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Throughout the basaltic uplands of northeastern Jordan, there are countless large and small mounds of stone (cairns), which are the burial places of people who roamed the desert many hundreds or thousands of years ago. These numerous graves have never been systematically investigated, and little is known about their construction, date, and variability, let alone about their deceased occupants. This picture is now changing owing to an ongoing program of survey and excavation in the Jebel Qurma region, close to the border of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. These investigations point towards complex and entangled arrangements of cairn use and mortuary practices over time, when Early Bronze Age cemeteries are replaced by singular, impressive tower tombs and conical ring cairns in the Hellenistic to Byzantine period. The reuse of these tombs is a recurrent feature, emphasizing the focal and enduring role of these monuments to both the dead and the living.
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Nothing but Cold Ashes? The Cairn Burials of Jebel Qurma, Northeastern Jordan
Author(s): Peter M. M. G. Akkermans and Merel L. Brüning
Source:
Near Eastern Archaeology,
Vol. 80, No. 2, Repopulating the Badia (June 2017), pp.
132-139
Published by: The American Schools of Oriental Research
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5615/neareastarch.80.2.0132
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132 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 80.2 (2017)
Some 130 km east of Amman, close to the Jordanian-Saudi
border, is the barren range of Jebel Qurma. This area is an
extensive and rugged low basalt massif, with steep-sided,
basalt-covered prominences and rocky dissected plateaus, all of
which make travel in this region difficult. Extensive gravel plains
extend beyond the forbidding, basaltic uplands, alternating with
mud flats of varying size and low ranges of limestone hillocks.
The area is highly arid, with an average annual precipitation
of less than 50 mm. The hot summers and often severe winters
add substantially to the harsh and inhospitable character of
the Jebel Qurma heights. Captain Lionel Rees, who was in the
region in the early 1900s, described the hostile area: “Except
for a short period in the spring the whole of this country looks
like a dead fire – nothing but cold ashes” (Rees 1929: 389). It
comes as no surprise that the landscape remains difficult to
inhabit, except for the occasional small and dispersed Bedouin
groups. Nowadays, single tents occur here and there near wadis
and mud flats for a couple of weeks in the rainy season, each
of them usually several kilometers away from their nearest
neighbor. These people seem to come mainly from the region
around Irbid and Mafraq in northern Jordan and bring their
herds of sheep and goats by truck to the Jebel Qurma area for
grazing, but only in years with sufficient rainfall.
e rather uninviting appearance of Jebel Qurma is dicult
to reconcile with the astonishingly rich archaeological and ep-
igraphic record of the region, which testies to the presence of
indigenous peoples that wandered about the basalt range many
hundreds or even thousands of years ago. ere are very large
numbers of stone-built installations of dierent types and siz-
es, in addition to the innumerable pieces of rock art and texts
in ancient North Arabian script. ey demonstrate that Jordans
northeastern desert was once home to thriving desert lifeways,
thus challenging any preconceived ideas of marginality or cul-
tural insignicance. Environmental conditions may have been
more favorable (wetter, greener) during some periods in the past
than today, although this is still a matter of investigation.
Hilltop Cairns
It goes without saying that in any region where people once
lived in substantial numbers, they must have died in equally
large numbers. While the foci of daily living and domestic ac-
tivity were in secluded areas at the foot of the basaltic uplands
or in the deep valleys through which wadis run, it appears that
the preferential areas for the disposal of the dead were on the
surrounding high plateaus and the summits of the basalt hills.
Our recent surveys and excavations in these relatively remote,
high locales in the Jebel Qurma region, away from the main are-
as of habitation, have identied many hundreds of cairns. ese
are mounds of stone of varying shapes and sizes that were usu-
ally set up as the burial place of local inhabitants (g. 1). ey
range from low and roughly circular heaps of stone about 1.5 m
across and 0.7–0.8 m in height to impressive tombs up to 10 m in
diameter and 2 m in height. Some cairns were conical mounds
of basalt blocks, sometimes provided with a constellation of
‘Except for a short period in the spring
the whole of this country looks like a dead re –
nothing but cold ashes’ ” (Rees 1929: 389).
Nothing but Cold Ashes?
