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Long-Term Settlement Trends in Jordan’s Northeastern Badia:The Jabal Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project

Authors:
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New Research in the Jabal Qurma Region
The Jabal Qurma Archaeological Landscape
Project started in 2012 as a new long-term
research project, carrying out both survey and
excavation in Jordan’s north-eastern badia. It
seeks to address local settlement and quotidian
activities from a multi-disciplinary and multi-
period perspective, and investigates how these
relate to the diverse landscape and environment.
The project takes place under the auspices of the
Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University
(The Netherlands), in close collaboration with
the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.
The study area lies to the east of the small
oasis town of Azraq (Zarqa Province; Fig. 1), is
comprised of rough and rocky terrain, and mea-
LONG-TERM SETTLEMENT TRENDS IN JORDAN’S NORTH-
EASTERN BADIA:THE JABAL QURMA ARCHAEOLOGICAL
LANDSCAPE PROJECT
Peter M. Akkermans and Harmen O. Huigens
1. Map of Jordan, showing the
location of the Jabal Qurma
region.
ADAJ 59
– 504 –
sures about 16 by 21 kilometres, between Wādī
Rajil in the west and Wādī al-Qataffi in the east
(Fig. 2). The highly arid desert environment,
with an average annual precipitation of less
than 50 mm, is characterized by basalt-strewn
uplands or Ḥarra up to 80 metres in height in
some places. It is jointly known as Jabal Qurma
and (further to the east) Jabal Rijlat Suleiman.
Extensive gravel plains extend to the north and
south (Hazimah), alternating with mud flats of
varying size, as well as low limestone ranges.
The prominent table-mount of Jabal Qurma lies
within the study area, close to Wādī Rajil, as
does the adjacent Qurma Gap, a wide natural
east-west corridor through the basalt barrier.
Still further to the south-west is the flat, shal-
low depression of the Wādī Sirḥān , a major,
millennia-old caravan track and communica-
tion route between the Levant and the Arabian
Peninsula.
Because of its harsh, dry landscape with no
permanent sources of water, the Jabal Qurma
region is rather uninviting and remains difficult
to inhabit, except for the occasional Bedouin
group. However, this picture may have been
very different in antiquity, especially in the
context of the astonishingly large number of
archaeological finds in the area. Many hundreds
of ancient sites and installations of different sizes
dot the basalt landscape and the surrounding
gravel plains. To add to this picture, there are
literally thousands of pieces of rock art and
inscriptions in Safaitic and Arabic: the tangible
testimonies of ancient peoples that roamed the
badia in the past millennia. The north-eastern
desert, it seems, was not always as forbidding
and inhospitable as it is today.
However, the immense archaeological rich-
ness of the area was barely explored until two
or three decades ago. Only recently has a re-
newed interest developed in the archaeology
of the badia, although this has predominantly
focused on the region’s prehistoric remains
(for a history of research see Betts, (ed.), 2013;
and Müller-Neuhof 2014). The investigation
of more recent, historical settlement evidence
still receives (very) limited attention. The Ja-
bal Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project
aims to change this latter picture. With regard
to its explicitly multi-disciplinary, multi-period
perspective, the project addresses a series of
key research issues for the badia, such as the
reconstruction of long-term patterns of human
activities across several environmental zones,
exploring site and location preferences, and
continuities and shifts in occupation through
time. It also investigates the issues of both en-
vironmental and cultural marginality and its use
in regional archaeology, together with the issue
of settlement oscillations in the basalt waste-
land through time; these are related to the alter-
nating processes of sedentarisation and nomad-
2. Map of the Jabal Qurma region,
indicating in white the area
surveyed between 2012 and 2015
(Base image: Landsat 7 – courtesy
of the United States Geological
Survey).
P. M. Akkermans and H.O. Huigens: Jabal Qurma
– 505 –
isation, changes in environmental conditions,
and/or shifts in economic and political organi-
zation. The exploitation of the desert landscape
in relation to the implications of domestication
processes in the Neolithic is also of interest, as
well as continuities and changes to the burial
practices of desert communities, the issue of
long-distance trade and exchange and the role
of caravan tracks, and the interaction between
urbanized Roman and Nabatean polities ver-
sus the small-scale desert groups. Finally, the
transition from the Roman-Byzantine era to the
Islamic period and its impact (if any) on the lo-
cal desert communities is considered, including
the significance of rock art and inscriptions for
pastoral nomadic communities in classical an-
tiquity.
