ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

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.
Content may be subject to copyright.
of the
seminar for arabian studies
Volume 50
Papers from the fty-third meeting of the
Seminar for Arabian Studies
held at the University of Leiden
from Thursday 11th to Saturday 13th July 2019
seminar for arabian studies
Orders for copies of this volume of the Proceedings and all back numbers should be sent to
Archaeopress Publishing Ltd, Summertown Pavilion, 18–24 Middle Way, Oxford OX2 7LG, UK.
Tel +44(0)1865-311914 Fax +44(0)1865-512231
For the availability of back issues see
For more information on the Seminar for Arabian Studies and the Proceedings please visit the International Association
for the Study of Arabia (IASA)’s website:
Seminar for Arabian Studies
c/o Department of Archaeology, University of Durham
Lower Mount Joy, South Rd, Durham DH1 3LE
The International Association for the Study of Arabia (formally the The British Foundation for the Study of Arabia):
The Steering Committee of the Seminar for Arabian Studies is currently made up of seventeen academic members. The
Editorial Committee of the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies includes nine additional members as follows:
Dr Julian Jansen van Rensburg (Chairperson, Assistant
Editor of PSAS)
Daniel Eddisford (Secretary, Editor of PSAS)
Dr Robert Wilson (Treasurer)
Dr Valentina Azzarà
Dr Knut Bretzke
Professor Robert Carter
Dr Jose Carvajal Lopez
Dr Bleda Düring
Dr Nadia Durrani
Dr Orhan Elmaz (Assistant Editor of PSAS)
Dr Steven Karacic (Assistant PSAS Editor
Dr Derek Kennet
Michael C.A. Macdonald
Dr Harry Munt (Assistant Editor of PSAS)
Dr Irene Rossi
Dr Tim Power (Assistant Editor of PSAS)
Dr Janet Watson
Professor Alessandra Avanzini
Professor Soumyen Bandyopadhyay
Professor Ricardo Eichmann
Professor Clive Holes
Professor Khalil Al-Muaikel
Professor Daniel T. Potts
Professor Christian J. Robin
Dr Janet Starkey
Professor Lloyd Weeks
Opinions expressed in papers published in the Proceedings are those of the authors and are not necessarily shared
by the Editorial Committee.
© 2020 Archaeopress Publishing, Oxford, UK.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of
the publisher.
ISSN 0308-8421
ISBN 978-1-78969-653-0
ISBN 978-1-78969-654-7 (e-pdf)
Guidelines and Transliteration .................................................................................................................................................. iii
Editors’ Foreword ........................................................................................................................................................................... v
In memoriam Jocelyn Cecilia Orchard, 1936–2019 ................................................................................................................vii
Desert tombs: recent research into the Bronze Age and Iron Age cairn burials of Jebel Qurma, north-east Jordan ......................... 1
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Merel L. Brüning, Monique Arntz, Sarah A. Inskip & Keshia A.N. Akkermans
On the nature of South Arabian inuences in Ethiopia during the late rst millennium BC: a pre-Aksumite settlement on the
margins of the eastern Tigray plateau ............................................................................................................................................19
Anne Benoist, Iwona Gajda, Steven Matthews, Jérémie Schiettecatte, Ninon Blond, Saskia Büchner & Pawel Wolf
Pottery from the al-Zubārah suq ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������37
Agnieszka Magdalena Bystron
The dawn of the Islamic era? The excavation of Yughbī in the Crowded Desert of Qatar �����������������������������������������������������������������������53
Jose C. Carvajal López, Kirk Roberts, Laura Morabito, Gareth Rees, Frank Stremke, Anke Marsh,
David M. Freire-Lista, Robert Carter & Faiṣal ‘Abd Allāh al-Na‘īmī
First discoveries of the Bāt/al-Arid mission (Sultanate of Oman) �����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������71
Corinne Castel, Olivier Barge, Blandine Besnard, Tara Beuzen-Waller, Jacques Élie Brochier, Lionel Darras,
Emmanuelle Régagnon & Séverine Sanz
Large-sized camel depictions in western Arabia: a characterization across time and space ������������������������������������������������������������������ 85
Guillaume Charloux, Maria Guagnin & Jérôme Norris
The Ras al-Jinz reloaded: resuming excavations at the edge of Arabia ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������109
Alexandre P. De Rorre, Jean-François Berger, Massimo Delno, Jonathan M. Kenoyer, Elena Maini
& Valentina M. Azzarà
Kalbā and dāw in Khaliji art: tracing extinct dhows in Arab and Persian iconography ������������������������������������������������������������������������127
Mick de Ruyter
New light on the late Wadi Suq period from the Ṣuhār hinterlands �����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������141
Michel de Vreeze, Bleda Düring & Eric Olijdam
Nothing but tombs and towers? Results of the Al-Mudhaybi Regional Survey 2019 ������������������������������������������������������������������������������157
Stephanie Döpper & Conrad Schmidt
Excavations at Wādī al-Sail, Bahrain 2015–2019 ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������171
Takeshi Gotoh, Kiyohide Saito, Masashi Abe & Akinori Uesugi
Renewed research at the Iron Age II site of Hili 2 (Emirate of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates) ������������������������������������������������������189
Steven Karacic, Ali Abdu Rahman Al Meqbali, Abdulla Khalfan Al Kaabi, Dia Eddin Abdullah Altawallbeh,
Hamad Ahmed Fadel & Peter Magee
A ninth- to tenth-century pottery workshop at al-Yamāmah, Central Arabia ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������203
Fabien Lesguer & Jérémie Schiettecatte
Les fouilles françaises de Abu Saiba (Mont 1). Données nouvelles sur la phase Tylos de Bahreïn (c.200 BC–AD 300) ���������������������225
Pierre Lombard, Bérénice Chamel, Julien Cuny, Marianne Cotty, François Guermont, Robert Lux & Lionel Noca
P. Lombard, B. Chamel, J. Cuny, M. Cotty, F. Guermont, R. Lux & L. Noca
Trade and contacts between southern Arabia and East Asia: the evidence from al-Balīd (southern Oman) �����������������������������������243
Alexia Pavan & Chiara Visconti
Ceramic exchange in the northern UAE during the Late Bronze Age: preliminary results of macroscopic and petrographic
analyses �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������259
Maria Paola Pellegrino, Sophie Méry, Anne Benoist, Sophie Costa & Julien Charbonnier
Excavations at the Old Fort of Stone Town, Zanzibar: new evidence of historic interactions between the Swahili Coast and
Arabian Gulf �����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������275
Timothy Power & Mark Horton with Omar Salem al-Kaabi, Mohamed Matar al-Dhaheri, Myriam Saleh al-Dhaheri,
Noura Hamed al-Hameli, Henry Webber & Rosie Ireland
Late Islamic ceramic distribution networks in the Gulf: new evidence from Jazīrat al-Ḥamrāʾ in Ras al-Khaimah ����������������������293
Seth M.N. Priestman
Some thoughts on the burial space inside QA 1-1, an Umm an-Nar tomb in Wādī al-Fajj (Oman):
a case of incomplete paving of the tomb’s oor ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������307
Łukasz Rutkowski
Assessing Kalba: new eldwork at a Bronze Age coastal site on the Gulf of Oman (Emirate of Sharjah, UAE) ��������������������������������321
Christoph Schwall & Sabah A. Jasim
Taxation and public labour in ancient Sabaʾ: an examination of ḫrṣ using the Leiden and Munich minuscule inscriptions ������333
Jason Weimar
Titles of papers read at the Seminar for Arabian Studies held at the University of Leiden, 11–13 July 2019 ������������������������������������343
Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 50 (2020): 1–17
Desert tombs: recent research into the Bronze Age and Iron Age cairn
burials of Jebel Qurma, north-east Jordan
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
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.
Keywords: Harra, Jordan, burial cairns, Bronze Age, Iron Age
Jebel Qurma is situated in Jordan, about 35 km east of
the small oasis town of Azraq. It lies on the fringes of
the black basalt uplands of the Harrat ash-Sham, which
stretches from southern Syria and across north-eastern
Jordan into Saudi Arabia, up to the sands of the Nafud
(Fig. 1). The basalt-capped table-mounds and uplands
of the lava range are characterized by a rough and
rocky terrain of forbidding appearance, alternating
with gently rolling limestone hillocks and wide gravel
plains. Today, the Jebel Qurma region is hyper-arid, with
an average annual precipitation of less than 50 mm.
Summers in the area are dry and hot, up to 40–45°C, and
winters may be severe, with cold winds and minimum
hold shallow pools of water for several weeks or months
in the rainy season. However, there are no permanent
water sources, except for the spring-fed seepages and
marshes at Azraq and the wells at Hazim, close to the
Jordanian-Saudi border.
       harra
landscape make any kind of movement through it
      