The Cairn Burials of Jebel Qurma, Northeastern Jordan
Peter M. M. G. Akkermans and Merel L. Brüning
The Jebel Qurma range: basalt-covered mounds and plateaus, with endless plains of gravel and rock in front of them.
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NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 80.2 (2017) 133
Figure 1. A typical hilltop cairn in the Jebel Qurma region, with its conical pile of basalt blocks.
Figure 2. Documenting a small cairn in the Early Bronze Age cemetery in the Jebel Qurma area.
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134 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 80.2 (2017)
up to several dozen smaller cairns. Other tombs
were in the form of sizable round towers, which
could have smaller cist graves attached to them.
Many cairns had a circular or, more oen, cres-
cent-shaped installation consisting of a low and
roughly piled stone wall added to their exteri-
or, which may have served for ritual purpose at
the time of burial and mourning. Occasionally
shallow replaces were located in these features,
which, according to analyzed radiocarbon dates,
appear to stem from repeated visits to these cairns
in Medieval to modern times. Finally, small circles
of upright-standing stones occur near some of the
cairns, suggesting some kind of funerary meaning.
e stone circles are about 1.2 m across, and while
they had no covering, their interiors were partly
lled with small blocks and pebbles to create a lev-
el surface or “platform.
In general, the deceased were put to rest either
in a small burial chamber or simply between the
rocks lling in the cairns. Hence they were essen-
tially graves above ground, with the corpses mere-
ly resting below a cover of stones and close to the Figure 3. Pottery vessels found in the tombs of the Early Bronze Age cairn eld.
Figure 4. The tower tomb at the site of QUR-2, with its straight façade made of large basalt slabs. Many of these building stones weigh around 200–300 kg, suggesting that the
construction of the tower was the work of a team instead of an individual.
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NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 80.2 (2017) 135
Other constraints relating to matters of skeletal preservation
and regular reuse of the tombs are inherent in the research of
cairn burials. During our surveys and excavations, the levels of
preservation were so poor that skeletons were oen crushed by
the overlying rocks. Moreover, their vicinity to the surface made
them very vulnerable to the uctuating and extreme climatic
conditions of the area. e activities of insects and rodents of-
ten exacerbated the poor preservation of skeletal remains or in
some cases le no bones at all. Indeed, the well-known passage
from the book of Genesis (3:19), “for dust thou art, and unto dust
shalt thou return,” should be taken literally in the desert. Cairns
also appear to have been frequently reused, even long aer their
original date of construction. Oen the reuse could only be ac-
complished through disturbing or even obliterating older buri-
als in the mounds. e custom of constructing cairns for burial
seems to have ended in the Jebel Qurma range around the fourth
surface. True inhumations, in the sense of burial pits dug into
the ground, seem to occur relatively late in the local sequence,
namely, from the fourth century .. or Byzantine period on-
wards.
Investigation into the complex nature of these cairns is not
always easy. An unfortunate (predominantly modern) devel-
opment is the very considerable looting of tombs, which oen
includes their wholesale destruction. Although the aforemen-
tioned Captain Rees noticed the poor state of many cairns in
the desert already almost a century ago, the scale of the tomb
robbing has increased very signicantly in the past decade. In-
deed, most of the large and visually prominent cairns have been
pillaged in recent years, leading to an immense loss of cultural
knowledge and insight into ancient mortuary customs in the ba-
salt wasteland (see, e.g., Kersel and Chesson 2013 on the devas-
tating consequences of looting in Jordan).
Figure 5. A beautiful piece of rock art from the burial site of QUR-529, showing an archer hunting two lions.
The associated inscription in Safaitic reads: l rgl bn zmhr bn ͖s h-h
.yt, which is translated “By Rāgel son of Zamhar
son of ’Aws are the animals.
Figure 6. A 3D image of the tower tomb and its associated burials at the site of QUR-2 in the Jebel Qurma region:
(1) central tower tomb of the rst century B.C. to rst century C.E.; (2–5) cist graves (and remnants thereof) of the rst
to second century C.E.; (6–7) late Ottoman to colonial-period Islamic cairns. Indication of scale: the central tower is
4.8 m in exterior diameter.
Figure 7 . A colorful necklace with beads made of stone, glass,
and shell, from one of the cist graves at the site of QUR-2.