Investigation of the local archaeological
record relies heavily upon the comprehensive
use of high-resolution satellite imagery (both
commercial IKONOS pictures and images
available through Google Earth), and aerial
photographs (available from the Aerial
Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the
Middle East (APAAME)). The remote-sensing
data is complemented by investigations on the
ground, using field survey and excavation in
selected places. While previous archaeological
surveys in the north-eastern badia were rather
extensive in nature (see e.g. Betts,( ed.), 2013),
an intensive surface reconnaissance was
employed in the Jabal Qurma region to provide
a detailed view of the local archaeological
landscape. In this way, a substantial portion of
the basalt uplands and the surrounding gravel
plains in the Jabal Qurma area have been
studied in detail during yearly field campaigns
since 2012 (Fig. 2; cf. Akkermans et al. 2014;
Huigens 2015). The research revealed proof of
extensive settlement in many different periods,
from prehistoric to modern times. Significantly,
the sequence of regional occupation was
not always continuous, but showed distinct
punctuations; periods of abundant habitation
alternated with long episodes of abandonment.
The remainder of this article seeks to provide a
brief overview for the local settlement sequence
and its interruptions. It must, however, remain
an interim evaluation, as most of the materials
and their chronologies are still under study.
Neolithic and Chalcolithic Settlement in the
Jabal Qurma Region
The evidence for prehistoric habitation in
the Jabal Qurma region has been discussed
at length elsewhere (Akkermans et al. 2014;
Huigens 2015), yet it is useful to summarise
the main trends here. The basalt uplands
and the more distant gravel plains present a
highly intact prehistoric landscape, in which
hundreds of highly varied Neolithic and
Chalcolithic settlement remains are preserved
with remarkable clarity, ranging from the 9th to
the late 4th millennium BC. The surface finds
from our surveys demonstrated several major
prehistoric habitation phases, often with limited
overlap in site layout and material culture.
Although chronological embedding for distinct
assemblages remains problematic, significant
changes from one phase to another suggest
hiatuses in the regional settlement record.
Neolithic occupation in the Jabal Qurma
region began with the construction of a series of
so-called ‘desert kites’. These are large, funnel-
shaped installations consisting of two or more
stone guiding walls, which converge on a star-
shaped enclosure placed on the crest of a ridge
or hill. The number of people required for the
construction and efficient operation of these
extensive installations for the hunt of large
game must have been considerable, yet there is
still conspicuously little evidence for campsites
to accommodate these supposedly large groups.
More substantial sites for local habitation
began to appear in the Late Neolithic period,
around the middle of the 7th millennium
BC, with the occurrence of the burin-related
grouped enclosures and their often dense lithic
distributions. The sites occur regularly in
advantageous places on the edges of the basalt
wasteland, within close proximity to water
channels. The burin sites sometimes seem
to have been placed inside the desert kites,
suggestive of continued exploitation for hunting
purposes many centuries or even millennia after
their original construction.
Neolithic settlement in parts of the Jabal
Qurma area increased significantly in the 6th
millennium BC, with sizeable habitations,
completely different in extent and layout
from those of the previous periods, appearing.
These extended up to ten hectares in size
ADAJ 59
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and consisted of hundreds of small, circular
or 8-sided, freestanding dwellings. These
settlements perhaps had a population size in the
order of several hundreds, and rank among the
largest prehistoric sites known to date in Jordan
and the wider Levant. They are not exclusive
to the Jabal Qurma region, but have clear
parallels elsewhere in Jordan’s Ḥarra, such as
on the table-mounts in Wādī al-Qataffi and the
Wisad Pools on the southeastern edge of the
basalt expanse. Excavations at these sites have
exposed a number of round or oval dwellings,
which provided lithic assemblages of Late
Neolithic types, as well as some ceramics of
Yarmukian origin (Wasse et al. 2012; Rollefson
et al. 2013; Rowan et al. 2015).
Another major phase of prehistoric settlement
in the Jabal Qurma region is represented by
several dozen circular stone structures up to
70 metres wide, with extensive enclosures in
the centre, and surrounded by an outer ring
of small, round, horseshoe-shaped or 8-sided
‘huts’ (Fig. 3). These sites, often referred to as
‘wheels’ or ‘jellyfish’ because of their shape
(Betts 1982; Kennedy 2011), often occur in
groups of two to seven installations on the high
grounds at the edge of the basalt range, and tend
to face onto the mud flats and large open plains.
The high locations offered extensive views
over the surrounding countryside, and could be
highly advantageous with regard to safety, herd
control, or hunting. The exact use of the wheel
structures is still unknown, although it has been
suggested that the central areas of the enclosures
functioned as animal pens, whereas the outer
circles of round structures provided protection
and shelter for family units (Betts 1982: 31).