region may not have been as desolate as today. Historical
ecological data from the desert are still extremely scarce,
but there is evidence that conditions were episodically
wetter and greener in the past than at present (see
Akkermans 2019; Akkermans & Brüning 2020; Huigens
2019). The immensely rich archaeological record of the
basalt expanse suggests more favourable environmental
conditions in the past, which would have supported an
abundant population of peoples in the area in antiquity
(Kennedy D 2011). The Jebel Qurma region of the harra
covers an area of about 300 km2 and has many hundreds of
occupation sites and stone-built installations, in addition
to thousands of pieces of rock art and North Arabian
inscriptions on stone (Huigens 2019). The abundance
  
ample opportunities for small-scale communities to
thrive in the basaltic expanse through time.
Cairn burials
To a very considerable extent, the local archaeological
 
sizes. Until recently, little research had focused on the
tombs of the Jebel Qurma area and those of the harra
at large, with only a handful of cairns excavated (see
Harding 1953; 1978; Clark 1981; Richter 2014; Rowan
et al. 2015b). This picture is now changing, thanks to
the current research conducted by the Jebel Qurma
Archaeological Landscape Project. The project seeks
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Merel L. Brüning, Monique Arntz, Sarah A. Inskip & Keshia A.N. Akkermans
to address local settlement and lifeways from a multi-
disciplinary and multi-period perspective. It relies
heavily on the use of high-resolution satellite imagery
and aerial photography. The remote-sensing data
      
excavations, which have targeted the many cairns in the
in the Jebel Qurma area totals some 600. Excavations
Akkermans & Brüning 2017; Huigens 2019).
This detailed study of the tombs has produced
entirely new and exciting results. One of these is that
the preferential areas for the disposal of the dead in the
pre-Islamic era were located on the relatively remote,
        
the basalt-capped mounds, well away from the areas
of settlement. Usually, pre-Islamic tombs occur as
isolated, single installations and rarely cluster into more
substantial cemeteries. Burials in low-lying localities
are nearly always of more recent, Islamic date.
Human remains were recovered from nearly all the
burial structures. Due to factors such as extensive looting
and extreme environmental conditions, any remaining
figure 1. A map of Jordan showing (in red) the Jebel Qurma research area�
Desert tombs: recent research into the Bronze Age and Iron Age cairn burials of Jebel Qurma, north-east Jordan 3
skeletal evidence is highly friable, fragmented, or
simply absent. There is frequent evidence of animal
degradation (i.e. rodent gnawing), but it is still possible
to make a number of important observations that
contribute to our knowledge of the people of the region
during the pre-Islamic period. It is clear that the burials
contained men, women, and individuals of all ages, from
1 year to over 40 years of age. This infers that burial
within a cairn was not restricted to one sex or age group
and was open to all members of the community. Due to
the low level of preservation and the incomplete and
mixed individual skeletal material, it was not possible
     
    
on the long bones, osteophytosis, Schmorl’s nodes, new
bone growth around the joint margins, osteoarthritis, as
well as tooth loss and caries.
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).
Four distinct types of (pre-Islamic) burials have been
tower tombs, and cist graves (see below). However, it is
 
through survey data alone, due to issues of preservation
and the substantial adjustments that can result from
continued reuse. Furthermore, earlier types of tomb
may have been totally concealed underneath later forms
of graves. For example, tower tombs were repeatedly
constructed on top of ring cairns, and cist graves were
covered by much later Islamic tombs. Hence, typological
     
depends in many cases on excavation.
Similar constraints apply to the dating of many
cairns. 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. This trend is all the more relevant for the many
earlier, pre-Bronze Age occupations in the area, none
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
One possible explanation for the scarcity of burial
cairns in some periods is that they have evaded
detection in the archaeological record because they do
not provide information relating to the dating of the
burial context. Another, equally viable, option is that the
practice of burial in cairns was selective in these periods.
For example, it may be telling that Early Bronze Age
domestic sites in the Jebel Qurma area often have only
a few cairns, or even none at all, in their surroundings.
Perhaps the majority of the dead were disposed of in
ways that still elude us today (see Bradbury & Scarre
Cairn variability
         
characterized by an outer ring of large basalt boulders
with an oval or, less commonly, rectangular burial
         
     
with stones of all sizes, giving these cairns a conical
       
         
        
diameter, but these appear to consist of two cairns set
one on top of the other.
      