Figure 8. Earrings made of bronze and gold, from the cist
graves at the site of QUR-2 (nos. 1–3) and from one of the ring
cairns at QUR-9 (no. 4).
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136 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 80.2 (2017)
century .., although many preexisting cairns received new in-
terments long aer that. Cairns, it appears, were avoided for the
disposal of the dead during almost the entire Islamic period and
only were commonly reused for graves from the (late) Ottoman
period onwards. e latter observation is at odds with commonly
held perceptions of the Muslim treatment of the dead; however,
Jenny Bradbury has recently (2016) argued against an idealized,
static, or uniform portrayal of Islamic burial practice, under-
scoring instead the considerable variation over time and space.
Hilltop burials in the desert are oen notoriously dicult to
date, owing to factors such as their limited preservation, their
oen generic morphology, and the palimpsest of contents result-
ing from their continual reuse. With regard to the abundance of
prehistoric sites in the Jebel Qurma region (Akkermans, Hui-
gens, and Brüning 2016), we may assume that many cairns in the
area are likewise prehistoric in origin. ere is however little or
nothing to substantiate this claim at present. e earliest secure-
ly dated cairns in the Jebel Qurma basalt uplands belong to the
Early Bronze Age, while many more cairns, it appears, date to
more recent historical periods.
An Early Bronze Age Cemetery
An extensive burial eld, consisting of some y small cairns
up to 2.2 m across and 1.2 m in height, is located high on the
slope of a basalt-covered hillock. It has a panoramic view over
the meandering ood plain of Wadi Rajil, a major route through
the basalt and an excellent location given its seasonal opportuni-
ties for water provisions. e area selected for cairn construction
was used previously for groupings of stone-walled enclosures,
and had large concentrations of concave truncation burins of
Late Neolithic date (ca. 6400–6100 ...; see Betts 2013). e
cairns were clearly later extensions, partly set on the enclosures’
walls; the contemporary site(s) for the living community con-
nected with the cemetery remains elusive so far.
Our excavations made clear that the cairns (g. 2) were all
constructed in roughly the same way. First, a small, low corbelled
burial chamber was made. Second, the burial chamber was sur-
rounded by a ring of large stones (sometimes stacked two or three
courses high). ird, the space between the chamber and the out-
er ring was lled in with stones, adding both stability and visi-
bility to the cairn. In some cases, the burial chambers were cor-
belled in their entirety; in other cases they were closed by one or
more large and at capstones. e chambers were always roughly
round in shape, between 0.7 and 1 m in diameter and 0.4–0.7 m
high; hence, they cannot have been used for interment in supine
position but must have facilitated contracted burial, with the de-
ceased resting on its side. Unfortunately the preservation of the
skeletal remains in the tombs was extremely poor, with at most a
few small fragments of bones or teeth remaining.
Only very few of the dead were provided with grave goods.
One cairn yielded a int tabular scraper, while four other burials
each had a single pottery vessel in the shape of a small, short-
necked jar with a at base and, sometimes, loop handles (g. 3).
ese pots are closely reminiscent of the amphoriskoi found at,
for example, Tell Umm Hammad and its associated necropolis
at Tiwal esh-Sharqi in the central Jordan Valley (see, e.g., Tubb,
Henderson, and Wright 1990; Kennedy 2015), or in the cemeter-
ies of Bab edh-Dhra and Fifa near the Dead Sea (Schaub and Rast
1989; Chesson and Schaub 2007). Given the material, these com-
parisons point towards a date in the late Early Bronze Age (ca.
2300–2000 ...) for the cairn eld in the Jebel Qurma region.
Signicantly, the abandonment of the cemetery—and, by as-
sociation, the places for the corresponding living community—
seems to have coincided with the wholesale withdrawal from the
Jebel Qurma region for a period of roughly 1,500–2,000 years,
Figure 9. Aerial photo of a typical “ring cairn” at the site of QUR-9 (structure 5). The circular burial chamber in the heart of the cairn is clearly visible, with a cover of basalt blocks around it.
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NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 80.2 (2017) 137
examples include the Iron Age settlements and graveyard in
the vicinity of Qaf and Ithra at the onset of the Wadi Sirhan,
near the Saudi-Jordan border (Adams et al. 1977: 36).