More recently, it has been proposed that the
wheels were funerary monuments because of
the cairns they often contain in their interiors
(Kennedy 2011: 3189). However, based on the
many pieces of Safaitic rock art on and around
the cairns, there is reason to believe that the
cairns date to (much) later periods, and bear no
direct relation to the original wheels.
Since none of the wheels have been
excavated, their precise date within the local
habitation sequence remains unclear. The
lithic assemblages found on their surfaces
resemble local Late Neolithic technologies
and typologies. The occurrence of handmade
pottery in small, but consistent quantities at the
wheels may equally argue for a date in the Late
Neolithic period, although a (much) later date
in the Chalcolithic period is equally tenable.
Recent OSL dates taken from wheels in the
nearby Wisad area allow for a similar range
from the Late Neolithic to Chalcolithic and
Early Bronze Age (Athanassas et al. 2015).
Surveys conducted in the Hazimah gravel
plains and along its low limestone ridges
revealed a series of late prehistoric enclosures,
in relatively close proximity to each other. The
roughly circular or oval enclosures are between
17 and 44 metres across, with the larger ones
divided into smaller interior compartments.
Relatively rich artefact assemblages were found
in and around the enclosures, mostly consisting
3. Two Wheels at sites QUR-143
(Left) and QUR-144 (Right). These
installations are between 60 and
70 m across (aerial photograph:
David Kennedy, courtesy of
APAAME).
P. M. Akkermans and H.O. Huigens: Jabal Qurma
– 507 –
of chipped stone, but also some ground-stone
tools, and pottery with impressed decoration
and ledge handles, which are reminiscent of
Chalcolithic ceramics elsewhere in the southern
Levant.
The Hazimah enclosures with their low
and roughly piled, irregular walls may have
been little more than clearances for temporary
shelters. The numerous tools discovered in them,
however, point towards their frequent reuse,
perhaps on a seasonal basis by pastoralists. The
concentration of these enclosures in parts of
the Hazimah plain suggests that relatively large
groups of people regularly resided together.
An Early Bronze Age I Cemetery and the
‘Long Gap’
A unique find was the extensive burial field
in and around the site of QUR-186, comprised
of some 50 small, low cairns, up to 2.2 m across
and up to 1.2 m high (Fig. 4). Excavations have
been carried out at 25 cairns, four of which
each yielded a single pottery vessel (Fig. 5).
The ceramics closely resemble those found
in the cemeteries near Madaba and the Dead
Sea, such as at Bāb adh-Dhra and Fīfā (see for
example Schaub and Rast 1989; Chesson and
Schaub 2007), suggestive of a date from Early
Bronze Age I for this cairn field.
The burial cairns were all constructed in the
same way. First, the small, low, corbelled burial
chamber was made; second, the burial chamber
was surrounded by a ring of large, sometimes
stacked stones. Finally, the space between the
chamber and the outer ring was filled in with
stones, adding both stability and visibility to the
cairn. In some cases, the burial chamber was
corbelled in its entirety, while in other cases
it was covered by one or more large, flattened
slabs. The burial chamber was always roughly
round in layout, about 0.7-1 m in diameter and
0.4-0.7 m high; hence, the chamber cannot have
been used for extended position burial, but
must have facilitated contracted burial, with the
deceased resting on their side. Unfortunately,
preservation of the skeletal remains in the
tombs was very poor and restricted to a few
small fragments or no bone at all.
The cairn field is situated high on the slope
of a basalt-covered hillock, with a magnificent,
wide view over Wādī Rajil below. The cairns
were set into much earlier enclosures of a Late
Neolithic type, with large concentrations of
concave truncation burins in places. The latter
suggest a date in the late 7th millennium BC
(cf. Betts, (ed.), 2013). The cairns stood in the
centre of the enclosures, or were partially built
on their walls, suggesting that the Neolithic
enclosures were re-used solely for burial
and not for habitation in the Bronze Age; the
habitation site(s) associated with the cairns
remain unknown.
At present, the Early Bronze Age I graves
represent the final phase of prehistoric
occupation in the Jabal Qurma region, roughly
dated to ca. 3000 BC. The abandonment of the
cemetery – and, by association, the places for
the living who buried their dead here – seems to
have ushered in what we have termed the ‘Long
Gap’. During this period, we see wholesale
evacuation of the Jabal Qurma region for some
3000 years, from the early 3rd millennium
BC until the Safaitic habitations around the
beginning of the Common Era. Significantly,
apart from the graveyard mentioned above,
our surveys have been unable to identify sites
dating to the Bronze Age or the Iron Age in the
Jabal Qurma region until now. These results are
despite an intensive, full-cover reconnaissance
strategy, which aimed to document both highly
visible sites with relatively dense artefact
scatters and small, ephemeral locales with
a handful of finds and low visibility. The
apparent absence of find spots from the 3rd to
the 1st millennium BC is remarkable and as yet
unexplained, although few and disparate sites
from these periods can be found elsewhere in the
Ḥarra. Notable examples come from the Late
4. Cairn at the Early Bronze Age I cemetery, QUR-186 (Scale:
50 cm).