       
      
skeletal preservation is generally poor, it appears that
     
       
small size of the burial chambers.
       
tail of small cairns attached to them, which range in
   
from the cairn (Fig. 3). While some of these small, round
to roughly rectangular, cairns were little more than low,
inconspicuous heaps of rocks, others were prominent
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Merel L. Brüning, Monique Arntz, Sarah A. Inskip & Keshia A.N. Akkermans
       
wide. The latter had an outer, dry-stacked wall made of
        
      
sites yielded no evidence whatsoever of human remains
within or underneath them (see Rowan et al. 2015a for a
found together with ring cairns, they sometimes occur
in association with other kinds of burials (tower tombs;
see below) or with no main tomb connected to them at
all. Perhaps a commemorative role should be attributed
to these installations (cf. Kennedy D 2011: 3190), but
their precise function and meaning remain elusive.
Another common type of burial is the round tower
figure 2. An orthographic photograph of the ring cairn at the site of QUR-147 in the Jebel Qurma area� a. Outer ring of
large stones; b. central burial chamber; c. stone inll between the burial chamber and the outer ring; d. remains of a tower
tomb, built on top of the ring cairn at a later stage; e. start of tail of small cairns; f. Islamic burial sunk into cairn�
Desert tombs: recent research into the Bronze Age and Iron Age cairn burials of Jebel Qurma, north-east Jordan 5
figure 3. aboVe: an aerial photograph of the tail of forty-eight small cairns and its associated tomb at
the site of QUR-32 in the Jebel Qurma area (photo courtesy of Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in
the Middle East, APAAME_20081102_DLK-0146; photographer D� Kennedy)� below: detail of the tail and its
individual, rectangular cairns� They each measure about 1�9 x 0�75 m and are about 0�6 m high�
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Merel L. Brüning, Monique Arntz, Sarah A. Inskip & Keshia A.N. Akkermans
tower-like shape and their slightly tapering facade made
of large, undressed blocks of basalt. Some of these blocks
are more than 300 kg in weight. The oval, corbelled burial
   
raised 20–30 cm above the natural surface. As is the case
with the ring cairns, the area between the central burial
  
basalt boulders. In the case of reuse, access to the burial
chamber was made through the roof. One tower tomb
had a small doorway in its wall, but this appears to be a
later addition to the building and not part of its original
construction. Another cairn with a doorway was recorded
    
the north-east of Jebel Qurma (Rees 1929: 392).
The round tower tombs always occur as single
installations on prominent and high locations that
     
plateaus and plains. In some cases, they were built on
top of partially levelled ring cairns, either to increase
visibility even further or to appropriate the antecedent
burial structure.
As with the other types of cairns, the tower tombs
were continually reused right up to the present day.
Occasionally, reuse entailed the burial of the towers
underneath an extensive stone cover, completely
       
makes them almost indistinguishable from the more
ordinary, conical ring cairns.
In addition to the round structures, there were also
        
     
hemispherical in plan with one straight facade which is
usually oriented towards the east (Fig. 5). The interior
tombs were repeatedly reused. In one example the tomb
contained three, partially intermingled, individuals
figure 4. The round tower tomb at the site of QUR-1075, excavated in 2019� The structure is 3�7 m in diameter and
preserved to a height of 1�2 m�
Desert tombs: recent research into the Bronze Age and Iron Age cairn burials of Jebel Qurma, north-east Jordan 7
next to each other. All were placed in a very contracted
position on their side, oriented east–west, with the head
turned to face west.
While the round tower tombs always stand alone
and are a common feature throughout the Jebel Qurma
range, the apsidal tombs occur in groups of two to
seven cairns and so far, have been found at only two
neighbouring sites. In one instance, an apsidal tomb
had been substantially levelled in order to facilitate the
construction of a round tower tomb on top of the lower
A fourth type of burial consists of rectangular cist
graves constructed of dry-stone walls with straight
         
          
groups of two, with both cairns oriented roughly
east–west and attached to the walls of round tower
tombs (Fig. 6). Some of these graves were covered with
capstones. In others, a layer of basalt rocks covered the
skeletal remains of one or two individuals in a crouched
appears to be the result of reuse.
So far, cist graves have been located at three sites
in the Jebel Qurma region, comprising seven tombs
altogether. They occur in other parts of the basalt
expanse as well, such as at Wisad Pools (see Rollefson
2013: 222, who incorrectly interpreted the cists as
figure 5. A 3D image of the apsidal tower tomb at the site of QUR-1075, with its explicitly straight facade oriented to the
east� a. outer wall; b. burial chamber� The tomb measures about 3�8 x 3�5 m, with a preserved height of about 1�2 m�
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Merel L. Brüning, Monique Arntz, Sarah A. Inskip & Keshia A.N. Akkermans
Aspects of chronology
Both the ring cairns and the round tower tombs were
the preferred places for burial for several thousands of
years, from at least the fourth millennium BC onwards.
Material from one round tower tomb gave an OSL date
of 5580 ± 420 BP, or roughly 3140–3980 BC (see Fig. 7). A
small ring cairn contained the poorly preserved remains
of an adult individual, associated with a few stone beads
         
