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East of Azraq: Settlement, Burial and Chronology from the Chalcolithic to the Bronze Age and Iron Age in the Jebel Qurma Region, Black Desert, North-East Jordan


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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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Foreword 7
Aktham Oweidi
Introduction: landscapes of survival 9
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans
First inhabitants: the early prehistory of north-east Jordan 17
Tobias Richter
New techniques for tracing ephemeral occupation in arid, 37
dynamic environments: case studies from Wadi Faynan and
Wadi al-Jilat, Jordan
Daniella Vos
Populating the Black Desert: the Late Neolithic presence 59
Yorke M. Rowan, Gary O. Rollefson and Alexander Wasse
Flamingos in the desert: how a chance encounter shed light on 79
the ‘Burin Neolithic’ of eastern Jordan
Alexander Wasse, Gary Rollefson and Yorke Rowan
Pastoralists of the southern Nefud desert: inter-regional contact 103
and local identity
Maria Guagnin
The works of the old men in Arabia: a comparative analysis 117
David Kennedy
Defending the ‘land of the devil’: prehistoric hillforts in the 145
Jawa hinterland
Bernd Müller-Neuhof
The Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age of the badia and 165
beyond: implications of the results of the rst season of the
‘Western Harra Survey’
Stefan L. Smith
East of Azraq: settlement, burial and chronology from the 185
Chalcolithic to the Bronze Age and Iron Age in the Jebel Qurma
region, Black Desert, north-east Jordan
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans and Merel L. Brüning
Identifying nomadic camp sites from the Classical and Late 217
Antique periods in the Jebel Qurma region, north-eastern Jordan
Harmen O. Huigens
The Nabataeans as travellers between the desert and the sown 235
Will M. Kennedy
The desert and the sown: Safaitic outsiders in Palmyrene territory 255
Jørgen Christian Meyer
The north-eastern badia in Early Islamic times 265
Karin Bartl
Depicting the camel: representations of the dromedary in the 287
Black Desert rock art of Jordan
Nathalie Østerled Brusgaard
Bows on basalt boulders: weaponry in Safaitic rock art from 305
Jebel Qurma, Black Desert, Jordan
Keshia A.N. Akkermans
‘Your own mark for all time’: on wusūm marking practices in the 317
Near East (c. 1800-1960 AD)
Koen Berghuijs
Rock art in Saudi Arabia: a window into the past? First insights 333
of a comparative study of rock art sites in the Riyadh and Najrān
Charly Poliako
Grati and complexity: ways-of-life and languages in the 343
Hellenistic and Roman harrah
Michael C.A. Macdonald
Gaius the Roman and the Kawnites: inscriptional evidence for 355
Roman auxiliary units raised from the nomads of the harrah
Ahmad Al-Jallad, Zeyad Al-Salameen, Yunus Shdeifat and Rafe Harahsheh
Remarks on some recently published inscriptions from the 363
harrah referring to the Nabataeans and the ‘revolt of Damasī’
Jérôme Norris
Two new Safaitic inscriptions and the Arabic and Semitic plural 391
demonstrative base
Phillip W. Stokes
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. 185-216.
East of Azraq: settlement, burial and
chronology from the Chalcolithic to the
Bronze Age and Iron Age in the Jebel
Qurma region, Black Desert, north-east
Peter M.M.G. Akkermans and Merel L. Brüning
Recent survey and excavation in the Jebel Qurma region in the basalt desert (harrah)
of north-eastern Jordan have revealed substantial evidence for settlement and burial
from the Chalcolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age. The new data demonstrate considerable
diversity in site layout as well as clear shifts in habitation patterns and locational
preferences over time. Particularly, the sites from the mid-fth to fourth millennium BC
regularly were of an impressive size, with many dozens or even hundreds of stone-
built structures for dwelling at a single site. In later periods, the emphasis seems to be
increasingly on small, temporary camp sites. In addition, the eldwork provided detailed
insight into the many cairns for burial in the Jebel Qurma area and the Black Desert at
large. These tombs were of dierent types and sizes, and predominantly date to the rst
millennium BC.
Keywords: Jebel Qurma, Jordan, Black Desert, nomad, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, Iron
Age, Hellenistic, Roman
Jebel Qurma east of Azraq
The Black Desert begins some 130 km east of Amman, and is characterised by rough and
rugged, dark lava elds (harrah in Arabic; plural harrat). The lava expanse in Jordan has an
area of around 11,000 km2, and is locally known as the Harrat al-Shaba, which itself is part of
a much larger basalt plateau (the Harrat al-Sham), stretching from southern Syria through
Jordan and into northern Saudi Arabia (cf. Edgell 2006). On the fringes of the volcanic belt
is the Jebel Qurma range, situated east of the small oasis town of Azraq, and close to the
Jordanian-Saudi border (Fig. 1). This highly arid area (with less than 50 mm of average
annual precipitation) comprises basaltic high grounds and table mounds, alternating with
stretches of limestone hillocks, gravel plains, and mud ats. A myriad of narrow, shallow
wadis carve through the varied desert landscape, and they lead into broad mud ats or into
two much larger wadi systems on either side of the Jebel Qurma range: Wadi Rajil in the
west and Wadi al-Qatta in the east (Figs. 2-3). These wadis serve as long, natural corridors
through the basalt barrier, and are connected to the at, shallow depression of the Wadi
Sirhan further to the south-west, a major caravan track and communication route between
Figure 1. Map of Jordan showing the location of the Jebel Qurma region (red rectangle) and other principal sites mentioned
in the text (source: Terra-MODIS image, adapted from Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC).
the Levant and Syria on the one hand and the Arabian
Peninsula on the other hand.
Annual programs of survey and excavation in the Jebel
Qurma region since 2012 (within the framework of the Jebel
Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project; cf. Akkermans
and Huigens 2018) have sought to examine local settlement
and burial from a multi-period, longue-durée perspective,
and investigate how these relate to the diverse landscape
and environment. The eldwork detected many hundreds
of archaeological nd spots, ranging from inconspicuous
lithic scatters to tombs of dierent shapes and sizes and
concentrations of basalt-built dwellings spread over
Figure 2. Wadi Rajil near Jebel Qurma in the rainy season (April 2017). Most of the water is not collected locally but is
directed to Jebel Qurma from the wadi’s upper reaches in southern Syria (photograph: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
Figure 3. The harsh landscape of the Jebel Qurma range. Basalt-covered table mounds alternate with sand dunes and
extensive gravel plains, which are cut by erosion gullies and wadis (photograph: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
several hectares. In addition, the eldwork has identied
several thousands of petroglyphs and inscriptions in
Safaitic and Arabic (Akkermans et al. 2014; Akkermans
2019; Huigens 2015; 2019; Brusgaard 2019).
This article summarises the evidence for settlement
and burial in the Jebel Qurma region from the Chalcolithic
to the Bronze Age and Iron Age, roughly between
4500 BC to the beginning of the common era. There
were substantial socio-economic transformations and
transitions in the southern Levant during this long
period, from the development of complex societies in
the fth millennium BC and the onset of urbanism in the
fourth millennium, to the rise of highly stratied empires
in the Iron Age and afterwards. The eects of these
long-term developments on the eastern desert cultures
are still poorly understood. There is good evidence for
signicant population aggregations in the basalt expanse
in the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age, coupled with the
creation of fortications, extensive pastoralist eorts, and
the large-scale, specialist production of cortical int blanks
for tool manufacture. These nds have fuelled hypotheses
about the badia as an economic centre of considerable
signicance in these early periods (e.g. Philip 2008; Müller-
Neuhof 2014). Later periods indicated reduced settlement
and a more restrained, localised economy, which served
the needs of small and highly mobile groups of herders
and hunters. Burial evidence equally suggests that, despite
many external ties, the desert communities in the Iron Age
displayed a deeply entrenched local character.
Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age I
Jawa is the archetypical Early Bronze Age I (EBA I) site
in Jordan’s north-eastern harrah, dated to the mid/late
fourth millennium BC on the basis of pottery nds and
recent 14C evidence (Helms 1991; Müller-Neuhof et al.
2015). Located on the western fringes of the basalt plateau,
close to the Jordanian-Syrian border, the 10-ha site has
massive retaining walls for defence, extensive areas with
roughly circular domestic architecture, as well as complex
hydrological installations (Helms 1981; Betts 1991). Jawa
has long been considered as a conundrum, because of
its remote and isolated location, situated far from other,
concomitant sites. In the southern foothills of Jebel
al-Druze, Rukais was the only other broadly contemporary
settlement with round EBA I architecture (Betts et al. 1996).