ADAJ 59
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Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age I rock shelter
at al Hibr (Betts 1992; Betts and Martin 2013),
and the Iron Age settlements and graveyard in
the vicinity of Qaf and Ithra at the onset of the
Wādī Sirḥān (Adams et al. 1977: 36).
Renewal of Settlement from the Late
Hellenistic to the Umayyad Periods
Preliminary analysis of the material finds
collected during our annual surveys indicates a
major renewal of settlement in the Jabal Qurma
region from the late Hellenistic to the Ummayad
periods, ca. 2nd century BC to the 8th century
AD. With regards to the Long Gap, it seems
evident that occupation in this period was by
newcomers to the Jabal Qurma area; where they
came from and why they colonized the region
is still elusive.
The domestic habitations of the 1st
millennium AD took the form of both stone-
walled enclosures and irregular clearances
about 20-50 metres across and free of basalt
rocks, which probably served for short-lived
camping activities. The sites may have had
shelters of perishable materials such as hides
or cloth, although we were unable to identify
separate tent remains or the like, perhaps due
to the common re-use and re-working of the
campsites in later periods (see below). The
camps are mostly situated in secluded areas
at the foot of the basaltic uplands or in deep
valleys.
Ceramics were regularly found in the camp-
sites, although in small quantities, ranging from
a handful of pieces to a few dozen sherds at
the most. Although it is evident that the use of
pottery was limited at each site, it appears that
nearly every site, large and small, had access to
it; pottery, it seems, was a rather ordinary prod-
uct amongst desert communities. Although the
ceramics have yet to be studied in detail, pre-
liminary analyses indicate there are close con-
nections to the stratified assemblages from the
south-western Levant. There are a few sherds
5. Pottery vessels found in Early
Bronze Age I cemetery (Drawings:
Akemi Kaneda).
P. M. Akkermans and H.O. Huigens: Jabal Qurma
– 509 –
belonging to the Late Hellenistic and Early Ro-
man periods, with the majority from the Late
Roman, Byzantine, and Umayyad periods
(Fig. 6). The ceramics from the Jabal Qurma
region were predominantly wheel-made, red or
grey-black coloured, mineral tempered, and of-
ten had a corrugated surface. They were mainly
comprised of cook pots and storage jars, while
typical luxury products such as Nabataean Fine
Ware and terra sigillata were wholly absent. In
addition to the undoubtedly imported wheel-
made pottery, there were some handmade,
dark-brown, coarsely finished, and heavily ba-
salt-tempered ceramics (local products?).
The valley floors, the edges of the mud flats
and the lower slopes of the basalt hills were
the foci of daily living and domestic activity,
while the surrounding high plateaus and the
summits of the basalt-covered table-mounts
were preferred areas for disposal of the dead.
These high locales are littered with various
sized burials cairns, and represent a veritable
landscape of the dead.
Although it is often difficult to date the
cairns based on surface material alone, we
tentatively attribute a range of tombs to the
early 1st millennium AD. These include, firstly,
the monumental ‘tower tombs’, which can be
up to 2-3 m in height and up to 6 m in diameter,
and which consist of a round burial chamber
and a corbelled roof, carefully made of large,
flattened basalt slabs. These cairns usually
occur in relative isolation on high locations
with visual prominence, such as on hill tops
and the edges of basalt plateaus (Fig. 7). They
are often associated with (very) high quantities
of Safaitic inscriptions and petroglyphs,
conventionally dated between the 1st century
BC and the 4th century AD (cf. Al-Jallad 2015
for a recent evaluation of the Safaitic texts).
A second type of burial which we
provisionally date to the early half of the 1st
millennium AD are the low, circular ‘ring
cairns’, each with a round or oval opening
(‘ring’) at the top which encircles an interior
platform. The ring cairns may range from small
6. Selection of Late Hellenistic to
Early Islamic pottery sherds
from the Jabal Qurma region
(drawings: Akemi Kaneda).
ADAJ 59
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features 1.50-2 m in diameter and 0.8-1 m high
to installations 4-5 m across and up to 1.50 m in
height. These cairns occur throughout the basalt
range; however, in contrast to the tower tombs,
they also occur in places with low visibility.
They are regularly (but not always) provided
with Safaitic inscriptions or rock engravings.
