The Wādī Ḥafīr Petroglyph Survey (WHPS), directed by Glenn J. Corbett (Ph.D., University of Chicago), aims to record and analyze the impressive epigraphic and artistic remains of the Wādī Ḥafīr canyon in the Ḥismā desert of southern Jordan. This narrow, boulder-strewn wadi is home to thousands of inscriptions and drawings carved during various periods of Jordan’s history, from the Neolithic to the late Ottoman period. Perhaps the most well known are the so-called Hismaic (or “Thamudic E”) carvings, which date to around 2,000 years ago and preserve the names, short prayers, simple musings, and signed drawings of the innumerable shepherds, hunters, and traders who lived in or passed through this region.
The first season of the WHPS, conducted over the course of three, two-week sessions from October 2005 to April 2006, aimed to build on the survey work of the late Dr. William Jobling of the University of Sydney, who was the first to systematically explore the Ḥafīr as part of the decade-long ‘Aqaba-Ma‘an Archaeological and Epigraphic Survey (1979–1990). In retracing Jobling’s survey, the WHPS investigated significant portions of the entire Ḥafīr gorge, locating more than 1,200 carving sites (including several hundred that had been recorded by Jobling) and identifying an estimated 1,800 Hismaic inscriptions. The location of each site was recorded and mapped with a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) for subsequent inclusion and analysis in a Geographic Information System (GIS) database of site locations. The epigraphic and spatial data from a significant subset of the recorded Hismaic sites formed the basis of Corbett’s 2010 dissertation that sought to better understand the context and spatial distribution of the Ḥafīr’s inscriptions and signed rock drawings.
The second season of the WHPS, conducted for ten days in July 2012 in collaboration with Dr. George Bevan and students Michael Fergusson and Marla MacKinnon from Queen’s University, aimed to evaluate the effectiveness and usability of new digital photographic methods (namely Reflectance Transformation Imaging [RTI] and stereo photogrammetry) for recording, analyzing, and documenting ancient inscriptions, rock drawings, and carved landscapes. In addition, the project experimented with the use of ultra high resolution Gigapan imagery to document the specific location and position of individual carvings while also capturing their broader landscape context. In all, more than 125 stones and rock faces were visited and photographed at select locations throughout the Ḥafīr. The digital imaging of these stones, surfaces, and landscapes generated in excess of 20,000 photos and well over 200 different photographic projects that are currently undergoing processing and analysis.
Funding for the survey has been provided by research grants from the American Center of Oriental Research, the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Queen’s Senate Advisory Research Council. All of the survey’s work has been conducted with the permission and representative support of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.
Marla MacKinnon photographing Hismaic inscriptions
Glenn J. Corbett preparing to photograph a signed Hismaic petroglyph
Michael Fergusson photographing a series of Hismaic inscriptions
George Bevan cleaning an inscibed surface prior to photography
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Left to Right: George Bevan, Marla MacKinnon, Michael Fergusson, Glenn J. Corbett
Glenn J. Corbett, Ph.D., served as director of the Wādī Ḥafīr Petroglyph Survey in 2005-06 while an ACOR/CAORC research fellow at the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) in Amman, Jordan. The results of the survey formed the basis of his 2010 doctoral dissertation, which aimed to map and contextualize more than 700 Hismaic inscriptions from the Wādī Ḥafīr. He was an NEH Research Fellow at ACOR for 2011-12. He is also an associate editor with the Biblical Archaeology Society.
George Bevan, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Classics at Queen’s University with a specialization in Late Antiquity, Aramaic (Syriac and Nabataean) and digital imaging. He has worked in Jordan since 1998 at the Humayma and Tell Madaba excavation projects, and in 2003 was an area supervisor at the excavation of the Roman fort at Humayma. He is currently engaged in publishing a new mosaic inscription from Jordan, as well as numerous papyri from the Egyptian agricultural archive of Lucius Bellenus Gemellus.
Michael Fergusson (webmaster), BAH, is a Masters student at Queen's University studying under George Bevan, focusing on the use of photogrammetry in both terrestrial and underwater archaeology. He is an ACOR Macdonald/Sampson Fellow for 2012-13.
Marla MacKinnon, BAH, completed her undergraduate degree studying Classics at Queen's University. She focused her thesis on high accuracy photogrammetry for rock art and the creation of modern 3D models from archival photos. Currently she is pursuing her master's degree in Forensic Archaeological Science at University College London.