Landscapes of Survival: Pastoralist Societies, Rock Art and Literacy in Jordan's Black Desert, c. 1000 BC to 500 AD


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 1000 BC and 500 AD. These were the works of pastoralist groups with a mobile lifeway centred on hunting-and-gathering, sheep-goat herding and camel nomadism.

This multidisciplinary research programme 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 1000 BC and 500 AD. 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 (climate proxies, ecological data, remote sensing, isotope analyses). 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.



  • H.O. Huigens(2018): Mobile Peoples - Permanent Places , Leiden  22 november 2018

Hoofdstuk in boek

  • C. Della Puppa, L. Nehmé, A. Al-Jallad(2017): To the Madbar and Back Again pp. 69 - 80 , Leiden
  • C. Della Puppa, L. Nehmé, A. Al-Jallad(2017): To the Madbar and Back Again: Studies in the Languages, Archaeology, and Cultures of Arabia pp. 69 - 80 , Leiden

Wetenschappelijk artikel

  • P.M.M.G. Akkermans(2014): Jabal Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project American Journal of Archaeology pp. 628 - 630
  • P.M.M.G. Akkermans, H.O. Huigens, M.L. Bruning(2014): A Landscape of Preservation: Late Prehistoric Settlement and Sequence in the Jebel Qurma Region, North-Eastern Jordan Levant pp. 186 - 205
  • A. Al-Jallad, A. Al-Manaser(2015): New Epigraphica from Jordan I: a pre-Islamic Arabic inscription in Greek letters and a Greek inscription from north-eastern Jordan Arabian Epigraphic Notes pp. 51 - 70
  • A. Al-Jallad(2015): Echoes of the Baal Cycle in a Safaito-Hismaic Inscription Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions pp. 5 - 19
  • H.O. Huigens(2015): Preliminary Report on a Survey in the Hazimah Plains: a Hamad Landscape in North-Eastern Jordan JORDAN Palestine Exploration Quarterly pp. 180 - 194
  • A. Al-Jallad(2016): An Ancient Arabian Zodiac - The Constellations in the Safaitic Inscriptions, Part II Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy pp. 84 - 106
  • K. Bartl, P.M.M.G. Akkermans(2016): Khirbat al-ʿUmari: The Rediscovery of an Early Islamic Site South of Azraq Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie pp. 200 - 221
  • P.M.M.G. Akkermans(2016): Jabal Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project American Journal of Archaeology pp. 633 - 634
  • A. Al-Jallad(2016): New Evidence from a Safaitic Inscription for a Late Velar/Uvular Realization of *ś in Aramaic Semitica pp. 257 - 270
  • A. Al-Jallad, A. Al-Manaser(2016): New Epigraphica from Jordan II: three Safaitic-Greek partial bilingual inscriptions Arabian Epigraphic Notes pp. 55 - 66
  • P.M.M.G. Akkermans, M.L. Brüning(2017): Nothing but Cold Ashes? The Cairn Burials of Jebel Qurma, Northeastern Jordan Near Eastern Archaeology pp. 132 - 139
  • H. Huigens(2018): The identification of pathways on harra surfaces in north-eastern Jordan and their relation to ancient human mobility Journal of Arid Environments pp. 73 - 78
  • P.M.M.G. Akkermans, H.O. Huigens(2018): Long-Term Settlement Trends in Jordan’s Northeastern Badia:The Jabal Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan pp. 503 - 515

Professionele publicatie

  • H.O. Huigens(2015): Ways of life and death in a pastoralist landscape: an archaeology of nomadism in Jordan?'s Black Desert between Hellenistic and Early Islamic times pp. 54 - 54

Publicatie bedoeld voor een breed publiek

  • P.M.M.G. Akkermans, H.O. Huigens(2014): De Archeologie van de Zwarte Woestijn: Jebel Qurma in Noordoost-Jordanië pp. 277 - 286
  • A. Al-Jallad(2015): De talen van Arabië voor de Koran: alfabetten en schrijftradities pp. 59 - 70
  • N. Brusgaard(2016): Rotskunst in de Zwarte Woestijn van Jordanië pp. 71 - 82
  • K. Berghuijs(2018): Reizen in Arabia Deserta: Europeanen en de archeologie van de Zwarte Woestijn pp. 51 - 64
  • J. Vermeulen(2018): De Zwarte Woesrtijn geeft steeds meer geheimen prijs pp. 36 - 40






Prof. dr. P.M.M.G. Akkermans

Verbonden aan

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Archeologie


K. Berghuijs, Drs. N.O. Brusgaard, M.L. Brüning, M.L. Brüning, Drs. C. Della Puppa, Drs. H.O. Huigens


01/04/2014 tot 31/08/2018