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The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands

by Nicholas Clapp

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222586,435 (3.68)11
The most fabled city in ancient Arabia was Ubar, described in the Koran as "the many-columned city whose like has not been built in the entire land." But like Sodom and Gomorrah, Ubar was destroyed by God for the sins of its people. Buried in the desert without a trace, it became known as "the Atlantis of the Sands." Over the centuries, many searched for it unsuccessfully, including Lawrence of Arabia, and skepticism grew that there had ever been a real place called Ubar. Then in the 1980sNicholas Clapp stumbled on the legend. Poring over ancient manuscripts, he discovered that a slip of the pen in a.d. 1460 had misled generations of explorers. In satellite images he found evidence of ancient caravan routes that were invisible from the ground. Finally he organized two expeditions to Arabia with a team of archaeologists, geologists, space scientists, and adventurers. After many false starts, dead ends, and weeks of digging, they uncovered a remarkable walled city with eight towers, thi… (more)



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Showing 5 of 5
The ancient city of Ubar is clouded in myth. It controlled the frankincense trade for the Arabian Peninsula and became quite a wealthy oasis. Then, as told in the Koran, it was smote from the Earth for favoring wealth over worship. The city of Ubar was gone forever. Nicholas Clapp’s The Road to Ubar weaves together history, archaeology, technology, and even a little luck to rediscover the history of the Arabian Peninsula. With the help of an archaeologist, a geologist, and a real-life adventurer, he travels through the vast Arabian Desert to take back what the desert hid for so long.

Clapp’s methodology here is quite fun. Many historical figures had traveled through this area of the Arabian Peninsula searching for archaeological insight, and Clapp uses both their insights and new technology to pinpoint the location of a buried city in the sands at Shisr in Oman. Unfortunately, a sinkhole has swallowed a fair chunk of the ruins, but much of the wall remained intact and his team dutifully catalogs the whole experience. After its discovery, he places the city in as much historical and mythical context as he can provide. Clapp’s team’s journey is fairly interesting and also provides a good deal of history on the Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula. A very fun read. ( )
  NielsenGW | Dec 1, 2014 |
Excellent resource book. Easy to read and understand. ( )
  Childs-Pancorvo | Apr 26, 2010 |
I really like to first half of the book. It chronicles the search for this lost city and it's really interesting how they used satallite imagery to find it. The second part of the book I was less please with. It's a fictionalization of what life may have been like there. I would have preferred it if they stuck to the science.
  Readermom68 | Oct 6, 2009 |
Generally contains three parts: 1) Myth 2) Expedition and 3) The Rise and Fall of Ubar. Being a plot-motivated reader, I enjoyed the expedition the best. Having done a little research myself, I can appreciate the desire to document it as Clapp has done in "Myth," however I found this tedious. Unlike some other books of this type, there is are excavations and findings associated with the expedition, which made it interesting. The text includes illustrations, maps, three appendices, notes, a bibliography, and index. ( )
  VaterOlsen | Mar 16, 2009 |
Let’s face it: There just aren’t that many places left here on earth for a good adventure story. The Arabian peninsula’s “Empty Quarter” may be one of them, but it doesn’t get its due in The Road to Ubar.

About 2,000 years ago, Ubar controlled the caravan routes for the highly profitable frankincense trade, mostly because of its unique location as the only oasis in the area. “Something” happened, though, and the Koran uses Ubar as an illustration of how god destroys the cities of those who have more interest in profits than prophets.

The author assembles a semi-colorful cast of characters to look for the city and find out what happens, but what really helps is his flukey ability to get help from some acquaintances at NASA, who leverage shuttle flights to take photos from earth orbit. The images somehow work to discern areas of sand compression, even through dunes, so the literal “road” to Ubar becomes quite obvious.

With that kind of help, and the availability of friendly helicopter pilots and durable Land Rovers, finding the city simply wasn’t that impressive of a feat.

Okay, there are two close calls, but one is averted through the use of GPS. The other, involving the author and some of the team being left in the desert while a helicopter flies off to get more fuel and comes back a few hours late, doesn’t seem to make a real impression on the author. So, likewise, it didn’t make that much of an impression on this reader.

Even the presence of Ran Fiennes (see my library for his very good tales of Arctic exploration) as a supporting player failed to really hold my attention.

Part of the problem may have been an unfortunate incident at the beginning of the book that made me a bit queasy. The author is going over stuff an earlier (1930s) explorer had written about Ubar, and he describes this explorer’s “take” on the area, which includes: “By contrast, a household’s slaves enjoyed a happy-go-lucky freedom that unimaginable to their masters.” But this isn’t a direct quote from the original explorer; in fact, it’s placed in such away that I had the nagging feeling this was an attitude the author endorsed.

For all these reasons, I cannot recommend this book. ( )
2 vote KromesTomes | Jul 30, 2007 |
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Prolog: Boston, Massachusetts, Februar 1797 ... Als der Wagen schliesslich vor der Buchhandlung Ecke Proctor's Lane anhielt, war es bereits dunkel, und es schneite.
1.: Im Luftraum über dem Iran, Dezember 1980 ... Der kleine Frachttransporter flog hinein in die sternenübersäte, aber mondfinstere Nacht.
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