A third type of burial, found only at the
site of HAZ-27 in the Hazimah plains until
now, consists of a linear string of at least ten
low graves, each with a lining of limestone
blocks and filled in with flint gravel. Several
graves appear to have been recently looted,
and the debris contained many bronze and iron
ornaments, as well as coarse pottery dating to
the 3rd or early 4th century AD (Huigens 2015:
189-190).
Rock Art
Our investigation of the Jabal Qurma
region has yielded abundant epigraphic and
iconographic data, in the form of thousands of
petroglyphs, inscriptions in (mostly) Safaitic,
and combinations thereof (Fig. 8). These are
conventionally dated from the 1st century BC
to the 4th century AD; however, this date is
unsatisfactory, as the practice of writing may
have started earlier and ended later (cf. Al-Jallad
2015: 18). The many inscriptions give proof for
astoundingly widespread (and unexplained)
literacy in the desert in the early 1st millennium
AD. They inform us about a number of cultural
practices, such as tribal affiliations, lineages,
social relationships, pastoralist activities,
and daily life. The rock art, which often
occurs in association with the inscriptions, is
predominantly figurative in nature, and one can
clearly recognize the depicted subjects: wild
and domestic animals, warriors, horsemen,
camel caravans, dances, hunting scenes.
The iconography contains information about
important features from daily life that is rarely
apparent in the archaeological record.
In short, this unique visual culture of
text and image constitutes an essential and
unrivalled source of information to assess local
pastoralism. It offers a rare insight into the
pastoralist communities who made use of the
many campsites in the Jabal Qurma area, and
who built the funeral monuments (cairns) for
their dead, while continuously migrating from
one region to another with herds of camels and
sheep (cf. Macdonald 1993; Al-Jallad 2015).
Many questions, however, remain open, such
as the relevance of inscribing their landscape
in such fashion and abundance? Who produced
the many carvings and for whom? In terms of
distribution, what was the relationship between
the carvings and the many habitation sites,
burials, pathways, etc.?
Mamluk Campsites and ‘Desert Mosques’
Evidence for settlement in the Jabal Qurma
region after the Umayyad period is patchy and
highly discontinuous. Based on the survey data,
we must conclude that the Jabal Qurma region
was practically deserted from the late 8th to the
13th century AD. Subsequently, local habitation
was renewed for a relatively short period in the
late 13th and 14th century AD, during the Mamluk
period. Small quantities of Mamluk glazed and
painted pottery, as well as some pieces of glass,
were found at sites on the edge of the mud flats
and wadis, and along camel tracks crossing
the basalt. In addition, there are several dozen
7.Tower tomb remains on a hilltop overlooking Wādī Rajil
(Scale: 50 cm).
8. Safaitic inscription with associated depiction of a horseman.
P. M. Akkermans and H.O. Huigens: Jabal Qurma
511
Arabic inscriptions on basalt stone in or around
the sites, most of which appear to belong to the
14th century, as many of the inscriptions carry
Hijri dates. Indicative of widespread literacy in
the desert in the late medieval period, the texts
usually consist of prayers or simply bear the
names of individuals and their tribal affiliation.
All of the Mamluk-period habitation sites in
the Jabal Qurma region have been re-used since
the early 20th century by Bedouin groups for tent
construction and camping. With regard to their
specific location in the ḥarra and their close
relationship to places selected much later by
Bedouins for temporary stays, we suggest that
the Jabal Qurma sites with medieval ceramics
were short-term campsites as well, with tents
as the main units for living. The remnants of
what appears to be a small Mamluk-period
tent have been exposed at the site of QUR-
210, inside a much earlier, Neolithic enclosure,
which perhaps served as a windshield. The
tent installation was comprised of a series of
elongated, irregularly shaped heaps of basalt
blocks, which demarcated a roughly rectangular,
sandy area about 7 m long and 5 m wide. The
rectangular area for the tent’s construction had
several shallow, round fireplaces, sunk to a
depth of about 5-15 cm. Two radiocarbon dates
were obtained for charcoal from two separate
hearths, yielding a date of 1190-1280 AD and
1270-1390 AD respectively (lab. inventory nos.
GrA-61122 and GrA-61121, 95% probability).
The site was probably used intermittently for
habitation during the Mamluk period.