However, Bernd Müller-Neuhof’s recent research in the
Jawa hinterland revealed exciting proof for other fortied
sites of this period, such as at Khirbet Abu al-Husayn, Tulul
al-Ghusayn and Khirbet al-Ja’bariya (Müller-Neuhof 2017;
Müller-Neuhof and Abu-Azizeh 2018a; 2018b; see also
Müller-Neuhof, this volume). In addition to these hillfort
sites with their probably more permanent habitation,
there were many temporary camp sites, often with groups
of enclosures (Müller-Neuhof et al. 2013, 127-128). There is
also evidence for garden terraces, irrigation agriculture,
herding, and the large-scale exploitation of int mines
(e.g. Müller-Neuhof 2013a; 2013b; 2014; Meister et al. 2017;
2018). In short, these nds have shown the basalt expanse
to be anything but the remote and deserted backwater it is
often interpreted to be.
Survey and excavation in the Jebel Qurma region also
have identied many sites which we believe to date to the
Late Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age (LC/EBA) periods,
primarily on the basis of their lithic assemblages. LC/
EBA chronologies in the basalt wasteland still are very
preliminary in nature. Both lithic and pottery typologies
serve as dating tools, although these have their inherent
aws, particularly in regards to sites known only from
their surface materials. A relatively common formal tool
type in local lithic assemblages are the tabular scrapers:
roughly oval or fan-shaped, unifacial tools, about 5 to 15 cm
in size, made on cortical akes from large int nodules (cf.
Rosen 1997, 71.) (Figs. 4-5). These products probably were
imported into the Jebel Qurma region, brought from the
mining areas in the Jafr basin in the south-west or from
the Ruwayshid area in the north-east (e.g. Quintero et al.
2002; Müller-Neuhof 2013a). However, the scale of the
trade must have been limited, as the number of cortical
artefacts was restricted to a few pieces from all of the
sites in the Jebel Qurma area; the remainder of the lithic
assemblages mainly consisted of ad hoc tools on akes.
Although excavations at, for example, Dhuweila and
Wisad Pools have suggested that tabular scrapers and
other cortical elements rst appeared in the Late Neolithic
(Betts 1998, 105, 119; Rollefson et al. 2013, 16; see also Henry
1995, 372), they are usually considered to be characteristic
of the LC to EBA I-III periods, c. 4500-2500 BC (see e.g.
Rosen 1997; Braun 2011; Barket and Bell 2011; Müller-
Neuhof 2013a; 2014). Although their chronology needs
further detailing through excavation, the occurrence of
cortical tools may serve as a Leitfossil for dating the nd
spots in the Jebel Qurma range between the late fth and
early third millennium BC. Pottery from this period is still
absent in the Jebel Qurma area, and the earliest ceramics
found until now belong to the very end of the third
millennium. A caveat is required here, in terms of the very
long time frame involved (some 2000 years): we cannot
simply assume continual use, let alone contemporaneity,
of all recorded sites. Some nd spots may t early in the
sequence and others may date later in the period. While
the Jebel Qurma area overall has a signicant number of
recorded LC/EBA sites, their distribution (and hence the
size of the population) at any given time was probably
much more limited.
Until now, the eldwork in the Jebel Qurma area has
yielded 26 LC/EBA dwelling sites with tabular scrapers and
related cortical tools (Fig. 6). The sites predominantly occur
Figure 4. LC/EBA cortical scrapers from sites in the Jebel Qurma region. No. 1: from a double cell building at QUR-619. No. 2:
from a wheel at QUR-144. No. 3: from a wheel at QUR-124 (drawing by Keshia Akkermans, Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
on the lower slopes and spurs of the basalt prominences
on the edges of the harrah, sheltered from the prevailing
cold winds in winter and spring by topographic relief.
Usually, they were located within close proximity (a few
hundred metres at most) to wadis and mud ats that
provided water in the wet seasons. In some cases, the sites
are found deeper inside the basalt expanse or high on
the plateau, where they may appear in association with
burials. Find spots also exist in the gravel plains beyond
the basalt terrain, often in sheltered locales at the foot of
low limestone hillocks.
Some of the nd spots were very small and short-lived
open-air places with no visible traces except lithic scatters,
while others were renewals of pre-existing installations
of a much earlier, Neolithic, date. For example, the
typical cortical tools repeatedly were found in extensive
grouped enclosures that also had substantial amounts of
burins of Late Neolithic type, c. 6400-6000 BC. A presently
unresolved matter with regard to chronology is the regular
occurrence of cortical tools in so-called ‘wheels’: roughly
circular arrangements of enclosures, often surrounded by
a string of round hut structures (cf. Akkermans et al. 2014,
197-200; see also Smith, this volume). The exact dating
of these wheels is still uncertain. OSL analysis from two
wheels in Wisad Pools suggested that one of them dates
to the Late Neolithic period, c. 7500-4900 BC, and the
other to the LC-EBA I transition, c. 4700-3300 BC (Rollefson
et al. 2016). More recently, charcoal from two replaces
uncovered in a wheel (QUR-147) in the Jebel Qurma region
produced two 14C samples; they dated to 5310-5080cal BC
and 4720-4560 cal BC, respectively. The dates appear to
demonstrate that the wheel at QUR-147 was used for
a considerable time period, although probably on an
intermittent basis. We consider a date for the wheels
in the seventh, and certainly the eighth, millennium
highly unlikely, given the concurrent site structures and
established lithic sequences. We believe it is much more
likely that the wheels date from the late sixth to the early
fourth millennium BC. In this respect, the cortical tools
found in the wheels may date relatively early in the local
sequence.1 An alternative, which cannot be ruled out, is
to consider the tabular scrapers as evidence for the later
re-use of the wheels.
An arrangement perhaps typical of the fourth
millennium BC were the groups of small, free-standing,
single or double cell ghura huts,2 usually found in
association with enclosures of dierent sizes (Rowan
et al. 2015). While some of these places had a handful of
buildings distributed over a few hundred square metres,
others consisted of many dozens or even hundreds of
structures over several hectares. The sites themselves
tend to cluster in several places in the basalt expanse,
although there were single, isolated occurrences as well
(Fig. 6). Highly relevant with regard to their dating is the
excavated site of Tulul al-Ghusayn in the Jawa hinterland,
where great numbers of small ghura dwellings, including
126 double cell structures, were situated in and around the
crater of a volcano, about nine km north of the Amman-
Baghdad road (Müller-Neuhof and Abu-Azizeh 2016;
2018a; see also Müller-Neuhof, this volume). The double
cell installations were about 3 to 4.5 m long and 1 to 1.4 m
wide, with their walls preserved to a height of about
0.5 m. Charcoal samples from a replace in an excavated
double cell building (TAG 209) dated to 3640-3525 calBC
and 3760-3640 cal BC, respectively (Müller-Neuhof and
1 Importantly, a cortical scraper lay next to one of the afore-
mentioned replaces at QUR-147, dated to 4720-4560calBC.
2 The name is derived from the basalt-capped table-mounds, locally
referred to as ghura; see Rowan et al. 2015, 177.
Figure 5. LC/EBA cortical tools from sites in the Jebel Qurma region. Nos. 1-3: from the large site of QUR-6. Nos. 1 and 2 were
found together in an open area at the site. No. 4: from a wheel at QUR-147 (photographs: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
Abu-Azizeh 2016, 5.). Another excavated structure at
the site (TAG 181) consisted of a single large room (about
4.5 by 1.7 m) with a central replace as well as a sizeable,
non-local, pottery jar in situ nearby. Two AMS dates from
the hearth dated to 3640-3350calBC (ibid., 4).
Two round buildings at the hillfort of Khirbet al-
Ja’bariya, west of Tulul al-Ghusayn, have produced
additional 14C evidence with dates ranging between
4450-3715 cal BC (Müller-Neuhof and Abu-Azizeh 2016,
10). Importantly, the double cell ghura huts appear to be
absent at the site. Excavation also took place at Maitland’s
Mesa in Wadi al-Qatta, north-east of Jebel Qurma. The
site had approximately 200 structures across the entire
top of the table mound. Soundings focused on two small
circular buildings, one a single cell installation and the
other a double cell structure with haphazardly piled walls
and small compartments about 2-3 m2 in extent (Rowan
et al. 2015, 179-180). Unfortunately, their shallow deposits
produced no dateable artefacts, although a LC/EBA date is
assumed on the basis of some cortical scrapers scattered
across the wider site (Wasse et al. 2012, 17, 23).
