The study area comprises the Wadi Bani Awf, a catchment area (watershed) on the northern side of the Hajar range of the Jabal-al-Akhdar mountains. About 50 abandoned settlements are located in the Wadi Bani Awf. Balad Seet is the largest village, situated at the upper end of the watershed in a small valley at the foot of a 1000 m high cliff and surrounded by steep mountains. In the middle of this valley is a major rocky outcrop, which for millennia contained most of the village buildings.
Next to Balad Seet and at the foot of the same cliff is the slightly smaller oasis of Hat with three springs that drain into the same watershed. The lower part of the wadi contains the oases of Zamma, Tikha and Fara which are much smaller than Balad Seet.
See maps of Balad Seet
The settlement history of Balad Seet (Figure 1, A- E)
probably started in the Iron Age II period (1,100-900 BC) when a small village was established. It would have been the first village of that period ever found north of the Hajar mountains (A).
Given the strong infrastructural and cultural connections between al-Hamra and the upper Wadi Bani Awf, it is likely that the first villagers of Balad Seet came from al-Hamra. As early as in the first half of the first millennium BC, they might have brought with them the innovative ‘falaj’ (the typical channel irrigation) system.
The villagers of this early settlement phase would have lived from hundreds of date palms planted on the first, relatively archaic terraces of 2.5 ha size located between today’s Zahir and Khaw terrace systems.
The next larger step in the settlement of Balad Seet has taken place sometime in the Early Islamic period (630-1,055 AD) and was apparently characterized by a large expansion of the cropping and housing area. The abundance of water from the two ‘aflaj’ (plural of ‘falaj’) should have allowed the establishment of the terrace systems of Zahir and Khaw planted with wheat landraces and lime
The following settlement phase fell into the Middle Islamic and the first part of the Late Islamic period (1,055-1,500 AD and 1,500-1,650 AD). The cultivation of large palm groves and cropping terraces at Mazra certainly required a major modification of the aflaj system to take advantage of the abundant water from the falaj Kabir system. However, continuous cultivation of the Mazra terraces required so much water that also the aflaj Hidan and Miban needed to be constructed. This major project increased the village’s total amount of cropland by 137% and of date palm groves by 105% thereby providing the broad hydro-infrastructural condition for its subsequent continued flourishing (C).
In the second part of the Late Islamic period (1,650-1,930 AD) the small fortress and also the layout of the modern village were presumably established. On the other side of the Hajar mountains, a new major falaj was laid out, which formed the economic basis of the mud brick village of al-Hamra. For this period a strong rise of settlement and agricultural activities was noted along the entire Wadi Bani Awf (D). The final recent phase (1,930-1,970 AD) is characterized by the renovation of the aflaj and of many houses, using cement, and by the establishment of a southern housing area with a large school building (E).