In addition to the tent remains, a number of
Mamluk open-air ‘desert mosques’ have also
been uncovered, usually placed at a prominent
location a few hundred metres away from the
settlement area (see e.g. Avni 1994 on the early
mosques in the Negev). These either occur in
the form of rudimentary installations, with a
small cleared area bounded on its southern
side by a single low wall, with a mihrab niche
in its centre, or in the form of more elaborate
structures measuring about 6 by 6 metres,
with walls up to one metre high. They are also
provided with a qibla wall (such as at the site of
QUR-999; Fig. 9). The ‘desert mosques’ usually
have brief Mamluk-period inscriptions in the
form of prayers. In a few cases, the builders
of the mosques identified themselves, such as
at the site of QUR-162, where one text reads:
“The House of Allah constructed by Jowab bin
Rabea bin Salama in the year 792” (Hijri date,
i.e. 1389/1390 AD).
The Ottoman Period and Beyond
The local revival of settlement in the Mamluk
period seems to have been rather short-lived,
lasting only from ca. 1250 to 1400 AD. The
Jabal Qurma area subsequently seems to have
become largely (though not entirely) devoid of
settlement once more, with only a handful of
sites attributed to the Ottoman period between
the 15th and the 19th century. Proof of Ottoman
habitation is limited to fragments of glazed
pottery, Chinese porcelain, clay pipes and
coins at clearances for infrequent and dispersed
camping sites in the basalt. Local Ottoman-
period occupation, it seems, was incidental and
ad hoc, rather than organized and continuous.
Remarkably, Arabic inscriptions on stone are
entirely absent in the region during this time,
in sharp contrast to dozens of texts from the
preceding Mamluk period.
Only from the late 19th and, particularly,
20th century, onwards does the intensity
of occupation in the Jabal Qurma region
increase substantially. In this period, Bedouin
communities, whose abandoned campsites can
be found everywhere in the harra and beyond,
regularly frequented the area. With their
extensive clearances and installations of various
kinds, the sites are almost always located on the
edges of mud flats, on low ground along the
wadis, and in the open Hazimah plains in front
of the basalt range. Small occupations also
occur on the high plateaus deep inside the basalt
9. Mamluk-period ‘desert mosque’ at the site of QUR-999
(Scale: 50 cm).
ADAJ 59
– 512 –
region. Importantly, the sites often occur at the
same locations as earlier, Medieval or Classical-
period, campsites. They usually comprise
one to six tents, although larger sites occur as
well, each of which is often clearly outlined by
stones. We cannot be certain whether tent use
was contemporaneous, but it is most likely that
the actual area in use at each campsite at any
given moment was probably smaller than first
appears.
Many Bedouin campsites yield considerable
quantities of refuse, such as plastic, cloth, shoes,
metal tools, glass, and industrially made coffee
cups, often associated with clearly defined tent
outlines (Fig. 10). They also often provide clues
for more precise dating, in the form of coins,
datable bullet cartridges, inscribed tin cans,
etc. Significantly, Bedouin groups in the Jabal
Qurma area have produced large numbers of
so-called tribal marks on stone (wusūm) as well
as Arabic inscriptions, many of which carry
dates; interestingly, some periods are much
better represented than others. Texts from the
1970s to the early 2000s are manifold, whereas
there are currently no inscriptions dating from
the 1960s, and only a few from the 1950s
and 1940s. Bedouin inscriptions from earlier
decades are extremely rare, with only a handful
from the late 1920s located on the prominent
table-mount of Jabal Qurma itself.
The substantial boom in dated inscriptions
from the 1970s onwards quickly came to an
end at the turn of the last century. In fact, the
Jabal Qurma region seems to have entered
another period of large-scale abandonment since
the beginning of the 21st century, due to socio-
political circumstances, (for example, increased
sedentarization of the local Bedouin groups, and
the interruption of long-range migration due to
the closure of borders), as well as environmental
change. It is probably not without significance
that the modern desertion of the Jabal Qurma
area coincides with the recent 15-year drought
in the Levant (1998-2012), which is the driest in
the past 500, if not 900, years (Cook et al. 2016).
Discussion
The preliminary results presented above
provide evidence for a (very) long and diverse
sequence of settlement in the Jabal Qurma
region, from prehistoric times until the present
day. Until now, archaeological research in the
north-eastern badia at large has focused upon the
many prehistoric installations, with little or no
attention given to later, historic occupations in
the region (see for example the recent overviews
in Betts, (ed.), 2013; Müller-Neuhof 2014).
However, the Jabal Qurma Archaeological
Landscape Project explicitly takes the latter
into full consideration. We employed a highly
intensive survey strategy in the field in order
to gain insights into the full diversity of
archaeological remains and periods in our study
area. In this way, we were able to identify sites
that have been dramatically understudied in
the north-eastern badia, such as the many Late
Antique campsites comprised of little more
than thin scatters of pottery sherds in cleared
areas. Remarkably, many of the Late Antique
find spots occurred in the same areas as the
remains of modern Bedouin campsites. While
the study of recent (20th century) settlement in
the badia is relevant in itself, it also enables
the identification of ancient remains that would
otherwise remain unnoticed.