In the case of Jebel Qurma, the largest sites with both
single and double cell ghura huts occur in the surroundings
of its eponymous hill, where Wadi Rajil debouches out
of the basalt into stretches of gravel plains. Low on the
northern slope of Jebel Qurma itself is the 8-ha site of
QUR-6 with some 225 structures of dierent shapes and
sizes (Fig. 7).3 The site may even cover a much larger area
3 An earlier paper tentatively dated the site of QUR-6 to the sixth
millennium BC (Akkermans et al. 2014, 195) but this view now
appears to be incorrect.
Figure 6. Distribution of LC/EBA sites in the Jebel Qurma region (base map: Landsat 7 – United States Geological Survey;
Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
(up to 12 ha) if we include an outlying area with dozens of
cell buildings on the far eastern portion of the hill. Similar
spatially separate arrays of dwellings within sites are
found elsewhere in the Jebel Qurma area and may be due
to internal chronological variation or social constraints
(Akkermans et al. 2014, 192-197).
High on the slope above the settlement at QUR-6 was
a string of round or oval, stone-walled enclosures up to
21 m in diameter. Several enclosures also stood in the
settlement area lower down, with sometimes one or more
double cell structures or other installations attached to
them. The enclosures may have been used for keeping
livestock or, perhaps, the intermittent storage of run-o
water in the rainy season (Akkermans et al. 2014, 196;
Philip and Bradbury 2010, 141, 145).
The lower-situated area for habitation had roughly 70
circular or horseshoe-shaped, single cell structures as well
as a similar amount of double cell buildings; in addition,
there were 17 structures with three or four compartments.
The single cell dwellings were generally small, measuring
c. 2-3 m across. The double cell installations were between
2.8 and 9.5 m long and between 2.4 and 6.5 m wide. The
compartments in each building varied from 1 to 4 m in
diameter and were divided from each other by narrow
partitioning walls. One or more passages c. 0.7 m wide
gave access to the buildings. The walls of the features were
made of piled basalt boulders, with a maximum preserved
height of about 1 m. The roong of the structures remains
unknown; it was probably low and made of perishable
materials, such as hides and branches. Narrow pathways
(40-50 cm wide) ran through the settlement and connected
the various structures in the rocky basalt setting, which is
otherwise dicult to move across.
In 2017 we excavated two examples of the double
cell buildings at QUR-6, both of which were lled with
up to 0.5 m of thick wind-blown deposits and loose basalt
rocks (probably wall collapse) (Figs. 8-11). They had an
exterior measuring about 7 m in length and 4.3-4.6 m in
width. Their walls were remarkably wide (1-1.6 m) and
low (0.5-0.7 m), and were made of irregularly piled basalt
blocks that gently sloped on the outside; in contrast, the
cell interiors had straight and carefully stacked facades.4
A single doorway c. 0.4-0.65 m wide gave access to each
of the buildings, located either at its long side (structure
126) or at its end (structure 144). A passage in the middle
connected the two cells. In structure 126, a large at upright
stone served as wall facade in the opening that connected
the compartments. Since it protrudes 20-30 cm above the
top of this connecting wall, it may have been placed there
to reinforce the passage or, perhaps, to support the roof.
When compared to the wall sizes, the interior cells in the
buildings were astonishingly small: about 1.1 x 1.6 m and
1.3 x 1.5 (in structure 126) and about 1.6 x 2 m and 2 x
2.8 m (in structure 144). The oor in structure 144 simply
consisted of bedrock (cleared of its natural basalt carpet),
while structure 126 had an irregular pavement made of
small, at basalt stones. One or more small, shallow hollows
(lacking any nds) were sunk into the oors, next to walls.
The buildings were practically empty, with the exception
of a cortical scraper identied in the main entrance of
structure 144 and a worked int nodule in each of its cells;
hence, the exact date of the buildings remains uncertain.
Nothing is known about the superstructure of these cell
4 None of the walls showed the “double-faced masonry” said to be
characteristic of the sites in the Jawa hinterland; cf. Müller-Neuhof
2017, 125.
Figure 7. The numerous
ghura dwellings and
enclosures at the site
of QUR-6, at the foot of
the hill of Jebel Qurma.
View to the north. The
area of settlement visible
here is about 450 m
wide (photograph:
0091, David Kennedy).
Figure 8 (right). The double
cell ghura structure 126 at
QUR-6, prior to excavation
(photograph: Jebel Qurma
Project Archive).
Figure 9 (below). The double
cell ghura structure 126
at QUR-6, after excavation
(photograph: Jebel Qurma
Project Archive).
buildings, although the use of perishable materials is
likely. For example, Rowan et al. (2015, 180) suggest that
the low walls were used to hold down the edges of hide
roofs. Such– highly portable – roong materials would
suit the interpretation that there was a relatively short-
lived, temporary occupation of the buildings, with people
perhaps seasonally returning to them. Actually, one of
the excavated cell buildings (structure 144) contained
evidence for possible re-use, although in only one of its
cells: part of the wall of the other cell had collapsed, after
which the passage originally connecting both cells seems
to have been blocked.
Another major LC/EBA I site (QUR-371) is found at
the foot of a basalt-strewn hill at a distance of only 700 m
from QUR-6. This site is about 2 ha in areal extent. In
its core area, measuring about 160 by 80 m, stood some
50 single and double cell structures, clustered in three
distinct groupings around several large enclosures.
An outlying area to the north-west had a much more
dispersed alignment of seven round dwellings. About
900 m east of QUR-371 is yet another concentration of
37 ghura structures, spread over an area of about 100 by
50 m (QUR-8). Most of the buildings were round, although
there is also a double cell structure. Signicantly, the
site is located next to a so-called kite (an extensive
installation primarily related to hunting activities; on
kites in the Jebel Qurma area, see Akkermans et al. 2014,
188-190); it is not excluded that this kite is the main
reason for the presence of the ghura structures here.
If so, the hunting of large game must have been highly
important to the local LC/EBA community. Two other
(very) small occupations with only two or three circular
installations were close by this kite.
Although unambiguous contemporaneity cannot be
established yet, we suggest that the agglomeration of
sites at the mouth of Wadi Rajil, in close proximity and in
clear sight of each other, maintained intimate reciprocal
relations. Their specic location– at the interface of the
basalt uplands and the vast gravel plains – probably
had strategic advantages, such as the availability of
Figure 10. The double cell ghura structure 144 at QUR-6, after excavation (photograph: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
seasonally abundant sources of water and extensive
grounds for herding, hunting, as well as (small-scale)
agriculture. The attractive setting also facilitated access
to, and control of, the major north-south route that ran
through Wadi Rajil that helped to connect Arabia and
Syria. Given the size of the sites and the large number of
structures in them,5 many hundreds of people may have
lived and worked together in the area.
The importance of Wadi Rajil for local settlement
is emphasised by a second sizeable cluster of LC/EBA
sites only 2.5 km upstream. These are spread in places
along Wadi Rajil and several smaller tributaries in the
hinterland. The main site was QUR-188, with dozens
of round, single cell structures as well as a few double
cell buildings, which were all set in rows along the
foot of a basalt promontory. Such a position oered a
sweeping view over Wadi Rajil below and Qa’ Mejalla in
the distance. The site stretches over an area of at least
350 by 60 m (c. 2 ha), although its original extent and
layout of settlement remains unknown, due to severe
5 These structures, we suggest, were in use more or less
simultaneously, as most of them seem not to overlie each other or
to have been modied in later phases.
bulldozing associated with the construction of a dam
in Wadi Rajil in the late 1980s.6 There were three other
occupations situated on high ground in the sheltered
wadi valleys deeper inside the basalt terrain, less than
1.5 km to the east of QUR-188: all of these were made in
pre-existing enclosures and wheels. Maximum site sizes
were between 0.1 and 0.5 ha. One site also had a few LC/
EBA I tombs (see below).
A third major group of LC/EBA sites is situated in
an entirely dierent setting of the Jebel Qurma region,
on two low, basalt-covered rises that lie opposite each
other on the edge of an extensive mud at (cf. Fig. 6). The
southern rise had a 200 by 50 m concentration of several
dozen single cell ‘huts’ on the slope (QUR-290), in addition
to a wheel about 60 m across. A similar-sized wheel
stood 2 km to the south and contained cortical scrapers.
