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Carving interactions: rock art in the nomadic landscape of the Black Desert, north-eastern Jordan

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Abstract

Book is available open access from Archaeopress (www.archaeopress.com) The Safaitic rock art of the North Arabian basalt desert is a unique and understudied material, one of the few surviving traces of the elusive herding societies that inhabited this region in antiquity. Yet little is known about this rock art and its role in the desert societies. Why did these peoples make carvings in the desert and what was the significance of this cultural practice? What can the rock art tell us about the relationship between the nomads and their desert landscape? This book investigates these questions through a comprehensive study of over 4500 petroglyphs from the Jebel Qurma region of the Black Desert in north-eastern Jordan. It explores the content of the rock art, how it was produced and consumed by its makers and audience, and its relationship with the landscape. This is the first-ever systematic study of the Safaitic petroglyphs from the Black Desert and it is unique for the study of Arabian rock art. It demonstrates the value of a material approach to rock art and the unique insights that rock art can provide into the relationship between nomadic herders and the wild and domestic landscape.
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... Three-quarters of the fi gures in the Jebel Qurma corpus are zoomorphic. There are domestic animals, such as dromedary camels, equids, and dogs, of which the camel motif is by far the most common, and wild animals such as wild asses, oryx, ibex, ostriches, and lions (Brusgaard 2019). Anthropomorphic fi gures make up less than 10 percent of the fi gures; the majority of these are archers (i.e., fi gures holding a bow and arrow). ...
... Cooperative hunting is classifi ed as two or more predators hunting the prey. There are four similar variations: two or more humans hunting, one or more human(s) hunting together with a person on a mount, two or more humans hunting with dogs, and two or more animals hunting together (Brusgaard 2019). ...
... For example, the abundance of hunting scenes in the rock art, and wild animals in general (cf. Brusgaard, 2019), may help to challenge preconceived notions of what a pastoralist society entails and what would have been important to the supposed pastoralist worldview. ...
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
... It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that the dromedary camel is ubiquitous in the desert rock art of Arabia. It dominates rock art corpora such as the petroglyphs from Shuwaymis in Saudi Arabia (Guagnin et al. 2016; see also Guagnin, this volume), Hismaic rock art from southern Jordan (Corbett 2010), and Safaitic rock art from the Syro-Jordanian desert (Brusgaard 2019; LANDSCAPES OF SURVIVAL Macdonald 1993). The dominant presence of the dromedary in Arabian rock art was noted as early as 1932 (Rostovtzeff 1932) and its frequent mention in Safaitic inscriptions has been remarked upon as well (Macdonald 1993). ...
... Berghuijs, this volume). Since Safaitic rock art (Brusgaard 2015;2019). It is to this rock art that the vast majority of the dromedary camel motifs belong. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
The dromedary camel is Arabia’s most iconic animal and it features prominently in the rock art of north Arabia. However, few studies have been conducted on these images and their significance, with the main interpretations focussing on either highly functional or highly symbolic meanings. This article presents the results of the first in-depth study of the dromedary camel figures in Safaitic rock art from the Black Desert in northern Jordan. It aims to form a new understanding of this prevalent motif through studying the figures’ form and production process and to contribute to our understanding of the role of the dromedary in the ancient Near East. This study reveals that the dromedary images from the Jebel Qurma area have a standard form with proportions and features that are not naturalistic, but do have accurate anatomical details. The production process used to carve them followed a series of steps and shows evidence for planning. Both the functional and ritual interpretations of these images have their limitations. However, the cultural-historical context of the role of the dromedary indicates that it is highly likely that this animal played an important economic and ritual part in the desert societies, but that these are only two elements of a complex socio-ideological relationship between nomads and their camels. The prominent dromedary carvings should be interpreted in light of this framework.
... Al-Jallad 2015 and references therein ;Littmann 1943;Macdonald 1993), research on the contemporaneous petroglyphs has remained limited. A notable advancement is the recent doctoral dissertation focussing on the rock art of the Jebel Qurma area by N. Brusgaard (2019), which comprises the first systematic, contextual study of the contents and motifs of the rock art of the Black Desert (see also Brusgaard, this volume). Other important studies have focused mainly on specific motifs, such as women and chariots (e.g. ...
... Stripes and other lines also adorn some carved dromedaries, equids, bovines and other animal species. Such patterns do not fit the animal's coat colours or armour, suggesting they serve as decoration (Brusgaard 2019). As for lines added to the human figures, they could represent (plate) armour, straps carrying swords, bows or quivers, or even clothing details (although Safaitic engravings rarely indicate clothing; Macdonald 2007, 274). ...
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.
... Oxtoby 1968;Winnett 1978). Surveys and excavations in the Jebel Qurma region have so far identified more than 9800 petroglyphs and texts in Safaitic script, with each season of fieldwork yielding more rock art (Brusgaard 2019;Della Puppa, forthcoming). However, only one Safaitic inscription explicitly refers to a burial; it is next to a cairn that was radiocarbon-dated to the third century BC. 1 In many cases, our excavations revealed undeniable evidence that the cairns were built with basalt blocks that had previously been inscribed with Safaitic petroglyphs and texts, meaning that the cairns must post-date the rock art. ...
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.
... Oxtoby 1968;Winnett 1978). Surveys and excavations in the Jebel Qurma region have so far identified more than 9800 petroglyphs and texts in Safaitic script, with each season of fieldwork yielding more rock art (Brusgaard 2019;Della Puppa, forthcoming). However, only one Safaitic inscription explicitly refers to a burial; it is next to a cairn that was radiocarbon-dated to the third century BC. 1 In many cases, our excavations revealed undeniable evidence that the cairns were built with basalt blocks that had previously been inscribed with Safaitic petroglyphs and texts, meaning that the cairns must post-date the rock art. ...
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.
... They resemble none of the artistic styles or motifs of late Golan culture (Roth 1984;Schumacher 1888). However, the motifs, particularly the horned animals, have parallels in early Negev rock art (Anati 1999(Anati , 2015Avner et al. 2017;Eisenberg-Degen and Nash 2014); appearing chiefly on desert panels (Anati 2015;Avner et al. 2017;Brusgaard 2019;Tebes 2017). The horned animals of the Meshushim panels are the first reported bovine motifs in the northern, non-arid parts of Israel. ...
Article
Thousands of dolmens are scattered throughout the southern Levant, mainly in Syria, Israel, and Jordan. These megalithic burials, dated to the early stages of the Bronze Age, are an understudied and little understood phenomenon of Levantine archaeology. Unlike in Europe and other parts of the world, rock art has rarely been reported from Levantine dolmens, despite more than 150 years of research and hundreds of excavated dolmens of the thousands of megalithic structures recorded. A fortunate discovery, in 2012, of engraved features on the ceiling of the central burial chamber of a giant dolmen in the Shamir Dolmen Field has markedly altered our current body of knowledge. Since this finding, rock art has been discovered at three additional dolmen sites. These latest discoveries are presented in the context of their significance to the broader phenomenon of the mysterious megalithic burials of the Levant.
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.
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