Project overview

The ‘Black Desert’ in northeastern Jordan is a vast expanse of rough basalt boulder fields and endless gravel plains. Despite the many environmental constraints and severe ecological marginality, the basalt desert appears to be astonishingly rich in all kinds of archaeological remains. High-resolution satellite imagery and new fieldwork in the Jebel Qurma region near the Saudi border revealed hundreds of previously unknown habitation sites and burial mounds and thousands of rock carvings and inscriptions in Safaitic, all dating between roughly 200 BCE and 800 CE. These were the works of pastoralist groups with a mobile lifeway centred on hunting-and-gathering, sheep-goat herding and camel nomadism.

‘Landscapes of Survival’ is a multidisciplinary research programme which aims to bring the rich, new datasets (settlements, burials, rock-art, inscriptions) in a single interpretive framework, which has not been done before. It focuses on the social, political, economic and ideological strategies which allowed the local peoples to successfully exploit their inherently marginal landscapes between 200 BCE and 800 CE. The programme investigates pastoralist lifeways and the treatment of the dead in the desert, the role of rock-art in signing the landscape, and the implications of widespread literacy among the local peoples.

The proposed research into the social structures and fabrics in the Black Desert, and their embedding in the natural and cultural landscapes, elaborates on new insights from archaeology, iconography, epigraphy and the natural sciences. This integrated research effort will put our current, fragmentary knowledge of the cultural significance of the vast desert and its ancient peoples in a completely new light.

The ‘Landscapes of Survival’ project is based at the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University (The Netherlands), and is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The project takes place under the auspices of the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project.

8 - A4