Tower Tombs and Ring Cairns
A major renewal of local settlement appears to have
taken place from the Hellenistic to the Ummayad periods,
from about the third century ... to the eighth century
.. Stone-walled enclosures and irregular clearings about
20–50 m across, many of which yielded limited distributions
of pottery, may have served as regular but short-lived camp-
ing sites. Mortuary practices continued the previous way of
erecting cairns over the dead on prominent elevations, yet
novel types of burial made their appearance in this period.
An outstanding example is the emergence of monumental
round structures up to 5 m in diameter and 1.5 m high, which
dier from the other cairns by their distinct tower-like shape
and their clear, straight facade made of large, attened basalt
slabs (g. 4). Moreover, these “tower tombs” originally lacked
the conical covering heap of stones so characteristic of almost
all other cairns in the basalt region. Whenever the tower
tombs did have a massive stone cover, it appears to have been
due to the construction of secondary graves against the tower
at a later stage. Each tower was solidly lled in with basalt
boulders, except for the small, corbelled burial chamber cov-
ered with capstones in its center. Although in most cases the
chamber had been breached, some human bones and grave
goods (mainly jewelry) were still in and around it.
e tower tombs tend to carry some Safaitic inscriptions
and petroglyphs (g. 5), with many more in their immediate
surroundings. ey are oen considered to have a funerary
meaning (cf. Macdonald 2015; Al-Jallad 2015, and references
therein, for a recent evaluation). However, our excavations
indisputably revealed that the towers were built with rocks
that had already previously been inscribed with Safaitic texts,
and so they must postdate the inscriptions. A number of ra-
diocarbon dates from tower tombs in the Jebel Qurma region
suggest a date for their construction between the rst century
from the late third millennium ... until the occurrence of the so-
called Safaitic groups in the late rst millennium ... e apparent
absence of nd spots for such a long period of time is remarkable
and remains as yet unexplained, although few and disparate sites
from this period can be found at the fringes of the desert. Notable
Figure 10. Aerial photo of a “pendant burial” in the Jebel Qurma range. The chain consisting of about twenty small, individual cairns leads to the left of the large cairn at the head.
Photo by Rebecca Banks, APAAME_20130418_REB-0197.
Figure 11. The ring cairn 9 at the site of QUR-9. The image above shows the plan of the
cairn, while the image below is a 3D section through the same cairn. (1) the circular ring
of stones bounding the burial chamber; (2) the interior of the burial chamber; (3) the
stone cover around the burial chamber.
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138 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 80.2 (2017)
... and the rst century .., although they appear to have
been reused repeatedly for burial in later periods.
Several tower tombs had rectangular cist graves attached to
them, which were up to 2.7 m long, 1.5 m wide, and 1 m high, and
oriented roughly east–west (g. 6). e cist burials had carefully
constructed dry-stone walls with smooth outer facades, and their
interiors were entirely lled with rocks. Underneath the piles of
stone were the skeletal remains of one, or sometimes two, indi-
viduals, who lay in a crouched position with the head to the east,
facing north. Relatively rich nds were recovered from the cist
graves, including necklaces made of colorful stone, glass paste,
and shell, as well as rings made of bronze and iron (gs. 7 and 8).
In one tomb there were ve bronze earrings, each adorned with a
centerpiece of semiprecious stone anked by pearls or small glass
beads (g. 8, nos. 1–3). ere was also an iron cloak pin or, per-
haps, a belt buckle among the skeletal remains. Interestingly, one
cist grave had four Seleucid bronze coins (Charon’s obol imme-
diately comes to mind), one of which could be securely dated to
the reign of Antiochus IX (114–95 ...). A radiocarbon sample
from skeletal remains in another cist grave gave a much later date
in the rst to second century ..
e coins were evidently nonlocal products, as were the met-
al and glass pieces of jewelry, which must have been procured
through direct or indirect exchange with urban environments
beyond the desert where such materials were typically manufac-
tured. On the other hand, some of the beads and pendants made
of limestone and shells of land snails may have been produced by
the desert communities themselves.
