Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The writing on the rocks: Thamidic and Arabia's linguistic past

This project aims to open up the pre-Islamic linguistic history of Arabia through the systematic study of the Thamudic inscriptions within a digital humanities framework.

Duration 2015  -  2018
Contact Ahmad Al-Jallad
Funding NWO VeniNWO Veni

Thamudic is a  nomen nudum for the inscriptions carved by nomads ranging from North Arabia to the Yemeni frontier. They constitute our  only indigenous written source for the linguistic and cultural history of Arabia’s nomads in the millennium before the emergence of Islam. Numbering some 13,000, they provide a vivid picture of their authors’ way-of-life, social structures, emotions, and mythologies.

As it stands, the corpus is scattered across hard-to-access collected volumes and unpublished theses, but also ill-understood, mainly because of the language(s) and scripts in which the texts are written have yet to be fully deciphered. The project will produce a digital database containing all the inscriptions and ancillary data, such as glosses, geographic location, subjects, etc., and a monograph addressing three research problems:  the linguistic geography and diversity in pre-Islamic Arabia, the development of the Arabian alphabets, and the function of writing among Arabia’s nomads. The results will have an immediate impact on our image of pre-Islamic Arabia by bringing a proper understanding of this crucial documentary evidence into conversation with the abundant, much better-known literary sources.