Still further to the south-east were several enclosures
measuring about 100 by 60 m, partly surrounded by single
cell buildings. The northern rise opposite QUR-290 had
three typical wheels c. 60-70 m in diameter with cortical
6 Corona satellite imagery from the 1970s shows several large
enclosures and what may be many more ghura structures that do
not exist anymore today. See:
Figure 11. The double cell ghura structure 144 at QUR-6, after excavation. The entrance is on the right (photograph: Jebel
Qurma Project Archive).
tool assemblages, as well as some enclosures about 45 m
across at the foot of the mound.
There are also a few small LC/EBA enclosures found
on terraces along an inland wadi that sliced through the
steep-sloped southern rim of the basalt plateau. Still further
south, survey in selected parts of the Hazimah plains
identied several enclosure sites situated in sheltered areas
near limestone hillocks with relatively dense LC/EBA lithic
assemblages (Fig. 12). LC/EBA material was not conned to
the enclosures but also extended to the limestone hilltops
and their slopes, characterised by small but distinctive lithic
scatters without architecture. At least one of these places
served as a knapping site, with many cores and debitage
pieces loosely spread over an area of roughly one hectare
(cf. Akkermans et al. 2014, 200-202; Huigens 2015). The sites
clearly show that LC/EBA settlement was not restricted to
the basalt expanse proper but also included the persistent
exploitation of the adjacent hamad plains. This conclusion is
in agreement with nds from, for example, the Ruwayshid
region in north-eastern Jordan (Betts 2013; Müller-Neuhof
2013a). It also aligns with contemporary developments in
steppe and desert settings south of Jebel Qurma, such as in
the Jafr basin (Fujii 2013) and, still further to the south, the
Thulaythuwat area (Abu-Azizeh 2013).
Fourth millennium burials
While there is an abundance of LC/EBA domestic sites in
the Jebel Qurma area, the number of associated burials
is still astonishingly low: only two cairns can be securely
dated to this period at present (cf. Fig. 6). Although we
may expect many more tombs in the region, issues such as
frequent re-use and looting have led to often substantial
adjustments, which limit their identication. To a very large
extent, typological quantication depends on excavation
(cf. Akkermans et al. 2020). Additionally, it cannot be
excluded that the practice of burial in cairns was selective
in the period under consideration. Perhaps the majority of
the dead were disposed of in ways that are still elusive to
us. In a recent paper, Bradbury and Philip (2017, 89) state:
“…the EB I, at least in the Southern Levant, is characterised
by a distinct peak in burial activity; the dead, as well as
the living, in this period would appear to be highly visible,
rather than invisible, to us.” They hasten to add, however,
that there also was a substantial degree of spatial and
temporal variation, with certain areas intensively used for
burial, whilst others were restricted to specic individuals
or groups (ibid.). Perhaps the latter option is valid for the
Jebel Qurma area in the LC/EBA I period.
Figure 12. LC/EBA enclosure at the site of HAZ-47 in the Hazimah plains. The single-row structure is about 18 m in
diameter (photograph: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
One of the two tombs from the Jebel Qurma area is a
round tower tomb, about 3.4 m in diameter and 1 m in height,
which is free-standing at a prominent high point along Wadi
Rajil (QUR-956; Fig. 13). The tomb was built of large, at
basalt slabs, resulting in a relatively straight and even façade.
Its original contents were not preserved, due to the re-use of
the tower for burial in the second century AD.7 Material from
underneath the outer wall of the tomb gave an OSL date of
5580 ± 420 BP, or roughly 3980-3140 BC (see Table 2).
The other tomb, about 4.8 m across and 1.1 m high, was
partly set on the walls of an earlier built wheel (QUR-945;
see Fig. 6). It had a central burial chamber that was oval to
rectangular in shape, and had a pavement of at, unworked
stones. Large, at capstones covered the chamber, with
another layer of basalt blocks of dierent sizes deposited on
top. Inside the chamber were the poorly preserved remains
of an adult individual in situ. Signicantly, a int tabular
scraper was laid next to the head of the deceased, apparently
as a burial gift. In addition, there were two stone beads, one
made of carnelian and the other of a green translucent stone.
7 By the time of re-use, the tomb was partially ruined. However, its
interior chamber was renovated and the entire tomb was given
a new covering of basalt blocks, which entirely hid the original
structure from view.
Late third millennium developments
Although the occurrence of cortical scrapers and related
tools formally allows for a date in the middle of the third
millennium BC (Rosen 1997, 75), evidence for an extended,
early third millennium presence at the harrah sites in
Jordan is conspicuously absent until now (cf. Smith, this
volume). The nearest EBA II-III occupations are found at
the sites of Khirbet al-Umbashi and Khirbet ed-Dab’a some
100 km further north on the fringes of the basalt zone in
Syria (cf. Braemer 1993; Braemer et al. 2004). While this
may be a reection of the current, limited state of research
in the basalt expanse, it may, alternatively, indicate local
abandonments and reorganisations.
Signicantly, in addition to its extensive fourth
millennium settlement, Jawa had a minor phase of re-use at
about 2000 BC, primarily characterised by a single ‘citadel’
building about 30 by 26 m in extent (Helms 1981; 1989). It
is assumed that the planned, symmetrical residence with
its many cubicles and upper storey was used for about a
century or so, perhaps as an isolated caravanserai (Bourke
2013, 471). It also may have acted as a multi-functional
intermediary between desert pastoralists and more
sedentary communities in Transjordan and southern Syria
(Helms 1989). Jawa’s brief resettlement has long been
Figure 13. The fourth millennium BC tower tomb at QUR-956 (photograph: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
deemed to represent an isolated, intermittent phenomenon.
Helms (1989, 141) notes that from the EBA IV ‘citadel’ it is
possible to see the southward path of Wadi Rajil, which
served as a major north-south route through the otherwise
dicult-to-cross basalt uplands. While Jawa is at the upper
reaches of Wadi Rajil, the Jebel Qurma range is some 70 km
downstream where the wadi emerges from the basalt onto
the open plains of Hazimah. In this respect, it perhaps
comes as no surprise that recent survey and excavation in
the Jebel Qurma area have identied a number of EBA IV
domestic sites and cemeteries. Jawa, it appears, stood not
on its own but was one of probably many sites in the harrah
at the end of the third millennium BC, connected through
relatively easy-to-travel wadis and mud pans.
The sites of this period, dated to c. 2300-2000 BC (EBA IV
or Intermediate Bronze Age; cf. Richard 2013; Prag 2013)
based on pottery nds and/or 14C and OSL dates, comprise
both dwelling sites and burials. Until now, only 13 residential
sites have been identied in the Jebel Qurma region (Fig. 14),
although we suspect more of the identied sites to date
within this period; the sites cannot be dated properly, due to
their undiagnostic ceramics. The dwelling sites varied from
groups of enclosures at the foot of the basalt promontories to
wheels in relatively secluded high grounds, and simple open
clearings in the basalt for camping. Several small enclosures
sites were also made in sheltered locales in the Hazimah
plain, to the south of the basalt range (Fig. 14). None of the
sites were newly founded in the EBA IV; without exception,
they were palimpsests, with evidence for repeated, periodic
use over many centuries or even millennia. The size of
the area of habitation in a given period is often dicult to
establish, due to the limited number of artefacts. However,
Figure 14. Distribution of EBA IV sites in the Jebel Qurma region (base map: Landsat 7 – United States Geological Survey;
Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
most of the identied sites measured only between 40 and
100 m across.
The domestic sites each yielded pottery fragments,
although in (very) small quantities. The shapes range from
hole-mouth pots and bowls with (sometimes incised) ledge
handles to medium-sized jars with everted rims, at bases
and ledge handles low on the body (Figs. 15-16). These
types of pottery have parallels at late third to early second
millennium sites elsewhere in the southern Levant, such as
Jawa (Helms 1989, 152.; 1991, 99-100 and Fig. 154), Tiwal
esh-Sharqi (Helms 1983; Tubb et al. 1990), Bab edh-Dhra’
(Schaub and Rast 1989), Jericho (Kenyon and Holland 1983,
168, g. 66.5; Nigro et al. 2005, 174, gs. 182.16-182.17),
Khirbet Iskander (e.g. Richard et al. 1984, 81.) and Tell
Rukais (Betts et al. 1996).
