A Database of Arabic Graffiti from the Islamic Period in North-Eastern Jordan

The ḥarra, or basalt desert, of north-eastern Jordan is a treasure house of inscriptions from both the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods. It originated in extensive lava flows from Jabal al-Drūz/Jabal al-ʿArab during the Tertiary and Quaternary periods which, over millions of years, were gradually broken up to produce a landscape covered with basalt rocks and boulders. At the same time, the interaction of the chemicals in the rock and in the atmosphere have produced a thin black patina (or "desert varnish") on the exposed parts of the rock. When this is scratched or hammered, however, the light grey pumice colour of the rock is revealed, and this looks almost white against the black surface which surrounds it. This makes it very satisfying to inscribe, since the carving shows up very well.

For millennia, the inhabitants of the ḥarra and travellers have been leaving their mark on these rocks in the form of wusūm (tribal marks), rock drawings, or inscriptions. By far the most numerous of these are the so-called "Safaitic" graffiti carved by literate nomads between approximately the first century BC and the fourth century AD (see http://krc.orient.ox.ac.uk/ociana/index.php/safaitic). However, there are also large numbers of Arabic graffiti in the ḥarra and these have received far less attention.

Indeed, the only survey for Arabic graffiti in the Jordanian ḥarra was carried out in the 1980s by Frédéric Imbert. He edited his finds in his doctoral thesis which, however, he never published. Some years later, a few were included in the proposed Corpus des inscriptions arabes de Jordanie du Nord, Imbert gives only 28 graffiti from the whole of Jordan, of which 19 are from the ḥarra.

Most of the expeditions to the ḥarra which were looking for Safaitic inscriptions also recorded Arabic inscriptions, but did not publish them. The OCIANA project has a rich collection of photographs of these Arabic inscriptions from the archives of G. Lankester Harding, F.V. Winnett, Michael Macdonald, Geraldine King, and the many Jordanian scholars who have given their photographs to Ali Al-Manaser. Many hundreds of Arabic inscriptions were recorded by the Badia Survey of April 2015 and these include texts from the first century AH to the modern day. Until now, the modern Arabic graffiti have been studiously ignored, and yet they are in many ways more informative about their authors and the changing society in which they live, than the older, more formal, ones. They are often quite long and are of interest not only to epigraphists, but to dialectologists and anthropologists.

The aim of this project, which has been undertaken by Dr Ali Al-Manaser, funded by The Barakat Trust, is to create a database incorporating Arabic inscriptions from the Jordanian ḥarra, collected by the OCIANA team and a number of Jordanian scholars. The database provides Arabic transcriptions and photographs and will later include English translations of all inscriptions, as well as GPS coordinates, which will help scholars to make maps for their own work of information including the locations where the inscriptions were found, the locations of tribes mentioned in the inscriptions, and so-forth. 

The database will be hosted by The Khalili Research Centre in Oxford, and will be available online at the end of February 2018.

Historians of Islamic Art 2018

This year's Historians of Islamic Art symposium will focus on the subject of "Crossing Borders", and will take place at Yale University from October 25th to 27th. Further details may be found at the following URL:


Please note that the Call for Papers for this conference is now closed.

KRC Image Database

The Khalili Research Centre Image Database contains just over 30,000 images that have been scanned of the slides used for teaching Islamic Art at the University of Oxford since the 1960s.

اِقرأ المزيد: KRC Image Database

The Archie Walls Archive

On Thursday November 9th 2017 the KRC was delighted to welcome Dr Archie Walls, who gave a seminar titled "Geometry and Architecture in Islamic Jerusalem: a Sufi Way", which celebrated the launch of an archive of his drawings, photographs, and research notes, spanning his career. The archive contains over 22,000 records, and is freely accessible online at the following url:


The KRC would like to extend their thanks to Archie for his generous donation, and for allowing us to host this unique and valuable resource for scholars.

Historians of Islamic Art Symposium

Historians of Islamic Art Association 2016 Biennial Conference

Regionality: looking for the local in the arts of Islam

20 - 22 October, 2016
The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London

To Register: http://courtauld.ac.uk/event/regionality-looking-local-arts-islam

Symposium programme