third millennia BC, until about 2500 BC (see e.g. Rosen
1997; Quintero, Wilke & Rollefson 2002; Müller-Neuhof
2014; Zutovski et al. 2016). Three other ring cairns and
one tower tomb each had a single short-necked jar which
closely resembled the amphoriskoi found in cemeteries
at Bab edh-Dhra and Fifa near the Dead Sea and Tiwal
esh-Sharqi in the central Jordan Valley (Akkermans &
Brüning 2017; see also Schaub & Rast 1989; Chesson &
Schaub 2007; Tubb, Henderson & Wright 1990; Kennedy
MA 2015). Given the material, these comparisons suggest
a date in the late Early Bronze Age, c�2300–2000 BC, for
these cairns in the Jebel Qurma area.
figure 6. 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 ank the tower tomb.
Desert tombs: recent research into the Bronze Age and Iron Age cairn burials of Jebel Qurma, north-east Jordan 9
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
Akkermans, Huigens & Brüning 2014; Akkermans &
Huigens 2018; Akkermans 2019; Müller-Neuhof 2014:
       
with the discovery of apsidal tower tombs dating to
        
and Late Bronze Age (c�2000–1200 BC) are still absent.
Perhaps detrimental climatic conditions are to blame for
this absence (Akkermans, Huigens & Brüning 2014: 204;
Müller-Neuhof 2014: 235), but we believe there is a more
      
local communities did not use pottery between c�2000
in the archaeological record. More than 7700 pottery
fragments were collected during the surveys in the Jebel
Qurma range, but none of them dated to the second or
unwise to consider the lack of pottery as evidence of the
absence of people in the region, considering the many
burials and, to a lesser degree, occupation sites from at
least the late second millennium BC onwards.
OSL samples, radiocarbon dates, and grave inventories
       
construction of considerable numbers of both ring cairns
and (round) tower tombs in the Jebel Qurma region. Ring
cairns seem to constitute the majority of the burials in
       
probably many more). The second main type is the round
tower tombs, represented by about twenty cairns. The
other types of burial occur in much lower numbers, with
nine apsidal tower tombs and seven cist graves attested.
Relatively few burials are ascribed to the beginning
   
use, between the late ninth and seventh centuries BC
(based on comparative material from places like Lachish,
Beer-Sheba, and Al Khadr; see Gottlieb 2004; 2016; Cross
& Milik 1956). Although their precise date is still under
study (radiocarbon and OSL dates are forthcoming),
the apsidal tower tombs most likely also belong to the
early Iron Age, c�1150–800 BC. This date is based on the
grave-goods, such as jewellery, including a typical Iron
Age scarab and carnelian axe-shaped pendant (see Fig.
Figures 7–8 present lists of recently obtained
radiocarbon and OSL dates from cairns in the Jebel
Lab. No. Sample No. Material Site Tomb Type Date BP 2δ calibrated date
(95.4% reliability)
GrM-17740 SN18-002 Charcoal QUR-80 Ring cairn 2240 ± 25 388-206 BC
GrA-67063 SN15-202 Human bone collagen QUR-215 Ring Cairn 2215 ± 35 380-198 BC
GrA-68436 SN16-208 Human teeth collagen QUR-2 Tower Tomb 1970 ± 40 50 BC - 125 AD
GrA-67032 SN15-096 Human bone collagen QUR-186 Tower Tomb 1795 ± 35 132-328 AD
GrA-68304 SN16-217 Human bone collagen QUR-9 Tower Tomb
1545 ± 30 425-579 AD
GrA-67035 SN15-201 Human bone collagen QUR-956 Tower Tomb (reused) 1890 ± 30 56-217 AD
GrA-68302 SN16-204 Human bone collagen QUR-2 Cist grave 1905 ± 30 25-211 AD
GrM-13139 SN17-087 Human bone collagen QUR-148 Cist Grave 1815 ± 25 128-254 AD
GrM-13134 SN17-025 Human bone collagen QUR-148 Cist Grave 2050 ± 25 164 BC - 16 AD
GrA-67037 SN14-152 Human bone collagen QUR-829 Inhumation 1740 ± 30 236-386 AD
figure 7. Radiocarbon dates from tombs in the Jebel Qurma area� Calibration based on OxCal 4�3� Dating carried out by
the Centre for Isotope Research, Groningen University, Netherlands�
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Merel L. Brüning, Monique Arntz, Sarah A. Inskip & Keshia A.N. Akkermans
Qurma area. Although they are still being fully analysed,
these dates substantially advance our understanding
of the chronology of burials in the area. Many cairns, it
third century AD. Both ring cairns and (round) tower
tombs were still under construction in this period. At
one site (QUR-80), a large tower tomb was set on top
of a levelled ring cairn. The grave in the ring cairn is
radiocarbon-dated to 388–206 BC (Fig. 7); hence, the
superimposed tower tomb must be of an even more
recent date.
Cist graves are a typically late type of burial. The
radiocarbon samples from several cist graves suggest
their use between the second century BC and the mid-
    
the site of QUR-2 (see Fig. 8) provides an earlier date in the
third century BC. One cist grave contained four Seleucid
bronze coins, one of which could be securely dated to the
reign of Antiochus IX Cyzicenus (114–95 BC).
Special mention should be made of the chains of
small cairns which usually occur in association with
ring cairns and, to a lesser extent, tower tombs. OSL
        
BC (or, at most, the late second millennium BC; see Fig.
8). Similar information for a date of these installations
        
excavated burials in Yemen (de Maigret 2009: 331).
Rock art
Cairns in the Jebel Qurma area and in the harra at
large often occur in places that also have a substantial
quantity of rock art. Past scholarship often assumed
a direct relationship between these graves and the
rock art (see e.g. Oxtoby 1968; Winnett 1978). Surveys
and excavations in the Jebel Qurma region have so
       