Tower tombs are relatively rare in the Jebel Qurma region and
the basalt region at large, and their distribution is restricted to
prominent high rises near major routes through the basalt waste-
land. A much more common type of burial was the so-called
“ring cairn,” which measures up to 8 m in diameter and 2 m
high (g. 9). Ring cairns oen had a chain of ve to y small
cairns attached to them (g. 10), and it is easy to see why these
installations are sometimes called “pendants” (see
Kennedy 2011: 3189–90). Our excavation of sev-
eral of these smaller cairns revealed that they were
simple piles of stone, some built more carefully than
others, but with no evidence whatsoever of a burial
in or underneath them. David Kennedy has suggest-
ed that these cairns in chains served to commem-
orate a respected deceased individual by erecting
small stone heaps in the course of successive visits
(2011: 3190).
e ring cairns dier from the tower tombs not
only because of their abundant occurrence or their
common tail of smaller cairns, but also because of
their method of construction. ey had a roughly
nished circular burial chamber about 2–3 m in di-
ameter, which was always concealed underneath a
substantial deposit of stones, giving these cairns their
typical conical shape (g. 11). Moreover, the burial
chamber was nearly always entirely lled in with
stone, with the rocks directly piled upon the dead.
e date of construction of these ring cairns
remains uncertain for a variety of reasons and OSL (Optically
Stimulated Luminescence) determinations are currently awaited
to solve the matter. ere is substantial evidence for the contin-
ual reuse of the cairns over the ages, from the Hellenistic period
until the late Ottoman or even modern times. One ring cairn
revealed the perfectly preserved remains of a young man aged
between 21 and 30 years at the time of death. He was resting on
his right side in an extremely contracted position, with the head
to the east and the face looking north (g. 12). A radiocarbon
sample gave a date in the h or sixth centuries .. (Byzantine
period) for this grave.
Signicantly, no grave goods were associated with this male
burial. However, a golden earring (see g. 8, no. 4) and a number
of beads made of stone, glass, faience, and bronze were found,
together with a few human teeth fragments, in the stone cover
outside of the burial chamber proper. ese nds, we believe,
were the remnants of an earlier burial, which was removed from
the central chamber when the young male was interred in it.
Commemorative Places
e many cairns in the Jebel Qurma region served the needs
of local communities in the disposition of their dead over time.
While the number of cairns currently identied in the area to-
tals in the many hundreds, the actual number of men, women,
and children buried in them must be much higher, because of
their regular reuse. e cairns are widely distributed across the
“The graveyards reect a consistent habit of
bringing the dead to specic grounds imbued
with social meaning and memory—sites that
were vital to the desert communities. “
Figure 12. The grave of a young man, buried in an extremely contracted position on his side inside the ring cairn 9
at QUR-9. The well-preserved skeletal remains were radiocarbon-dated to 425–580 cal C.E. (95.4% reliability).
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NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 80.2 (2017) 139
basalt-strewn upland terrain, and they usually occur either alone
or in small groups of two or three. eir clustering into more
substantial cemeteries has been established only in a few in-
stances, with the Early Bronze Age cairn eld described above as
the clearest example. e graveyards reect a consistent habit of
bringing the dead to specic grounds imbued with social mean-
ing and memory—sites that were vital to the desert communities.
Additionally we should not simply conclude that the many
singular burial cairns were merely pragmatic, ad hoc containers
for the dead placed randomly in the landscape. eir common
placement on eye-catching elevations that aord panoramic
vantage points was a key consideration for the cairn builders,
with maximum prominence and visibility in mind.e elaborate
tower tombs in particular were powerful and permanent vehicles
for commemorating the dead and linked the past and present
in a highly visual and public way. Far from being “secretive” or
understood by insiders only, these tombs were easily recognized
by locals and foreign visitors to the region alike and may have in-
spired awe and reverence. ese burial grounds must have been
liminal places full of social memory; the continual reuse and the
repeated burial events at these sites over many centuries conrm
their long-lived role as focal points for social and ritual gather-
ings of the communities in the area.