Our research in the Jabal Qurma region has
profited enormously from an extensive use of
satellite images and aerial photographs; it goes
without saying that remote sensing has become
an essential tool in the study of the archaeology
of the badia and beyond (see e.g. Kempe and Al-
Malabeh 2010; Kennedy 2011). Nevertheless,
it is likewise important to realize that intensive
pedestrian survey (and excavation) remain the
key to a detailed understanding of the nature
and chronology of the local archaeological
record and its past societies.
10. Recently abandoned Bedouin tent place on the edge of the
basalt landscape (Scale: 50 cm).
P. M. Akkermans and H.O. Huigens: Jabal Qurma
– 513 –
With regard to site numbers and sizes, the
density of population in the area must have been
very substantial in some periods. Significantly,
the occupational sequence is not continuous, but
characterized by alternating episodes of distinct
habitation and regional abandonment. There is,
for example, presently no convincing evidence
for settlement in the Jabal Qurma region in either
the Bronze Age or the Iron Age, pointing at a
desertion lasting for perhaps as much as 3000
years – the so-called ‘Long Gap’. The cyclical
rearrangement of settlement configurations are
not restricted to prehistoric periods, but occur
in later ages as well. Following a phase of local
habitation from roughly the 2nd century BC to
the 8th century AD (in the form of campsites,
tombs and a massive production of rock art),
there was another period of local abandonment
for several hundred years from the late 8th
century (Umayyad period) to the late 13th to
14th century (Mamluk period). The Mamluk
revival (a series of camp sites and Arabic
inscriptions in stone) was however short-lived,
with widespread evacuation of the Jabal Qurma
taking place once again from the 15th to the late
19th or even early 20th century, with proof only
for infrequent and spread out camping.
The cyclical rearrangements of settlement in
the Jabal Qurma region are still unexplained.
Evidently, climate and environment, and
changes therein, were perhaps crucial; while
they may have substantially facilitated
settlement in the Jabal Qurma area in some
periods, they may have rendered the region
wholly inhospitable in other periods. Although
there is ample evidence for strong climatic and
environmental oscillations in the wider Levant
for the long period under consideration (cf.
Cordova 2007), the way in which the north-
eastern badia in particular was affected by such
oscillations is still unknown, due to a lack of
local environmental proxies (cf. Davies 2005;
Rambeau 2010). Sparse evidence from botanical
remains and palaeosoils from the Wisad Pools,
situated to the east of the Jabal Qurma region,
suggests that local conditions may have been
more verdant during the Late Neolithic (Rowan
et al. 2015). However, this conclusion needs to
be further substantiated, with attention given to
a much broader time frame.
Perhaps another determinant for long-
term settlement trends, as observed in the
Jabal Qurma region, were regional economic
and socio-political trends, including local
production and exchange systems. Pastoral
nomadic groups do not usually operate in
isolation, but are tied economically to sedentary
communities in villages and towns (see e.g.
Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson 1980). The
Azraq oasis may have been of relevance in this
respect, as its occupational history is broadly
in tune with settlement trends in the adjacent
Jabal Qurma region. Both areas yield proof
of abundant settlement in the Neolithic and
Chalcolithic periods, both areas seem to have
been completely abandoned during the Bronze
Age and Iron Age, and both areas were re-
inhabited in classical antiquity (for Azraq see
e.g. Kennedy 1982; Lash 2009; Garrard and
Byrd 2013 and references therein). While the
Jebel Qurma region was frequented by pastoral
nomads, the renewal of occupation in the Azraq
basin in the 3rd century AD was presumably
sedentary in nature, as shown by the Roman
military installations at the site, as well as the
substantial architecture from later periods (cf.
Bisheh 1989; Watson and Burnett 2001). We
may hypothesize that sedentary occupation
of the Azraq oasis at least partially facilitated
development of the pastoralist economies in
the Jabal Qurma region. This interpretation
perceives Azraq to be a focal node of interaction
and exchange (see e.g. Sartre 2005: 239 for a
similar perspective on the relationship between
the Hawran and the Black Desert in general
from the 2nd century AD onwards).