       
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. With regard to the sites with petroglyphs,
 
       
the landscape, just as the position of these places in the
      
Precisely the same conclusion may be valid for the
cairns in these locations.
Finds from the graves
The grave inventories consist predominantly of jewellery.
Beads are found in substantial numbers (totalling some
       
and materials. Most common are small disc beads made
of, probably local, ostrich eggshell (Fig. 9/15). There is
also a considerable quantity of beads made from a range
of marine gastropod shells (Fig. 9/1–14). So far, we have
been able to identify shells of Marginellidae, Columbellidae,
1 Inscription no. QUR215.28.1; cf. Della Puppa, forthcoming.
Lab. No. Sample No. Tomb Tomb TypeDate BP Date BC / AD
NLC-8217187 SN17-097 QUR-147 Ring Cairn 3100 ± 1200 2300 BC - 100 AD
NCL-8216141 SN16-040 QUR-215 Ring cairn 2150 ± 450 585 BC - 320 AD
NLC-8216142 SN16-041 QUR-215 Tail 2500 ± 460 945-25 BC
NLC-8216143 SN16-075 QUR-32 Tail 2390 ± 380 755 BC -10 AD
NLC-8216144 SN16-153 QUR-970 Tail 2690 ± 460 1135-215 BC
NLC-8216146 SN16-155 QUR-9 Tail 2770 ± 470 1225-285 BC
NLC-8216145 SN16-154 QUR-956 Tower Tomb 5580 ± 420 3985-3095 BC
NLC-8216147 SN16-234 QUR-2 Cist Grave 2190 ± 150 325-25 BC
figure 8. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates from burial cairns in the Jebel Qurma area� Dating carried
out by the Netherlands Centre for Luminescence Dating, Wageningen University�
Desert tombs: recent research into the Bronze Age and Iron Age cairn burials of Jebel Qurma, north-east Jordan 11
figure 9. A selection of beads and pendants made from shell, coral, and pearl (nos� 1–14), ostrich egg
shell (no� 15), a variety of different stone types (nos� 16–48), vitreous materials (nos� 49–68), metal (nos�
69–72), carnelian and (unidentied) black stone pendants (nos. 73–74), faience Pataikos pendant and blue-
glazed, steatite scarab pendant (nos� 75–76)�
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Merel L. Brüning, Monique Arntz, Sarah A. Inskip & Keshia A.N. Akkermans
Glycymeridiae, Conidae, Nassariidae (including Nassarius
gibbosulus), and Cypraeidae (including Monetaria annulus
or gold-ring cowrie).
Carnelian is the most common type of stone used for
bead production, with both bead shapes and quality of
execution varying widely (Fig. 9/16–22). One carnelian
axe-shaped pendant (Fig. 9/73) has excellent parallels
           
Jordan and Saruq al-Hadid in the Emirates (Beherec
2011; Weeks et al. 2017). Chalcedony-type stones also
occur frequently as do beads from a variety of calcites,
limestones, and sandstones in a wide range of colours
(Fig. 9/30–36). Other stone types include a range of
metamorphic and igneous stones such as marble,
quartzite, banded agate, gabbro, and peridotite (Fig.
9/37–40, 41, 44, 46–49). Some stone types occur rarely,
such as amethyst, quartzite, jasper, and malachite (Fig.
9/27–28, 42–45).
Glass and faience beads occur abundantly and in a
    Pataikos amulet of Egyptian origin
(Fig. 9/75). In rare cases, there are highly fragmented
pieces of glass from small jugs and cups.
Metal beads are sparse, comprising a low number
of small, granulated gold beads as well as two bronze
beads (Fig. 9/69–72). Generally speaking, there is quite
an abundance of metal in the tombs, although it mostly
comprises small fragments of bronze and iron. These
       
   
mainly of personal ornaments, such as (ear)rings, pins,
and bracelets. Rarer are buckles, nails, rivets, and what
Metal weapons occasionally occur in the graves. One
ring cairn and two (round) tower tombs had evidence of
some, heavily corroded, iron arrowheads or fragments
thereof (Fig. 10/3–8). In addition, an iron javelin and
what seems to have been a spearhead were found
        
BC. Rivets to attach the scale to the underlying fabric of
the corselet were often found still in place (Fig. 10/9–
12). Importantly, the scales were found as single pieces
or in small groups of just two or three. This limited
number may be due to the looting of burials in antiquity.
Alternatively, the intentional deposition of armour
parts in such small amounts in funerary contexts may
have had ritual connotations. Joseph Maran (2004: 23)
suggests that the scales had an apotropaic use, in which
       
properties of the complete corselet.
Two (round) tower tombs of the late first
millennium BC contained the skeletal remains of large
birds of prey. This consisted of multiple proximal,
intermediate, and distal phalanges, a tarsometatarsus,
and other fragments of leg. Based on comparative
material from the University of Cambridge’s Zoology
Department, these most likely came from griffon
vultures (Gyps fulvus). The vulture, especially the
griffon vulture, has a long and important history in
the Near East, with its remains found on sites such
as Jerf El Ahmar in Syria and Tel Hesban in Jordan
(Gourichon 2002; Boessneck 1995), or being depicted
on stone, as at Catalhöyük and Göbekli Tepe in Turkey
(Pillouda et al. 2016; Peters & Schmidt 2004) and Tell
Brak in Syria (McMahon 2016). Of relevance here are
the assemblages from domestic areas in medieval Tel
Hesban and Neolithic Jerf El Ahmar, both of which
are also dominated by elements related to the foot.
Gourichon (2002: 146) suggests that the lack of bones
from other areas of the skeleton argue against the
consumption of this bird and instead imply the use
of the feathers, claws, bone, and skin in rituals and/
or object manufacture. However, to the authors’
knowledge, the material from the Jebel Qurma cairns
is the first example of these bones in a mortuary
context. Ritual meaning should probably be attributed
to vulture feet and legs found in the tower tombs.
Analysis of the nature and composition of the
burial assemblages is often complicated, due to factors
such as the repeated reuse and looting of the tombs.
Despite these limitations, several tomb assemblages
display a striking idiosyncrasy. For example, certain
carnelian bead types appear to occur solely in round
tower tombs at a single site. At another site, one apsidal
tomb contained several dozen unworked freshwater
shells belonging to Melanopsis jordanica; these were
wholly absent at a neighbouring apsidal tomb on the
same site. Conversely, the latter grave had many beads
made from the salt-water shells of Nassarius gibbosulus,
which the former tomb lacked. With radiocarbon dates
pending for this material, we may wonder whether the
Desert tombs: recent research into the Bronze Age and Iron Age cairn burials of Jebel Qurma, north-east Jordan 13
figure 10. Selective weaponry from the Jebel Qurma tombs� Spearhead (no� 1), javelin (no� 2), and
arrowheads (nos� 3–8), all made of iron� Bronze armour scales (nos� 9–12)�
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Merel L. Brüning, Monique Arntz, Sarah A. Inskip & Keshia A.N. Akkermans
chronology, personal preference of the deceased (or the
mourners), or other social and cultural factors.
Another aspect of major interest is the origin of the
materials used to make beads and related items. Ostrich
eggshell, limestone, and sandstone may have been
in the harra in the late Roman period, and an earlier
production cannot be excluded (Akkermans & Brüning
2020). Other goods probably arrived as part of exchange
 