Acknowledgements
Our yearly surveys and excavations in the Jebel Qurma region
would not have been possible without the help of a dedicated
team in the eld and at home. anks go in particular to Ahmad
Al-Jallad, Monique Arntz, Koen Berghuijs, Nathalie Brusgaard,
Chiara Della Puppa, Rosemarie Hietanen, Harmen Huigens,
Sarah Inskip, Migchel Migchelsen, Hans van der Plicht, Maikel
van Stiphout, and omas Vijgen. Our sincere gratitude also goes
to the Department of Antiquities in Amman, in particular to its
representatives in the eld: Wesam Esaid, Mohamad Atoum, and
Ashraf Khraysheh. Funding was provided by the Faculty of Ar-
chaeology of Leiden University, the Leiden University Fund, and
the Netherlands Organization for Scientic Research (NWO).
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Peter Akkermans is professor of Near Eastern archaeology in the Faculty of
Archaeology of Leiden University, The Netherlands. He has over thirty years
of experience in directing archaeological research in Syria and Jordan, and is
currently head of the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project in Jordan’s
northeastern desert.
Merel Brüning is a research assistant in the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden
University, The Netherlands. She has been involved in surveys and excavations
in the Jebel Qurma region since 2012, and is currently researching the cairn
graves in the area. Previously she was an assistant eld director at the site of
Tell Sabi Abyad in Syria.
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... Excavations have so far taken place at more than fifty-five tombs (cf. Akkermans & Brüning 2017;Huigens 2019). ...
... While two or even three burials per cairn are not uncommon, each cairn was primarily intended for a single interment, with the deceased placed in a crouched position on his/her side. The cairns were also frequently reused, even millennia after their initial construction; often, this was possible only by disturbing earlier interments (Akkermans & Brüning 2017). ...
... So far, the earliest securely dated tumuli in the Jebel Qurma uplands belong to the Early Bronze Age of the fourth and third millennia BC. This is based on radiocarbon dates, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates, and inventories from the tombs (Akkermans & Brüning 2017;Huigens 2019). Bronze Age burials, however, are still remarkably rare, which runs contrary to the local abundance of (contemporaneous) domestic sites. ...
Article
Full-text available
Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 50, 1-17. Burial cairns dot the basaltic uplands of north-eastern Jordan, yet these graves have never been investigated systematically. This situation is now changing. Current excavations in the Jebel Qurma region, close to the borders of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have focused on the numerous cairns as well as their complex histories of use. This project identified different types of burial, including ring cairns, round and apsidal tower tombs, and cist graves. Radiocarbon dates, OSL dates, and grave inventories date the cairns to the Bronze Age and, in particular, the Iron Age. Through extensive survey and excavation in the area, this paper brings to light entirely new insights into the mortuary practices of Jordan’s north-eastern badia.
... Excavations have so far taken place at more than fifty-five tombs (cf. Akkermans & Brüning 2017;Huigens 2019). ...
... While two or even three burials per cairn are not uncommon, each cairn was primarily intended for a single interment, with the deceased placed in a crouched position on his/her side. The cairns were also frequently reused, even millennia after their initial construction; often, this was possible only by disturbing earlier interments (Akkermans & Brüning 2017). ...
... So far, the earliest securely dated tumuli in the Jebel Qurma uplands belong to the Early Bronze Age of the fourth and third millennia BC. This is based on radiocarbon dates, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates, and inventories from the tombs (Akkermans & Brüning 2017;Huigens 2019). Bronze Age burials, however, are still remarkably rare, which runs contrary to the local abundance of (contemporaneous) domestic sites. ...
Article
Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 50, 1-17. Burial cairns dot the basaltic uplands of north-eastern Jordan, yet these graves have never been investigated systematically. This situation is now changing. Current excavations in the Jebel Qurma region, close to the borders of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have focused on the numerous cairns as well as their complex histories of use. This project identified different types of burial, including ring cairns, round and apsidal tower tombs, and cist graves. Radiocarbon dates, OSL dates, and grave inventories date the cairns to the Bronze Age and, in particular, the Iron Age. Through extensive survey and excavation in the area, this paper brings to light entirely new insights into the mortuary practices of Jordan’s north-eastern badia.
... also have parallels at EBA IV settlements like Khirbet al-Batrawi near Zarqa(Sala 2006a, 103 and Fig. 3.9) and Tell Umm Hamad (e.g.Kennedy 2015, 14 and Fig. 3, nos. 18-25).The four tombs with ceramics were part of a larger cemetery (QUR-951), consisting of some thirty cairns in total(Akkermans and Brüning 2017;Akkermans et al. 2020).The cairn field was high on the slope of a basalt-covered hillock, with a panoramic view over the meandering flood plain of Wadi Rajil below. The area with the cairns was used previously for groupings of stone-walled enclosures from the Late Neolithic period (c. ...
