewn boat," which, though of very ancient origin, is still used by modern Omani. These sewn boats, also called "booms," are completely stitched together, without using nails; approximately 56,000 meters of coconut hair rope are required to sew together one complete ship. Using these vessels, the Omani have maintained trade between Mesopotamia, Africa, India, and even China over most of a five-thousand-year period. It is highly improbable that Joseph Smith or his contemporaries knew that southern Arabia was home to world-class mariners and shipbuilders for millennia. We do not know whether Nephi built his ship in the Omani style (which would have been different from "the manner of men" he would have known from the Mediterranean) or whether the construction style the Lord showed him was different from both of these. But the reputation of ancient Oman as a center of shipbuilding demonstrates clearly that the necessary materials for the successful constructions were available in that land in Lehi's day.[1]


  1. Noel B. Reynolds, "By Objective Measures: Old Wine in New Bottles," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 6, references silently removed—consult original for citations.