pearls came from the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and the
Mediterranean origin of the Nassarius gibbosulus shows a
connection between Jebel Qurma and the West. Amethyst
sources can be found in Egypt, where they were exploited
since the late pre-dynastic period, mostly for jewellery
(Drauschke 2010; Sala 2014: 69). Red jasper is also known
to come from Egypt, although it is found in Iran and Saudi
Arabia as well (Boschloos 2012: 5). Most of the important
       
in the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, and the Negev (Then-
       
the local production of carnelian beads in the Jebel
Qurma region, in the form of two bead blanks and
several unworked pieces which have been found at the
occupation sites of QUR-371 and QUR-595. The date
of these sites is still under study but evidence of local
bead working has been reported previously at nearby
Neolithic sites such as Jebel Naja, Azraq, and Wadi Jilat
(Wright & Garrard 2003; Betts et al. 2013).
Although earlier burials are not uncommon, our
excavations suggest that the cairns in the Jebel Qurma
region mostly date to the period roughly between 500
BC and AD 300. Recently, Huigens (2019) linked more
than 200 cairns in the area to this period. Although
this number of cairns is substantial, it is important to
understand that it refers to ongoing burial over a time
span of some 800 years. In this respect, the current tomb
distribution is in keeping with a low regional population
The various types of tombs and their artefact
assemblages do not display any explicit signs of
distribution. While there is indeed a considerable degree
of individuality in the composition of each cairn, the
grave inventories primarily consist of jewellery and, to
a lesser extent, weaponry. Other kinds of objects, such as
glass or bronze vessels, occur once or twice and pottery
is entirely absent. Although depictions of violence in the
 
size of the local population was simply too small to permit
a great deal of social distance between its members. The
many similarities from one cairn to another support the
proposed absence of clear-cut social ranking. Elsewhere
        
heterarchical social arrangements, probably based on
small-scale family relations, instead of unambiguously
hierarchical schemes (cf. Akkermans 2019).
The evidence of occupation sites compared to the
large number of graves is still scant but not altogether
absent. OSL and radiocarbon samples gathered at several
BC. Other sites had pre-Islamic (Safaitic) inscriptions
on stone, mentioning the ownership of stone-walled
installations. Late in the local sequence, pottery began
to reappear at places in the basalt expanse, after an
absence of some 2000 years. These were the camps
associated with small-scale indigenous groups, which
exploited the desert landscape year-round in a highly
mobile manner (Huigens 2019; Akkermans 2019).
While the tombs these people left in the harra display
generic similarities to cairns elsewhere in the Levant
and Arabia, we believe there also is clear evidence of
strongly localized developments of cairn construction
and mortuary practice. The graves are a clear expression
of autonomous communities that used the basalt
landscape in a most successful way.
Akkermans P.M.M.G. 2019. Living on the edge or forced
into the margins? Hunter-herders in Jordan’s north-
eastern badlands in the Hellenistic and Roman
periods. Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology
and Heritage Studies 7: 412-431.
Akkermans P.M.M.G. & Brüning M.L. 2017. Nothing
but cold ashes? The cairn burials of Jebel Qurma,
northeastern Jordan. Near Eastern Archaeology 80:
Desert tombs: recent research into the Bronze Age and Iron Age cairn burials of Jebel Qurma, north-east Jordan 15
Akkermans P.M.M.G. & Brüning M.L. 2020. A Late Roman
pastoralist ironworking site in the north-eastern
Black Desert, Jordan. Pages 103–119 in A. Ahrens, D.
Rokitta-Krumnow, F. Bloch & C. Bührig (eds), Pulling
the threads together: Studies in honour of Karin Bartl.
Münster: Zaphon Publishers.
Akkermans P.M.M.G. & Huigens H.O. 2018. Long-term
settlement trends in Jordan’s north-eastern Badia: The
Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project. Annual
of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 59: 503–515.
Akkermans P.M.M.G., Huigens H.O. & Brüning M.L.
2014. A landscape of preservation: Late prehistoric
settlement and sequence in the Jebel Qurma region,
north-eastern Jordan. Levant 46: 186–205.
Beherec M.A. 2011. Nomads in transition: Mortuary
archaeology in the lowlands of Edom (Jordan).
PhD thesis, University of California San Diego.
Betts A., Cooke L., Garrard A., McCartney C. & Reese D.
2013. Late Neolithic sites in the harra. Pages 13–51
in A.V.G. Betts (ed.), The later prehistory of the badia.
Oxford: Oxbow Books.
Bloxman E. 2006. Miners and mistresses: Middle
Kingdom mining on the margins. Journal of Social
Archaeology 6: 277–303.
Boessneck J. 1995. Birds, reptiles and amphibians. Pages
129–168 in O.E LaBianca & A. von den Driesch (eds),
Faunal remains: Taphonomical and zooarchaeological
studies of the animal remains from Tell Hesban and
vicinity. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University
Boschloos V. 2012. Late Bronze Age cornelian and
red jasper scarabs with cross designs. Egyptian,
Levantine or Minoan? Journal of Ancient Egyptian
Interconnections 4: 5–16.
Bradbury J. & Scarre C. (eds). 2017. Engaging with the dead:
Exploring changing human beliefs about death, mortality
and the human body. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
Brusgaard N.Ø. 2019. Carving interactions — Rock art in
the nomadic landscape of the Black Desert, north-eastern
Jordan. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Chesson M.S. & Schaub R.T. 2007. Death and dying on
the Dead Sea plain: Fifa, al- Khanazir and Bab adh-
Daviau, R.W. Younker & M. Shaer (eds), Crossing
Jordan: North American contributions to the archaeology
of Jordan. London: Equinox Press.
Clark A. 1981. Archaeological excavations at two burial
cairns in the harra region of Jordan. Annual of the
Department of Antiquities of Jordan 25: 235–265.
Cross F.M. & Milik J.T. 1956. A typological study of the
El Khadr javelin- and arrow-heads. Annual of the
Department of Antiquities of Jordan 3: 15–23.
       