... Although the current evidence remains admittedly fragmentary, there is reason to believe that the desert groups of the second and first millennium BC were highly autonomous in their lifeways and deliberately refrained from an overly close affiliation with the urban polities of their time. The often-dismissed dichotomy between the 'desert-and-the-sown' may have been a reality to a very large extent in this period (Akkermans 2019).Iron Age cairnsWhile first millennium settlements are still few and far between, there is an abundance of contemporary cairns for burial in the Jebel Qurma area, particularly for the period after c. 700/600 BC(Akkermans and Brüning 2017;Akkermans et al. 2020). The cairns were on relatively difficult-to-reach high plateaus and the summits of the basalt hills, above and away from the areas of settlement. ...
Article
Full-text available
In: Peter M. M. G. Akkermans (ed.) 2020. Landscapes of Survival - The Archaeology and Epigraphy of Jordan’s North-Eastern Desert and Beyond. Leiden: Sidestone Press, pp. 185-216.
... Some, such as tower tombs and cairns, may date to later, historic periods, although this is by no means certain. So-called tower tombs are well-distributed across the mesas, likely because they are large well-constructed monuments meant to commemorate individuals and were likely placed intentionally away from other tower tombs as prominent and visible markers on the landscape [59]. Some features cannot be assigned a probable date or function and so are only identified as walls. ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper presents the results of a large scale, drone-based aerial survey in northeastern Jordan. Drones have rapidly become one of the most cost-effective and efficient tools for collecting high-resolution landscape data, fitting between larger-scale, lower-resolution satellite data collection and the significantly more limited traditional terrestrial survey approaches. Drones are particularly effective in areas where anthropogenic features are visible on the surface but are too small to identify with commonly and economically available satellite data. Using imagery from fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, along with photogrammetric processing, we surveyed an extensive archaeological landscape spanning 32 km2 at the site of Wadi al-Qattafi in the eastern badia region of Jordan, the largest archaeological drone survey, to date, in Jordan. The resulting data allowed us to map a wide range of anthropogenic features, including hunting traps, domestic structures, and tombs, as well as modern alterations to the landscape including road construction and looting pits. We documented thousands of previously unrecorded and largely unknown prehistoric structures, providing an improved understanding of major shifts in the prehistoric use of this landscape.
... However, in west and north-west Saudi Arabia, and in adjacent desert landscapes of eastern Jordan and southern Syria, these structures have received limited attention until recently (e.g. Abu-Azizeh et al., 2014Akkermans and Brüning, 2017;Fujii, 2016;Hausleiter and Zur, 2016;Kennedy, 2011Kennedy, , 2012Kennedy and Bishop, 2011;Rowan et al., 2011;Thomas et al., 2021a). ...
Article
Full-text available
The desert regions of the Arabian Peninsula and Levant are criss-crossed by innumerable pathways. Across large areas of north-west Arabia, many of these pathways are flanked by stone monuments, the vast majority of which are ancient tombs. Recent radiometric dating indicates that the most abundant of these monuments, elaborate and morphologically diverse ‘pendant’ structures, were constructed during the mid-to-late third millennium BCE. Thousands of kilometres of these composite path and monument features, ‘funerary avenues’, can be traced across the landscape, especially around and between major perennial water sources. By evidencing routes of human movement during this period, these features provide an emerging source for reconstructing important aspects of ancient mobility and social and economic connectivity. They also provide significant new evidence for human/environment interactions and subsistence strategies during the later Middle Holocene of north-west Arabia, and suggest the parallel existence of mobile pastoralist lifeways and more permanent, oasis-centred settlement. This paper draws upon the results of recent excavations and intensive remote sensing, aerial and ground surveys in Saudi Arabia to present the first detailed examination of these features and the vast cultural landscape that they constitute.
... This is not the case in the Safaitic rock art, and moreover there are few material fi nds of weaponry with which to compare, mainly due to the poor preservation conditions of the desert (cf. Akkermans and Brüning 2017). Still, the rock art corpus of the Jebel Qurma area is very suitable for a systematic study, as will be illustrated below. ...
