Hismaic Inscriptions & Rock Drawings
The vast majority of the inscriptions recorded by the WHPS are written in an ancient Arabian dialect known to scholars as Hismaic (or Thamudic E). Used and written throughout central and southern Transjordan and northwestern Arabia during the centuries around the turn of the era, Hismaic is part of a family of dialects and scripts commonly known as Ancient North Arabian (ANA). Though closely related to Arabic, ANA exhibits its own unique linguistic features and was written in various forms of the alphabetic script indigenous to central and north Arabia in antiquity, including Hismaic and the contemporary Safaitic script/dialect of the Harra desert of eastern Jordan and southern Syria.
The Hismaic inscriptions are quite short and formulaic and usually provide only the name of the carver, his genealogy, and, more rarely, his tribal group or family name. In addition, one also finds prayers to Arabian deities like Dushara, Allat, and Manat, as well as enigmatic expressions of love, longing, and grief. Other inscriptions sign and refer to associated rock drawings. Favored pictorial subjects include the camel and the hunt (particularly the ibex hunt), though more rarely one can spot drawings of horses and depictions of battles or raids. Some carvers clearly scratched out their subjects in a matter of minutes, while others went to extraordinary lengths to hammer out drawings of stunning artistic quality. Once finished, a carver would sign his name (and often patronym) to the work and would sometimes identify the central subject of his drawing and record that he had “carved” the “entire” work (using the phrase ḥṭṭ kll).
The Hismaic carvings can be somewhat imprecisely dated to the centuries around the turn of the era, a period when the Nabataeans of Petra held economic and political sway over much of Transjordan and northern Arabia. Although the inscriptions rarely reference specific historical or political events, many nonetheless provide clear indications that they were written within a Nabataean cultural context: personal names that express servitude to a Nabataean king or sanctuary, prayers offered to the chief Arabian deities worshiped by the Nabataeans, and even the occasional bilingual text written in both Hismaic and Nabataean-Aramaic.
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The WHPS recorded less than a dozen inscriptions either written in Nabataean-Aramaic script or that show certain Nabataean lexical features. Interestingly, nearly all of these inscriptions, including several Nabataean-Hismaic bilingual texts, were recorded in the vicinity of the Muqawwar cascades. The dearth of Nabataean inscriptions found in the Ḥafīr stands in marked contrast to their relative frequency at nearby sites like the Jebel Ramm temple, the sanctuary of Ain Shellaleh, and the rock outcrop of Jebel Kharaza.
The WHPS recorded more than two dozen unpointed Kufic/early Arabic texts, primarily in the northern portions of the Ḥafīr and the Wādī aṭ-Ṭfeif tributary. While these inscriptions are still undergoing preliminary analysis, it is interesting to note their proximity to the early mosque site (and dated Kufic inscription) identified by Jobling in the Shireh tributary of the neighboring Wādī Rabigh.
In addition to drawings signed by Hismaic inscriptions, the WHPS recorded numerous and varied rock drawings that—lacking accompanying signatures or identification—typically defy straightforward dating, categorization, or explanation. Among the drawings are numerous examples of darkly-patinated depictions of ibex, hunters, bulls, and hand and footprints that certainly date anywhere between several hundred and several thousand years before the Hismaic inscriptions. Of exceptional interest is a life-size depiction of a bull or oryx carved in relief on a large boulder near the center of the wadi (locally known as the “Bull Stone” - image below).
Equally numerous are more lightly-patinated depictions of horse- or camel-mounted warriors or hunters armed with long lances and spears that, not being accompanied by inscriptions, would seem to post-date the Hismaic inscriptions. Then there are the drawings of hunters or camel-mounted Bedouin armed with rifles or muskets that certainly date to the mid- to late-Ottoman period (below).
Unfortunately, while these broad temporal categorizations of the drawings can easily be discerned when looking at the collection as a whole, it can be very difficult in any particular case to decide how a drawing should be categorized and/or what criteria should be used to give a relative “date” to a drawing. As such, further categorization and description of this large corpus of drawings awaits more detailed analysis and study.
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