An ethno-palaeographic investigation. PhD thesis,
Leiden University.
de Maigret A. 2009. Arabia Felix An exploration of
the archaeological history of Yemen. London: Stacey
Drauschke J. 2010. Byzantine jewellery? Amethyst beads
in east and west during the Early Byzantine period.
Pages 50–60 in C. Entwistle (ed.), ‘Intelligible beauty’:
Recent research on Byzantine jewellery. Oxford: Oxbow
Gottlieb Y. 2004. The weaponry of the Assyrian attack.
Section A: the arrowheads and some aspects of the
course of the Lachish siege battle. Pages 1907–1969 in
D. Ussishkin (ed.), The renewed excavations at Lachish,
1974–1994. Tel Aviv: Mery and Claire Yass Publications
in Archaeology.
Gottlieb Y. 2016. Beer-Sheba under attack: A study of
arrowheads and the story of the destruction of the
Iron Age settlement. Pages 1192–1228 in Z. Herzog
& L. Singer-Avitz (eds), Beer-Sheba III: The Early Iron
IIA enclosed settlement and the Late Iron IIA–IIB cities.
Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
Gourichon L. 2002. Bird remains from Jerf El Ahmar: A
PPNA site in northern Syria with special reference
    Gyps fulvus). Pages 138–152
in H. Buitenhuis, A.M. Choyke, M. Mashkour & A.H.
Al-Shiyab (eds), Archaeozoology of the Near East V.
Groningen: ARC Publications.
Harding G.L. 1953. The cairn of Hani. Annual of the
Department of Antiquities of Jordan 2: 8–56.
Harding G.L. 1978. The cairn of Sa’d. Pages 243–249 in
R. Moorey & P. Parr (eds), Archaeology in the Levant.
Warminster: Aris & Phillips.
Huigens H.O. 2019. Mobile peoples — permanent places.
Nomadic landscapes and stone architecture from the
Hellenistic to Early Islamic periods in north-eastern
Jordan. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Remote sensing in interior Arabia. Journal of
Archaeological Science 38: 3185–3203.
Kennedy M.A. 2015. Life and death at Tell Umm Hamad,
Jordan. A village landscape of the southern Levantine
Early Bronze Age IV/Intermediate Bronze Age.
Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 131: 1–28.
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Merel L. Brüning, Monique Arntz, Sarah A. Inskip & Keshia A.N. Akkermans
McMahon A. 2016. The encultured vulture: Late
Chalcolithic sealing images and the challenges
of urbanism in 4th millennium BC northern
Mesopotamia. Paléorient 42: 177–191.
Maran J. 2004. The spreading of objects and ideas in
the Late Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean: Two
case examples from the Argolid of the 13th and
12th centuries B.C. Bulletin of the American Schools of
Oriental Research 336: 11–30.
Milevski I. 2011. Early Bronze Age goods exchange in
the southern Levant: A Marxist perspective. London:
  
options: The diversity of Chalcolithic/Early Bronze
Age socio-economic activities in the hinterland of
Jawa. Levant 46: 230–248.
Oxtoby W.G. 1968. Some inscriptions of the Safaitic bedouin.
New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society.
Peters J. & Schmidt K. 2004. Animals in the symbolic
world of pre-pottery Neolithic Göbekli Tepe,
south-eastern Turkey: A preliminary assessment
Anthropozoologica 39: 179–218.
Pillouda P.A., Haddow S.D., Knüsel C.J. & Spencer Larsen C.
2016. A bioarchaeological and forensic re-assessment
      
Neolithic Çatalhöyük. Journal of Archaeological Science
10: 735–743.
to fan scraper: The late prehistoric Jafr industrial
complex. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental
Research 327: 17–48.
Rees L.W.B. 1929. The Transjordan desert. Antiquity 3:
Richter T. 2014. Rescue excavations at a Late Neolithic
burial cairn in the east Jordanian badya. Neo-Lithics
1/14: 18–24.
Rollefson G.O. 2013. Late prehistoric aggregation
patterns in Jordan’s eastern badia. Syria 90: 211–230.
Rosen S.A. 1997. Lithics after the Stone Age. Walnut Creek,
CA: Altamira Press.
Rowan Y.M., Rollefson G.O., Wasse A., Abu-Azizeh W., Hill
      
New late prehistoric discoveries at Maitland’s Mesa
and Wisad Pools, Jordan. Journal of Field Archaeology
40: 176–189.
Rowan Y., Wasse A., Rollefson G., Kersel M., Jones M.
& Lorentzen B. 2015b. Late Neolithic architectural
complexity at Wisad Pools, Black Desert. Neo-Lithics
1/15: 3–10.
Sala M. 2014. EB II–III Aegyptiaca east of the Jordan: A
reevaluation of trade and cultural interactions
between Egypt and the Transjordanian urban
centres. Vicino Oriente 18: 65–81.
Schaub R.T. & Rast W. 1989. Bab edh-Dhra’: Excavations
in the cemetery directed by Paul W. Lapp (1965–1967).
Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
Then-Obluska J. 2013. A few millimeters via thousands
      
