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Tweets from the desert

Uncovering ancient Arabian inscriptions feels like pioneering detective work, says Arabist Michael Macdonald in a video interview with Leiden Islam Centre LUCIS. 'First you have to learn the alphabets that they're written in, and then you have to try and work out what they say.'

In the interview, Macdonald explains the relevance of uncovering the thousands of inscriptions of ancient Arabia: 'The people who live in Arabia should know about their background. Most of them don't know that there was anything before the rise of Islam.' He continues: 'More people per head of population could read and write in ancient Arabia than in any other part of the Middle East in Antiquity, which is a very remarkable thing.'


There are thousands of undiscovered inscriptions in ancient Arabia, many of them written by nomads. 'There are parts of the desert where you just trip over these inscriptions the whole time.' Macdonald calls them 'tweets from the desert.' 'You feel as if you're communicating over 2000 years with somebody.'

Safaitic inscription from the Jabal
Qurma depicting a hunting scene

Curious to know what the people of ancient Arabia wrote about? Check out the video below:

Michael Macdonald

Michael Macdonald, a world-renowned expert in ancient Arabian languages, is Honorary Fellow at Wolfson College and Research Associate of the Khalili Research Centre, both at the University of Oxford. He delivered the first Leiden-Aramco Lecture on Ancient Arabian Civilization in the National Museum of Antiquities on 17 March 2015.

Leiden | Islam interview series 

This is the second video in the Leiden | Islam interview series, which contains short documentary-style videos including interview flashes with leading scholars in the field of Islam and Muslim societies. With this series, LUCIS (Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society) aims to show the value of unconventional insights related to Islam and Muslim societies.

In the first video of the series, Arabist James Montgomery explained the relevance of Arabic poetry for our understanding of the Arabic-speaking world. The series will soon also include interviews with Driss Moussaoui about his work as a psychiatrist in Morocco, and with Arabist Petra Sijpesteijn about her fascination for papyri.

The videos in this series are produced by Faithful to the Subject. The production of this series is made possible by a donation of Aramco, a Saudi Arabian oil company.



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