Acknowledgements
We wish to express our gratitude to the staff
of the Department of Antiquities in Amman,
Jordan, for its continuous support in both the
preparation and realisation of the Jabal Qurma
Archaeological Landscape Project. Particular
thanks go to Dr. Munther Jamhawi (Director
General), Akhtam Oweidi, Ahmad Lash, Husain
Saleh, Wesam As-Said, Nasser Zoubi, Khaled
Al-Janideh and Mohammad Mahmoud Atoom
for their much-valued help. We also would like
to thank the Aerial Photographic Archive for
Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME), in
particular David Kennedy and Rebecca Banks,
for the extremely useful aerial photographs of
ADAJ 59
– 514 –
the Jabal Qurma region. The 2012-2015 field
seasons were accomplished with the support
of the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden
University, the Netherlands Foundation for
Scientific Research (NWO), the Netherlands
Embassy in Amman, the Jordan Shale Oil
Company, the Leiden University Fund (LUF/
Bijvanck), and Henk Rottinghuis; we are
grateful for their invaluable sponsorship.
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans
Harmen O. Huigens
Faculty of Archaeology – Leiden University
PO Box 9514
2300 RA Leiden
The Netherlands
p.m.m.g.akkermans@arch.leidenuniv.nl
h.o.huigens@arch.leidenuniv.nl
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... This diverse landscape lies between two major drainage systems, Wadi Rajil in the west and Wadi Qattafi in the east. Recent research has elaborated on the abundant proof for the prehistoric occupation of the Jebel Qurma region until the late third millennium BCE (Akkermans, Huigens, and Brüning 2014;Akkermans and Brüning 2017;Huigens 2015;Akkermans and Huigens 2018). Significantly, there is still hardly any evidence for the use of the area, and the basalt desert at large, in the subsequent second and early first millennia BCE. ...
... This diverse landscape lies between two major drainage systems, Wadi Rajil in the west and Wadi Qattafi in the east. Recent research has elaborated on the abundant proof for the prehistoric occupation of the Jebel Qurma region until the late third millennium BCE (Akkermans, Huigens, and Brüning 2014;Akkermans and Brüning 2017;Huigens 2015;Akkermans and Huigens 2018). Significantly, there is still hardly any evidence for the use of the area, and the basalt desert at large, in the subsequent second and early first millennia BCE. ...
... Little is known regarding the precise date of many cairns, owing to factors such as their often generic morphology and the palimpsest of contents resulting from their continual reuse. Despite these lacunae, there is good evidence to suggest that some 200 cairns (out of several hundreds of cairns in the Jebel Qurma area in total) date between the fourth century BCE and the fourth century CE (based on 14 C dates, OSL dates, rock carvings, and material-cultural items from the tombs; see Akkermans and Brüning 2017;Huigens 2018b). Although the total number of Hellenistic to Roman-period tombs is considerable, their distribution over a period of seven or eight hundred years at the least is important to keep in mind. ...
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... This trend is all the more relevant for the many earlier, pre-Bronze Age occupations in the area, none of which can be confidently associated with cairns. The majority of the tombs, it appears, date to much more recent historical periods, from roughly 500 BC to AD 300 (Akkermans, Huigens & Brüning 2014;Akkermans & Brüning 2017;Akkermans & Huigens 2018;Huigens 2019). ...
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... An aerial photograph of the tower tomb and cist graves at the site of QUR-2� a. A round tower tomb (with its extensively looted interior); b and c. the east-west oriented rectangular cist graves which flank the tower tomb.Despite intensive programmes of survey and excavation, there was, until very recently, no evidence of the use of the Jebel Qurma area (and the basalt desert at large) in the second and early first millennia BC (seeAkkermans, Huigens & Brüning 2014;Akkermans & Huigens 2018;Akkermans 2019; Müller-Neuhof 2014: 235). Excavations in 2019 partially filled this lacuna, with the discovery of apsidal tower tombs dating to the early Iron Age. ...
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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.
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The site of Khirbat al-ʿUmari is located to the southeast of Azraq. It is an Early Islamic settlement which first received mention by N. Glueck in the 1940s. Its favourable natural environment, its geographic location, as well as the site’s structure hint at a possible function as a caravan stop during the Umayyad Period.
Saudi Arabian Archaeological Reconnaissance
Saudi Arabian Archaeological Reconnaissance 1976. Atlal 1: 21-68.
Death and Dying on the Dead Sea Plain: Fifa, al-Khanazir and Bab adhDhrà Cemeteries
  • M S Chesson
  • R T Schaub
Chesson, M. S. and Schaub, R.T. 2007 Death and Dying on the Dead Sea Plain: Fifa, al-Khanazir and Bab adhDhrà Cemeteries.
Restoration and Excavations at Al-Azraq Castle during
Restoration and Excavations at Al-Azraq Castle during 2008. ADAJ 53: 423-431.
Akkermans Harmen O. Huigens Faculty of Archaeology
  • M M Peter
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans Harmen O. Huigens Faculty of Archaeology -Leiden University PO Box 9514