in Early Makurian Nubia, Sudan. Mitteilungen der
Sudanarchäologischen Gesellschaft 24: 117–123.
Tubb J.N., Henderson J.D. & Wright M.M. 1990. Excavations
at the Early Bronze Age cemetery of Tiwal esh-Sharqi.
London: British Museum Publications Ltd.
Vijgen T. 2019. Desert pots: Studying the technology,
morphology, date and distribution of the pottery of
the Jebel Qurma region, north-eastern Jordan, from
the Bronze Age up until the present. RMA thesis,
Leiden University. [Unpublished.]
Weeks L., Cable C., Franke K., Newton C., Karacic S.,
Roberts J. ... Zein H. 2017. Recent archaeological
research at Saruq al-Hadid, Dubai, UAE. Arabian
Archaeology and Epigraphy 28: 31–60.
Winnett F.V. 1978. Inscriptions from fty Safaitic cairns.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Wright K. & Garrard A. 2003. Social identities and
the expansion of stone bead-making in Neolithic
western Asia: New evidence from Jordan. Antiquity
77: 131–166.
Zutovski K., Yerkes R., Agam A., Wilson L., Getzov N.,
Milevski I. & Gopher A. 2016. A techno-typological
analysis of fan (tabular) scrapers from Ein Zippori,
Israel. Journal of Lithic Studies 3: 207–238.
Desert tombs: recent research into the Bronze Age and Iron Age cairn burials of Jebel Qurma, north-east Jordan 17
Authors’ addresses
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans, Leiden University, Faculty of Archaeology, Einsteinweg 2, 2333 CC Leiden, Netherlands.
Merel L. Brüning, Leiden University, Faculty of Archaeology, Einsteinweg 2, 2333 CC Leiden, Netherlands.
Monique Arntz, University of Cambridge, Department of Archaeology, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3DZ, UK.
Sarah A. Inskip, University of Cambridge, Department of Archaeology, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3DZ, UK.
Keshia A.N. Akkermans, Leiden University, Faculty of Archaeology, Einsteinweg 2, 2333 CC Leiden, Netherlands.
... This geographical feature contains at least six sites, including a "kite", two different locations of enclosures, one location with small double-apsed "ghura huts" (see [40] (pp. 179-181)), and eight large cairns likely representing "tower tombs" (see [41]), two of which are connected by a line of smaller cairns to form a type of "pendant". The created orthomosaic visualises the plethora of sites present at this location, doubtless desirable due to its accessibility across the qa'a, access to seasonal water from the wadi, and abundant presence of basalt construction material (Figure 17a). ...
... This therefore showcases another use of drone-derived data: For planning fieldwork at locations surmised to comprise sites too small to be recognisable on the highest available resolution of satellite imagery. The orthomosaic and DEM also highlighted a number of other relationships between sites and their environments, such as the locations of enclosures exclusively on the edges of the basalt "peninsula" but "tower tombs" and smaller cairns along the summit of its ridge-a common property of pre-Islamic burial sites in the Harra [41]-and the location of the "kite" in a depression with its southern long wall running directly along the contour of a hill edge (black arrows on Figure 17), thus using the natural landscape to its advantage to aid in directing the movement of wild game into its enclosure-a frequent phenomenon of these features [11] (pp. 54-55). ...
... This therefore showcases another use of drone-derived data: For planning fieldwork at locations surmised to comprise sites too small to be recognisable on the highest available resolution of satellite imagery. The orthomosaic and DEM also highlighted a number of other relationships between sites and their environments, such as the locations of enclosures exclusively on the edges of the basalt "peninsula" but "tower tombs" and smaller cairns along the summit of its ridge-a common property of pre-Islamic burial sites in the Harra [41]-and the location of the "kite" in a depression with its southern long wall running directly along the contour of a hill edge (black arrows on Figure 17), thus using the natural landscape to its advantage to aid in directing the movement of wild game into its enclosure-a frequent phenomenon of these features [11] (pp. 54-55). The drone-derived data, and in particular the DEMs, were further found to be useful for the recognition and mapping of the likely anthropogenic paths across the basalt mentioned in Section 1. ...
Full-text available
The increasing availability and sinking costs of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, has resulted in these devices becoming relatively commonplace on archaeological sites. The advantages of being able to rapidly obtain bespoke high-resolution images from the air are conspicuous to anyone familiar with archaeological fieldwork; meanwhile the possibilities of subsequently processing such images together with their metadata to obtain digital elevation models (DEMs) and three-dimensional (3-D) models provide additional bonuses to analysis and interpretation. The recent use of a rotary-wing drone by the Western Harra Survey (WHS), an archaeological project co-directed by the author in the "Black Desert", or Harra, of northeastern Jordan, showcases these advantages in the context of a landscape that (a) is subject to negligible transformation processes and (b) is difficult to access, both by vehicle and on foot. By using processed drone imagery to record in detail prehistoric basalt structures visible on the surface and their surroundings, morphological site typologies hypothesised from satellite imagery were confirmed, relative dating within sites ascertained, structural features and damage documented, spatial relationships to natural resources established, offsite features traced, modern threats to heritage catalogued, and practically inaccessible sites investigated. Together, these results, most of which were only obtainable and all of which were obtained more rapidly by using a drone, represent significant insights into this underrepresented region, and provide a case-study for the benefits of these devices in other landscapes of a similar nature.
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.
Full-text available
Northwestern Arabia is marked by thousands of prehistoric stone structures. Of these, the monumental, rectilinear type known as mustatils has received only limited attention. Recent fieldwork in AlUla and Khaybar Counties, Saudi Arabia, demonstrates that these monuments are architecturally more complex than previously supposed, featuring chambers, entranceways and orthostats. These structures can now be interpreted as ritual installations dating back to the late sixth millennium BC, with recent excavations revealing the earliest evidence for a cattle cult in the Arabian Peninsula. As such, mustatils are amongst the earliest stone monuments in Arabia and globally one of the oldest monumental building traditions yet identified.
Full-text available
IN: Drawing the Threads Together - Studies on Archaeology in Honour of Karin Bartl. Edited by Alexander Ahrens, Dörte Rokitta-Krumnow, Franziska Bloch and Claudia Bührig. Münster: Zaphon, pp. 209-225.
Full-text available
The arid and desolate, basalt-strewn uplands of northeastern Jordan have been perceived as the natural home of pastoralist communities, which lie on the very fringes of the early urban polities of the eastern Mediterranean. However, current fieldwork in the area has revealed the presence of many and diverse sites from the late prehistoric to the early historic periods that were finely tuned to their harsh environment. Some of these sites include rich assemblages, including rock art and inscriptions on stone. This paper investigates the hunter-herder communities that successfully exploited the “margins” in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. It is argued that these desert populations were forced into obscurity by the Roman military intrusion in the region in the third century CE.
Full-text available
Book is available open access from Archaeopress ( 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.
Full-text available
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.
Full-text available
In September 2014, the University of New England (UNE), Australia, began a three-year programme of archaeological fieldwork and post-excavation analyses focused on the site of Saruq al-Hadid. In this paper, we present the initial results of our current field and laboratory research particularly related to site stratigraphy and formation processes, relative and absolute chronology, and the preliminary results of various programmes of post-excavation analyses including archaeobotanical, zooarchaeological, ceramic and archaeometallurgical studies. These studies provide new data to build into the archaeological understanding of Saruq al-Hadid that has, to date, focused largely on intensive excavation.