Pottery also occurred in four tombs high up on the
slope of a basalt-covered hillock along Wadi Rajil. They
each contained a single small, short-necked jar with a at
Figure 15. EBA IV amphoriskoi from tombs at QUR-951 in the Jebel Qurma region (photograph: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
base and, occasionally, loop handles (Fig. 15). The pots
closely resemble the amphoriskoi found in the late third
millennium cemeteries at Bab edh-Dhra’ near the Dead
Sea and Tiwal esh-Sharqi in the central Jordan Valley
(Helms 1983, 74 and Fig. 18, nos. 4, 12-14; Schaub and Rast
1989, 473.; Schaub 1973, Fig. 6; Tubb et al. 1990). They
also have parallels at EBA IV settlements like Khirbet al-
Batrawi near Zarqa (Sala 2006a, 103 and Fig. 3.9) and Tell
Umm Hamad (e.g. Kennedy 2015, 14 and Fig. 3, nos. 18-25).
The four tombs with ceramics were part of a larger
cemetery (QUR-951), consisting of some thirty cairns in total
(Akkermans and Brüning 2017; Akkermans et al. 2020).
The cairn eld was high on the slope of a basalt-covered
hillock, with a panoramic view over the meandering ood
plain of Wadi Rajil below. The area with the cairns was used
previously for groupings of stone-walled enclosures from
the Late Neolithic period (c. 6400-6100 BC). Excavation of
13 cairns showed that they mainly consisted of small and
low tower tombs, up to about 3 m across and up to 0.6 m in
(preserved) height. Some of these tombs were round and
others were more square-shaped with rounded corners
(Fig. 17). They were all rather quickly built structures with
relatively rough and uneven stacked façades. The interior
burial chambers were notably small: round chambers were
about 1 m in diameter, while oval chambers were about
0.7-1.4 m in length and 0.5-0.8 m in width. Their internal
height varied between 0.3-0.6 m. The chamber walls were
either corbelled or straight and covered with capstones.
Given their size, the tombs cannot have been used for
interment in a supine position but must have facilitated
contracted burial, with the deceased resting on the side.
Unfortunately, the preservation of the skeletal remains in
the tombs was extremely meagre, with at most a few small
fragments of bones or teeth remaining. Moreover, most of
the tombs were looted, further contributing to the poor
preservation of the bones (and other nds). In addition to
the tower tombs, there were also a few other small cairns
in the cemetery, consisting of conical piles of stones, with
a small corbelling burial chamber inside. They resemble
the so-called ‘ring cairns’ (see below) but lack the typical
Figure 16. Hand-made, mineral-tempered EBA IV pottery from sites in the Jebel Qurma area. No. 1: pot with incised
ledge handle from a wheel at QUR-146. No. 2: pot with ledge handle from an enclosure at QUR-637. No. 3: complete
bowl with upward ledge handle from an enclosure at QUR-300. No. 4: amphoriskos from a tomb at QUR-951. No. 5: at
base from a tomb at QUR-951. No. 6: loop handle from a wheel at QUR-172. No. 7: ledge handle from an enclosure at
HAZ-47 in the Hazimah plain. No. 8: loop handle from a wheel at QUR-147. No. 9: impressed ledge handle from a wheel
at QUR-146 (drawings: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
outer ring of large basalt blocks. No nds are associated
with these tombs.
Although none of these other tombs contained pottery,8
we believe them to be roughly contemporaneous with
8 Some tombs had a few beads made of stone and shell, but most of
the (excavated) EBA IV cairns yielded no artefacts at all.
each other on the basis of the strong similarities in their
type and construction. A cemetery of this size suggests a
use by a fairly large population, although the sites for the
living remain unknown; perhaps the large enclosures on a
terrace below the graveyard served this purpose.
Two other tombs, one at the site of QUR-147 and the
other at QUR-207, can be ascribed to the EBA IV period,
Figure 17. A typical tower tomb in the EBA IV cemetery at QUR-951, with on the left the tower in 3D and on the right
its plan. A: the outer wall of the tomb. B: the interior burial chamber. The area between the outer wall and the central
chamber was lled with basalt stones (photograph: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
Figure 18. The large EBA IV ring cairn at QUR-207. The cairn is about 10 m in diameter and about 1.8 m high (photograph:
Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
Lab. No. Sample No. Material Site Tomb Type Date BP 2δ calibrated date
(95.4% reliability)
GrM-12051 SN17-051 Human bone bioapatite QUR-147 Ring Cairn 3701 ± 14 2139-2035 BC
GrM-12076 SN17-051 Human bone bioapatite QUR-147 Ring Cairn 3740 ± 14 2202-2050 BC
GrM-13351 SN17-051 Human bone bioapatite QUR-147 Ring Cairn 3593 ± 18 2018-1891 BC
GrM-13204 SN17-093 Human bone bioapatite QUR-207 Ring Cairn 3586 ± 14 2009-1891 BC
GrM-11920 SN17-092 Human bone bioapatite QUR-207 Ring Cairn 1585 ± 16 421-537 AD
GrM-12056 SN17-092 Human bone bioapatite QUR-207 Ring Cairn 1779 ± 12 218-328 AD
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-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
1890 ± 30 56-217 AD
GrM-12053 SN17-088 Human bone bioapatite QUR-118 Tower Tomb 1941 ± 12 23-116 AD
GrM-13207 SN17-088 Human bone bioapatite QUR-118 Tower Tomb 1670 ± 13 341-411 AD
GrM-12054 SN17-090 Human bone bioapatite QUR-118 Tower Tomb 2222 ± 12 365-207 BC
GrM-13206 SN17-090 Human bone bioapatite QUR-118 Tower Tomb 2041 ± 13 95 BC- 4 AD
GrA-68436 SN16-208 Human teeth collagen QUR-2 Tower Tomb 1970 ± 40 50 BC – 125 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
GrM-11918 SN17-087 Human bone bioapatite QUR-148 Cist Grave 1957 ± 14 7-77 AD
GrM-11919 SN17-087 Human bone bioapatite QUR-148 Cist Grave 1996 ± 14 41 BC – 52 AD
GrM-12052 SN17-087 Human bone bioapatite QUR-148 Cist Grave 2020 ± 12 49 BC – 19 AD
GrM-13139 SN17-087 Human bone collagen QUR-148 Cist Grave 1815 ± 25 128-254 AD
GrM-13134 SN-17-025 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
Table 1. 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, The
Lab. No. Sample No. Tomb Tomb Type Date BP Date BC / AD
NLC-8216145 SN16-154 QUR-956 Tower Tomb 5580 ± 420 3985-3095 BC
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-8216147 SN16-234 QUR-2 Cist Grave 2190 ± 150 325-25 BC
NLC-8216146 SN16-155 QUR-9 Tail 2770 ± 470 1225-285 BC
NLC-8216144 SN16-153 QUR-970 Tail 2690 ± 460 1135-215 BC
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-8218140 OSL18-2 QUR-75 Tail 2200 ± 600 780 BC – 420 AD
NLC-8218142 OSL18-7 QUR-80 Tail 2300 ± 600 880 BC – 320 AD
NLC-8218143 OSL18-8 QUR-98 Tail 1400 ± 300 320 AD – 920 AD
Table 2. 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).
on the basis of 14C data from the skeletal remains in them.
Both were so-called ‘ring cairns’, 8.5-10 m in diameter
and up to 1.8 m high. They were conical in shape and
characterised by a central burial chamber encircled by an
outer ring of large stones (Fig. 18). Each of them contained
the poorly preserved remains of a single adult individual
in a probably contracted position; importantly, the
individual at QUR-207 was associated with a stone wrist-
guard (see for a detailed description the contribution by
Keshia Akkermans, this volume). Bone material from the
cairns gave 14C dates between 2200-1890calBC (QUR-147)
and 2010-1890calBC (QUR-207; see Table 1). An OSL date
from underneath the outer ring of the cairn at QUR-147 has
very large margins (2300 BC– 100 AD) but is still within the
ranges of the 14C dates (Table 2).
The single ring cairn at QUR-147 clearly was a later
addition to a (Chalcolithic) wheel which had no other
evidence for late third millennium use. However, proof (in
the form of a few pottery fragments) for contemporaneous
occupation was found at the neighbouring wheel of
QUR-146, some 200 m to the north. Perhaps people at the
latter site made use of the former wheel for the burial of
(some of) their dead.
