Salut was not an isolated site; it occupied a central position on the plain and was surrounded by a number of smaller sites. These, perhaps, defined the central area of cultivation, which would have been irrigated by wells and perhaps a falaj. The primary crop was undoubtedly the date palm, but there is also evidence for cereals (wheat and barley).
Agricultural practices are indicated also by a number of bronze hoes found at Salut. In addition to plant foods, animal husbandry was also practised as attested by faunal remains from the site (goats and sheeps). Some animals were also depicted on pottery and represented by small clay figurines.
The demographic growth during the 1st millennium BC was made possible by the introduction of a new irrigation technique, based on a network of underwater channels which tapped water from the mountain footings. Amazing pieces of engineering, they are called falaj (pl. aflāj).
Their importance and the high level skills required for their construction are mirrored in the legendary attribution to one thousand Jinn under the request of King Solomon. They are still today at the base of many oases subsistence.
Construction of falaj
The aflāj were dug by hand, with simple tools, by means of a continuous line of access shafts, which constituted also air conduits indispensable during the digging works. Starting from the plain and working just above the water table, a series of wells, placed about 30 metres one from the other, were dug. The tunnel was burrowed out between the wells, the gradient being just enough for the water to flow down it. Lastly, at the foot of the mountains and in correspondence with the spring, the ‘mother well’ was dug, usually about 20 metres deep, but it could go down as far as 60 metres.
The aflāj enabled fresh water to be brought from the mountains to the villages. It was then distributed among the inhabitants by means of a complicated system of channels controlled by sluice gates and barriers, which were regulated according to the time of day (sunrise and sunset) and the position of the stars. The falaj might also flow for quite a distance above ground.
Many falaj systems still work today in Omani villages and they are the lifeline of the settlements. Unlike modern pumps, they do not exhaust the water supply.
Cultivation of date palms
The climate of Oman is ideal for the production of high quality dates. About 20,000 hectares are given over to date palm cultivation (Phoenix Dactylifera). The date palms grow mainly in the coastal regions, in particular Batinah, Sur, Quryat and Musandam.
In ancient times Omanis named the date palm Omm al Faqir “Mother of the poor”, a clear indication of the numerous and varied uses of this tree.
The cultivation of date palms during the Iron Age is confirmed by the date bones found in Salut.