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Lecture | Archaeological Forum

Carving Interactions: rock art in the nomadic landscape of the Black Desert

16 May 2019
Archaeological Forum
Van Steenis
Einsteinweg 2
2333 CC Leiden

A pictorial treasure of desert narratives

Depictions of camels and lions, hunting and fighting scenes, portrayals of wild and domestic life: the Black Desert of northern Arabia holds a vast pictorial treasure of desert narratives from approximately 2000 years ago. In the late 1st millennium BC and early 1st millennium AD, nomadic peoples inhabited the expansive basalt desert, that stretches from modern southern Syria, through north-eastern Jordan, and into northern Saudi Arabia. The nomads left their marks behind in the basalt rocks in the form of petroglyphs and inscriptions, which number in the tens of thousands across the desert. Yet, lack of systematic and contextual analyses, in particular of the rock art, means that until now little was known about the role of these carvings in the nomadic societies and they remain an under-utilised source of information about these peoples.   

This lecture presents the results of the first-ever systematic study of the ‘Safaitic’ rock art of the Black Desert. Focusing on the petroglyphs from the Jebel Qurma region in north-eastern Jordan, this research explores the cultural practice of making rock art in the nomadic societies and their interaction with their environment. In this lecture, I discuss the content of the petroglyphs, how they were produced and consumed, and their relationship to the landscape. Through these avenues, I present new insights into the rock art, the nomadic societies, and how the nomads interacted with their desert landscape.

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