While the cairn at QUR-147 stood on its own, the
ring cairn atop the hill of QUR-207 on Wadi Rajil had
three, or possibly four, small tower tombs in its close
vicinity, assumedly contemporaneous in date. At the
time of construction of these cairns, a series of extensive
enclosures dating between the late seventh to fourth
millennium stood at the foot of the mound; their additional
use for dwelling in the late third millennium BC is likely.
Second millennium BC: absence of
Tell Rukais and other nd spots on Wadi al-‘Ajib, on the
boundary of the dry steppe some 50 km west of Jawa,
produced evidence of substantial, lengthy use as well as
fortications in the Middle Bronze Age, after 2000/1900 BC
(Betts et al. 1996; Sala 2006b). However, proof for settlement
in the second millennium BC is extremely sparse in
the desert region further to the east. Some late second
millennium tombs (after c. 1150 BC) have been found in
the Jebel Qurma heights and at Wisad Pools (see below).
However, the associated areas for dwelling have not yet
been identied, despite comprehensive survey of both
highly visible places with dense artefact scatters and
ephemeral sites with low visibility and few nds. It has been
suggested that detrimental climatic conditions contributed
to a wholesale evacuation of the basalt wasteland (cf.
Akkermans et al. 2014, 204; Akkermans and Huigens 2018,
507; Müller-Neuhof 2014, 235), but solid environmental data
are absent for the region in the period under consideration.
An alternative, and probably more likely, explanation is
that the current absence of sites is predominantly a matter
of visibility. Both survey and excavation have demonstrated
that the local communities did not use pottery (or any other
durable mass artefact, for that matter) from the EBA IV until
the late Roman period, making them extremely dicult to
detect in the eld (Akkermans 2019; see also, e.g., Banning
1996 on site visibility). The absence of ceramics for some
2000 years should not be confused with the lack of people
in the basalt desert. Recent excavation of tombs in the Jebel
Qurma area have begun to ll the hitherto assumed ‘gap’
more and more, with the discovery of apsidal tower tombs
probably dating to about 1150-800 BC (cf. Akkermans et al.
2020). While habitation sites have not yet been identied
for the second and early rst millennium BC, they are
known from the late rst millennium, after c. 400 BC (see
below). Their existence in earlier contexts is, we believe, a
matter of increasing investigation in the eld.
The absence of pottery in the basalt desert for about
two millennia is an intriguing and as of yet unexplained
phenomenon. Ceramics were used in great abundance by
contemporary (Middle Bronze Age and Iron Age) settled
communities in Transjordan as far east as the foothills
of Jebel al-Druze, only a few dozen kilometres from the
fringes of the basalt expanse. It can hardly be doubted that
people in the harrah were aware of pottery and its uses,
thanks to the good evidence from burials for the import of a
variety of exotic products (jewellery, metal; see Akkermans
2019; Akkermans et al. 2020). This interregional exchange
existed for many centuries, although its scale and
intensity remains elusive for the moment. The exclusion
of pottery from this trade must have been intentional
and meaningful – it was a deliberate, enduring choice
to not participate in either the production, exchange or
use of ceramics. Because of its fragility, pottery is often
considered to be inconsistent with nomadic lifeways but
this perspective appears to be too simplistic: there were
(and still are) many mobile groups that either produced or
traded ceramics for their own use (see e.g. Cribb 1991; Beck
2009; Gibbs 2012; Grillo 2014; Heitz and Stapfer 2017). That
is why a purely functional explanation for the absence of
ceramics in the Black Desert over so many generations and
centuries is unlikely. In all probability, self-imposed social
constraints were in place, which kept the local groups to
a very large extent apart from the settled communities
of Transjordan and elsewhere. Although the current
evidence remains admittedly fragmentary, there is reason
to believe that the desert groups of the second and rst
millennium BC were highly autonomous in their lifeways
and deliberately refrained from an overly close aliation
with the urban polities of their time. The often-dismissed
dichotomy between the ‘desert-and-the-sown’ may
have been a reality to a very large extent in this period
(Akkermans 2019).
Iron Age cairns
While rst millennium settlements are still few and far
between, there is an abundance of contemporary cairns
for burial in the Jebel Qurma area, particularly for the
period after c. 700/600 BC (Akkermans and Brüning 2017;
Akkermans et al. 2020). The cairns were on relatively
dicult-to-reach high plateaus and the summits of
the basalt hills, above and away from the areas of
settlement. They mainly were isolated, single installations;
concentrations of graves in Iron Age cemeteries are absent
until now, although the latter seem to be present near Qaf
and Ithra’ at the onset of the Wadi Sirhan, close to Saudi-
Jordanian border (Adams et al. 1977, 36). Signicantly,
tombs of this period are not restricted to the basalt terrain
proper but also are found on top of low hills in the adjacent
hamad. People, it appears, exploited the entirety of the
north-eastern badia and buried their dead at favourable
places in a range of dierent environments. So far, some
45 cairns have been excavated in the Jebel Qurma region,
oering new and exciting insights. Very few tombs have
been investigated systematically in other parts of the Black
Desert (see Harding 1953, 1978; Clark 1981; Richter 2014;
Rowan et al. 2015; also Kennedy 2012).
Several types of Iron Age cairns can be distinguished,
which remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of
years. Large, conical ring cairns and round tower tombs occur
most frequently, while rectangular cist graves are found only
occasionally and only between 300 BC and 200 AD.9 A fourth
type of cairns, apsidal tower tombs, seem to be an exclusively
early feature. These tentatively date to c. 1150-800 BC, on the
basis of artefacts in them, including a typical early Iron Age
9 Dated on the basis of both 14C and OSL samples; see Tables 1 and 2.
Figure 19. 3D image of the apsidal tower tomb at the site of QUR-1075, with its explicitly straight façade oriented to the
east. A: outer wall; B: burial chamber. The cairn measures about 3.8 by 3.5 m, with a preserved height of about 1.2 m
(photograph: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
scarab in one tomb and a carnelian axe-shaped pendant in
another tomb. These tombs, about 4 m across and up to 1.2 m
in height, are roughly hemispherical or squarish in plan with
one straight façade which is usually oriented towards the
east (Fig. 19). Until now, they occur in groups of two to seven
cairns at only two, neighbouring sites in the easternmost part
of the Jebel Qurma range. In one instance, the interior burial
chamber contained the mixed skeletal remains of three
individuals laid next to each other in a single event (a mature
adult, anked on either side by an adolescent and a child,
10-16 years of age). All were placed in a strongly contracted
position on their side, roughly oriented east-west, and with
the head to the west.
A common type of Iron Age burial was the conical ‘ring
cairns’, with their characteristic outer ring of large basalt
blocks that encircled an oval, corbelled burial chamber in
the centre (Fig. 20). Basalt blocks lled in the area between
the outer ring and the central chamber. These tombs are
typically 5-8 m across at their base and about 1-1.5 m high.
Occasionally, larger ring cairns do occur, measuring up
to 10-12 m in diameter, but these appear to consist of two
superimposed cairns (Akkermans et al. 2020). Although
skeletal preservation is generally poor, it is clear that the
deceased consistently were laid to rest in a exed position
on the side– a characteristic which the ring cairns shared
with the other types of tombs.
The ring cairns seem to represent an enduring form
of burial that was used locally already in the late third
millennium BC, if not before (see above). A momentous
innovation in the rst millennium BC was the attachment
of a chain of small cairns o of the head of the main
cairn, which could be up to 135 m in length (Figs. 21-22).
These chains consisted of ve to fty round or roughly
rectangular cairns: some of these were low, inconspicuous
heaps of rocks, while others were prominent features (up
to 2 m long, 0.8 m wide, and 1 m high). Selected excavation
of cairns of twelve chains at dierent sites yielded no
evidence whatsoever of human remains or artefacts
within or underneath them. Hence, their function as
actual tombs can be excluded. Several researchers have
suggested a commemorative role for these chains of cairns
(Kennedy 2011, 3190; Rowan et al. 2015, 180), but their
precise meaning remains elusive.
The tailed tombs are often assumed to be prehistoric
in date (e.g. Parr et al. 1978, 40; Rollefson et al. 2016, 941;
see also Kennedy 2011, 3195) but this view is incorrect.
Figure 20. The ring cairn at the site of QUR-1078 in the Jebel Qurma area. The typical outer ring of large basalt bocks
at the base of the cairn is clearly visible. The cairn is about 4.5 m in diameter and 1.5 m high (photograph: Jebel Qurma
Project Archive).
