Archaeologists working in Jordan’s inhospitable Black Desert have found thousands of ancient inscriptions that could lead to the discovery of a completely unknown ancient civilization. The inscriptions are carved into the faces of rocks scattered throughout the desert and are written in Safaitic, an ancient alphabetic writing system used throughout Arabia thousands of years ago. The2000-year-old inscriptions depict animals such as lions, horses, and even ostriches – scenes vastly different from the current Black Desert landscape, which is devoid of all life.
The scientists behind this find were working on behalf of Leiden University in the Netherlands, which is conducting the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project to document the history of ancient civilizations in this area of Jordan. While many of the petroglyphs are typical of ancient rock art, most of the inscriptions are your basic run-of-the-mill “Kilroy was here” graffiti.
Leiden University professor Peter Akkermans, who leads the study, claims that the purpose of these mostly banal inscriptions is currently a mystery:
Most of the texts are simply names, like ‘so-and-so, the son of so-and-so.’ The precise reason for producing rock art — inscriptions and/or representations — is still unclear and open to discussion. What was the message which the producers of the rock art tried to convey?
Already, this discovery is raising questions about what happened to this part of Jordan’s desert. At some of the sites, charcoal has been found that could have only been created through burning species of trees which require water year-round.
According to the Jebel Qurma Project, this discovery is causing archaeologists and historians to rethink current theories about human history in this part of the world:
The new data demonstrate considerable diversity in site layout as well as clear shifts in patterns of habitation and locational preferences through time. These new insights already require a re-evaluation of current thoughts on settlement dynamics and community organization in the basaltic uplands of north-eastern Jordan.
If the area was lush and full of life only 2,000 years ago, what could have caused such a rapid shift in climate? The researchers plan to conduct several more years of study including ancient pollen surveys to try and determine a cause.