Chapter
Until recently, little was known about the Safaitic rock art of the Black Desert in northern Arabia. This chapter presents the results of the first study of the scenes and of the material culture, the weaponry, depicted in the scenes. It investigates what the scenes can tell us about the rock art and the societies that created it. Through a detailed analysis, this study identifies three main themes in the scenes: pastoralism, combat, and hunting, of which the latter is most dominant. Additionally, four types of weapons are recognised, of which the bow and arrow and the lance/spear are most commonly depicted. Comparing these results, this study reveals that there are specific patterns in the hunting and combat scenes. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how these results fit with the historical context and what they can tell us about the desert societies. https://berghahnbooks.com/title/DavidsonMaking
Article
Full-text available
The Safaitic rock art of Jordan’s Black Desert is a fascinating yet under-examined subject. In this contribution, I discuss the representations of weapons in the rock art of the Jebel Qurma region in north-east Jordan. Additionally, I will give an overview of the material evidence of weaponry produced by recent excavations in the region’s burial cairns. Detailed visual analysis distinguished four categories related to weaponry in the rock art: bows, pole weapons, swords/daggers, and shields. Patterns in the use of these objects vary for each category. Most notable are the firm association of lances with riders on animal-back, and the archers that are predominantly depicted on foot. --- In: Peter M. M. G. Akkermans (ed.) 2020: Landscapes of Survival - The Archaeology and Epigraphy of Jordan’s North-Eastern Desert and Beyond, Sidestone Press (Leiden), pp. 305-316.
Article
Full-text available
Recent fieldwork in the Jebel Qurma region, in the basalt wasteland east of Azraq, revealed a large number of prehistoric sites, dating from the 7th to the late 4th millennia cal BC. While some sites were little more than lithic scatters over a few dozen square metres, others were of impressive size, up to 8 hectares in extent and characterized by hundreds of stone-built structures. The new data demonstrate considerable diversity in site layout as well as clear shifts in habitation patterns and locational preferences through time. These new insights require a re-evaluation of current thoughts on settlement and community organization in the basaltic uplands of north-eastern Jordan in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.
Article
Full-text available
In the 1920s pilots overflying the Transjordan panhandle discovered thousands of enigmatic stone-built structures which the beduin called ‘’The Works of the Old Men’. We now know these works are several thousand years old, extend from Syria to Yemen and probably number a million or more, making them far older and significantly more extensive than Peru’s Nazca Lines. Like the latter they are often unseen and seldom intelligible at ground level. Now an aerial reconnaissance programme in Jordan and high-resolution satellite imagery from Google Earth for large areas of Arabia is vastly expanding the database bringing transformation and opportunity. Despite regional and diachronic variations, these works are plainly parts of an immense prehistoric cultural continuum surviving as hunting traps, funerary/religious sites and seasonal camps. Extensive sampling and test-mapping show patterns and associations which suggest methodologies for developing a remote sensing programme to record, map and begin analysis for interior Arabia as a whole. On such foundations may be built interdisciplinary collaboration to interpret and explain this little-known human landscape on the fringes of the Fertile Crescent.
Saudi Arabian Archaeological Reconnaissance
  • Robert Mcc Adams
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Adams, Robert McC.; Peter Parr; Muhammad Ibrahim; and Ali S. Al-Mughannum. 1977. Saudi Arabian Archaeological Reconnaissance 1976. Atlal 1: 21-68.
The Later Prehistory of the Badia: Excavations and Survey in Eastern Jordan
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Death and Dying on the Dead Sea Plain: Fifa, al-Khanazir and Bab adh-Dhra' Cemeteries
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Chesson, Meredith S., and R. Thomas Schaub. 2007. Death and Dying on the Dead Sea Plain: Fifa, al-Khanazir and Bab adh-Dhra' Cemeteries. Pp. 253-60 in Crossing Jordan: North American Contributions to the Archaeology of Jordan, ed. Thomas E. Levy, P. M. Michèle Daviau, Randal W. Younker, and May Shaer. London: Equinox.
On the Uses of Writing in Ancient Arabia and the Role of Palaeography in Studying Them
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