OSL dates from seven cairn chains, supported by 14C dates
and/or artefact assemblages from the associated main
tombs, show that these features were made in the rst
millennium BC and afterwards, probably up to c. 300 AD
(see Tables 1-2). Additional evidence for a date of the tailed
tombs in the rst millennium BC comes from excavated
burials in Yemen (De Maigret 2009, 331).
Yet another common type of Iron Age burial cairn was
the large, round tower tombs, up to 5 m in diameter and
1.5 m high (Fig. 23). In contrast to the early rst millennium
apsidal tower tombs, the round tower tombs always occur
as single installations, situated on prominent, eye-catching
high grounds with great visibility from the plains below.
These tombs, we believe, were “powerful and permanent
vehicles for commemorating the dead and linked the
past and present in a highly visual and public way. Far
from being “secretive” or understood by insiders only,
these tombs were easily recognised by locals and foreign
visitors to the region alike and may have inspired awe and
reverence. These burial grounds must have been liminal
places full of social memory; the continual re-use and the
repeated burial events at these sites over many centuries
conrmed their long-lived role as focal points for social
and ritual gatherings of the communities in the area.”
(Akkermans and Brüning 2017, 139).
Figure 21. Aerial photograph
of the tail of 26 small cairns
and its associated tomb at
the site of QUR-28 in the
Jebel Qurma region. The
chain of small cairns is about
67 m long (photograph:
0141, David Kennedy).
Figure 22. Detail of the tail
and its individual, rectangular
cairns at QUR-28. They
measure each about 2 by
1.5 m and are about 0.6 m
high (photograph: Jebel
Qurma Project Archive).
Several round tower tombs had rectangular, east-west
oriented cist graves attached to them later, which were up
to 2.7 m long, 1.5 m wide, and 1 m high. Originally, these
graves were covered with capstones. During later re-use,
a layer of basalt rocks replaced the capstones, being laid
directly on the remains of one or two individuals in a
crouched position. Remarkably, one of the cist graves was
accompanied with a small, irregular hollow covered with
basalt blocks, containing selective skeletal parts (skulls and
long bones) of two individuals. It clearly was a secondary
deposit, probably consisting of remains removed from the
cist grave in order to facilitate a new burial.
Each type of tomb contained grave goods in various
numbers, in the form of either personal jewellery or,
occasionally, iron weaponry (arrowheads, javelins; see
Keshia Akkermans, this volume). Pottery was entirely
absent, but several tombs had fragments of a single, small
bronze bowl. An extraordinary nd was the discovery of
grion vulture legs in two late rst millennium BC tower
tombs, which may have served as amulets. Finds from
one cist grave included four (weathered) Seleucid bronze
coins, one of which could be securely dated to the reign of
Antiochus IX Cyzicenus (114-95 BC). Another cairn provided
a silver Seleucid tetradrachme dated to Antiochus VII
Euergetes (138-129 BC; cf. Houghton et al. 2008) (Fig. 24).
Interestingly, the Iron Age cairns in the Jebel Qurma area
are often found in places that also have substantial numbers
of petroglyphs, roughly dated between the third/second
century BC and the third/fourth century AD. Although it is
tempting the assume a direct, funerary relationship between
the cairns and the rock art (e.g. Oxtoby 1968; Winnett 1978;
see Macdonald 2015 for a recent evaluation), the proof for
such an intimate bond is very meagre. Fieldwork in the Jebel
Qurma region has identied almost 10,000 petroglyphs and
inscriptions at present (cf. Brusgaard 2019; Della Puppa,
Figure 23. Round tower
tomb at the site of QUR-
1075. The cairn is 3.7 m in
diameter and preserved
to a height of 1.2 m
(photograph: Jebel Qurma
Project Archive).
Figure 24. Seleucid coins from tombs in the Jebel Qurma
region. No. 1: silver Seleucid tetradrachme from the surface
of a looted cairn at QUR-238. Obverse shows the diademed
head of Antiochus VII Euergetes (138-129 BC). Reverse shows
an eagle with closed wings standing left on a ship’s bow, with
a palm branch under the right wing. BAΣIΛEΩΣ ANTIOXOY.
Minted in Tyre and dated 130/129 BC. No. 2: bronze coin
from the oor of a cist grave at QUR-2, showing the head
of Athena with helmet. Reverse shows a ship’s bow and
Cyzicenus (114-95 BC). No. 3: bronze coin, from the same
cist grave as coin no. 2. Obverse wholly weathered. Reverse
shows a palm tree. Date unknown (possibly Demetrius II,
129-125 BC) (photographs: Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
forthcoming), but only two Safaitic inscriptions explicitly
refer to a burial (Fig. 25). Excavation indisputably revealed
that many tombs were built with basalt blocks that were
previously inscribed with Safaitic rock art, and so they must
post-date the rock art.
In her study about the petroglyphs from Jebel Qurma,
Nathalie Brusgaard (2019, 166.) emphasises the strong
connection between the carvings and prominent vantage
points in the landscape. The latter, she argues, were vital
to the desert nomads and their lifeways, from a strategic,
economic, social, and ideological viewpoint. Because of
the great importance attached to specic locales, they
“perpetuated the production of carvings, continuously
creating new visual histories while reinforcing old ones.
Through the creation and accumulation of narratives, these
places probably took on special socio-economic meanings
for the desert nomads.” (ibid., 179). It is not a coincidence
that these places imbued with great social signicance also
attracted other powerful visual expressions of reverence
and memory, namely the burial cairns. The tombs further
enhanced the signicance of the rock-art sites in the
landscape and vice versa.
Settlement in the Hellenistic to Roman
and Roman/Byzantine periods
Solid evidence for domestic settlement is available from
the fourth/third century BC onwards, with several new
strands of data increasing overall site visibility. Some sites
had pre-Islamic (Safaitic) inscriptions on stone, dating
from perhaps as early as the third century BC up to the
fourth century AD, which referred to the construction or
the ownership of enclosures and other installations at
these places. Others had surface nds of Roman or Roman/
Byzantine pottery (no Hellenistic ceramics were found).
Excavation in an enclosure at QUR-595 uncovered two
replaces that were radiocarbon-dated to 400-210 cal BC
and 95 cal BC – 60 cal AD, respectively (Table 1); this suggests
that the enclosure was used more than once.
In a recent doctoral thesis, Harmen Huigens has
extensively discussed the evidence for settlement in the
Jebel Qurma region from the Hellenistic to the Early Islamic
periods, and we refer to his work for details on this topic
(Huigens 2019). Huigens has identied around 30 dwelling
sites for the period between c. 400/300 BC and 300 AD,
ranging from sites with stone-walled enclosures to simple
Figure 25. Safaitic inscription on the base of the ring cairn at the site of QUR-1078 (cf. Fig. 20). The text reads: l hs¹yb bn
ḏkr bn qmhz bn {k}n bn {ḥ}---- bn fḍg w ḥwr, “By Hs¹yb son of Ḏkr son of Qmhz son of {Kn} son of {Ḥ----} son of Fḏg and
he wept with grief”. It appears to give to name of one of the mourners rather than giving the name of the person buried
there (photograph: Jebel Qurma Project Archive. Reading: Michael Macdonald, Oxford).
open clearings for camping, or combinations thereof (ibid.,
138) (Fig. 26). More recent discoveries also include sites with
a single round building about 2-3 m in diameter, provided
with a narrow doorway and one or more pre-Islamic
inscriptions claiming its ownership (Figs. 27-28). The
enclosures also regularly had inscriptions, and consisted
either of single structures or of small, irregular groupings
several dozen metres across (Fig. 29). The many shallow
replaces in them suggest domestic and residential activity,
in addition to the oft-assumed function of the enclosures for
corralling animals. The enclosures may have easily shifted
roles according to need and preference, in agreement with
their discontinuous, episodic use. Huigens (2019, 140) notes
that the enclosures tend to be situated predominantly in
rather secluded, inland areas with low visual prominence,
perhaps indicating security concerns. Another option is that
they were the preferential winter camps of local nomadic
groups, with provisions for shelter and protection from the
cold for both humans and animals.
The clearings consisted of open areas between 20-50 m
in diameter, emptied of their natural basalt cover, probably
for camping. Architectural features are absent. The clearings
tend to occur in relatively easily accessible, low-lying areas
in valleys and near mud pans, close to seasonal water
sources and potential grazing areas. There is good evidence
for intermittent, ad hoc usage of the clearings, in the form of
artefact scatters from many dierent periods.
The dierent types of sites were small in size, usually
little more than several dozen metres across (a few larger
sites were around 1 ha in extent), and dispersed over the
basalt terrain and adjacent gravel plains. It appears that
people were living in single, small groups, in the order of
Figure 26. Distribution of Hellenistic to Roman and Roman/Byzantine dwelling sites in the Jebel Qurma region (base
map: Landsat 7 – United States Geological Survey; Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
a few dozen people at most. Given the shallow sediments
and their limited artefact assemblages, many sites were
used briey yet repeatedly (perhaps on a seasonal basis).
They may have served the recurrent residential needs of
highly mobile and nomadic groups, which exploited the
basalt landscape and the adjacent plains in a variety of
ways (cf. Huigens 2019).
Signicantly, the majority of the domestic sites tend to
occur along Wadi Rajil and its nearby hinterland, with only
a few sites found until now in the basalt uplands further to
the east (cf. Fig. 26). Although Wadi Rajil was a main focus
of settlement through the ages, we should probably refrain
from any overly rigid interpretation. When compared
with Wadi Rajil, the paucity of sites in the eastern half of
the Jebel Qurma range is at least partially explained by the
lower intensity and coverage of surveys here, particularly
in the low-lying areas. The occurrence of contemporary
tombs in the region also implies the presence of (as yet
unrecorded) areas for the living.
Earlier, we strongly interpreted settlement development
in the Jebel Qurma range in terms of cyclical shifts and
rearrangements, in association with factors such as climate
change. For example, in a 2014 report we concluded: “…it is
dicult to not assume substantial hiatuses in the regional
archaeological record; the Jebel Qurma area, it seems, was
punctuated by episodes of distinct settlement and regional
Figure 27. Small, round
installation (Structure 11) in
the middle of heavy basalt
blocks, high on the slope
of QUR-98. The site oers
an amazing outlook over
the gravel plains below. The
structure was surrounded
by three Safaitic inscriptions,
one of which claimed
ownership (photograph:
Jebel Qurma Project Archive).
Figure 28. One of three
Safaitic inscriptions next to
the entrance to Structure 11
at QUR-98, and claiming its
ownership. The text reads: l
ʾḥs¹n bn gdy h-zrb, “By ʾḥs¹n
son of Gdy is the enclosure”
(photograph: Jebel Qurma
Project Archive. Reading:
Michael Macdonald, Oxford).
abandonment.” (Akkermans et al. 2014, 203; see also Müller-
Neuhof 2013a, 227 for a similar conclusion regarding the
Jawa hinterland). To some extent, this perspective needs
revision. With increasing research, some hiatuses in the
local sequence of occupation have narrowed substantially
or even disappeared in their entirety. To give an example:
it was long assumed that people were absent in the area
in the Iron Age, until the arrival of ‘Safaitic’ groups in
second or rst century BC, but this viewpoint has been
dismissed by recent excavations of burials. They show
that most cairns actually date to the rst millennium BC,
emphasising an intensive use of the basalt region in
this period (Akkermans 2019; Akkermans et al. 2020).
However, from the data in the present paper, it should be
clear that we still cannot claim settlement continuity in
the Jebel Qurma region (and perhaps the Black Desert at
large) for all periods and ages. There is extensive evidence
for habitation in the late fth and fourth millennium but
it is virtually absent for the larger part of the third and
the entirety of the second millennium BC. These hiatuses
may be realities, although they undoubtedly also reect
research intensities and strategies to a considerable extent.
To mention but a few restrictions: the scale of eldwork is
still limited; the problems associated with it are manifold
(e.g. often restricted site visibility); and the chronological
framework needs substantial renement which can be
achieved only through excavation at relevant sites.
Signicantly, the data from Jebel Qurma suggest that the
main landscapes of Jordan’s north-eastern ‘panhandle’ –
the harrah and hamad – were inhabited and exploited
by people in each and every period under consideration
(cf. Huigens 2015, 192). From the fth to fourth millennium
onwards (if not before), the sites in the basalt range had
their contemporary counterparts in the gravel plains, in the
form of both settlement sites and tombs. From the late rst
millennium BC onwards, we nd Safaitic inscriptions also
in the hamad of Jebel Qurma. However, these are still very
rare, perhaps due to matters of preservation, as the few
known examples were made on limestone, which is prone
to weathering. With regard to the LC/EBA period, the largest
(and probably more permanent) sites with their many cell
structures were on the fringes of the basalt expanse, whereas
the hamad hinterland had evidence of small and dispersed
locales of enclosures, lithic scatters, and knapping sites.
The basalt terrain, it appears, was the preferential area for
settlement in this period, because of natural benets, such
Figure 29. Group of enclosures, covering an area of about 80 by 40 m at the foot of Jebel Qurma (QUR-595). They were
repeatedly used for domestic activities between 400 BC and 60 AD, according to 14C dates (photograph: Jebel Qurma
Project Archive).
as good grounds for shelter and the availability of water,
but perhaps also because of social considerations, such as
ancestral belongings and attachment to the area. It is likely
that the LC/EBA groups were engaged in forms of logistical
mobility, pursuing specic tasks in the hamad while moving
back and forth from their basecamps in the harrah.
When compared with the fth/fourth millennium sites,
settlement in the later periods seems to change rather
dramatically. Settlement in the late third millennium BC
(EBA IV) is restricted to the re-use of older installations in
selected places, without the cell buildings of the previous
period. First millennium sites seem to predominantly consist
of the temporary camp sites of nomadic populations. None
of these later sites were ever as large as the late prehistoric
settlements. The associated investments in architecture
were likewise much more restricted in the later periods,
with the exception of cairns for burial.
It should be recalled that the number of LC/EBA
tombs is still extremely low. With the onset of the EBA IV,
cemeteries with several dozen small and low tower tombs
made their appearance, emphasising the importance of
the community as a whole; local groups brought their
dead to selected, shared grounds instilled with ritual and
social memory. In the rst millennium BC, the focus shifted
from the communal to the individual, with the emphasis
on relatively isolated, elaborate tombs of dierent types
on prominent high grounds. These single tombs were
in keeping with the small-scale and dispersed nature of
settlement in this period. Because of their size and location
on panoramic vantage points, they also commemorated the
dead in a most visual and spectacular way, and conveyed
notions of remembrance and permanence to nomadic
people that frequently moved around. The ancestors, it
appears, were vital to the rst millennium BC communities.
We wish to express our gratitude to the Department of
Antiquities in Amman, Jordan, and its branch in Azraq, for
its continued assistance and encouragement concerning the
research in the Jebel Qurma region. Particular thanks go to Dr.
Yazid Elayyan (Director-General), Aktham Oweidi (Director
of Excavations and Surveys) and Wesam Esaid (Head of the
Department’s Azraq branch) for their much-valued help.
The eldwork in the Jebel Qurma area was made possible
by the support of the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden
University (The Netherlands), the Netherlands Organisation
for Scientic Research (NWO), the Leiden University Fund,
Migchel Migchelsen and some other private sponsors: we are
grateful for their invaluable sponsorship. We are also grateful
to the Stichting Nederlands Museum voor Anthropologie en
Praehistorie (SNMAP) and the Netherlands Institute for the
Near East (NINO) for their generous nancial support with
regard to radiocarbon and OSL dating. Our great thanks
are due to the Centre for Istotope Research of Groningen
University (in particular Hans van der Plicht, Michael Dee
and Sanne Palstra) for invaluable help with the 14C dating.
Paul Beliën (Curator National Numismatic Collection, De
Nederlandsche Bank, Amsterdam) is sincerely thanked for
his skilful determinations of the coins found in the Jebel
Qurma region. We thank the Aerial Photographic Archive for
Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME) for the extremely
useful aerial photographs of the Jebel Qurma region. The
yearly surveys and excavations in the Jebel Qurma region
would not have been possible without the help of a most
dedicated team in the eld and at home. Many thanks go to
all participants in the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape
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... At times intensively visited and exploited, this region apparently witnessed intensive occupation and building during the Late Neolithic period. Similar evidence is becoming apparent from the Jebel Qurma project to the southwest of Wadi al-Qattafi [74,75] and the Jawa Hinterland project to the north [60,61]. Whether the result of increased gazelle hunting or herding of domesticates, or both, the significant increase in building a variety of structures along Wadi al-Qattafi underscores the presence of small groups spending extended periods of time there. ...
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