Jordan’s Black Desert was once bustling with life

Live Science looks over thousands of inscriptions from 2,000 years ago, opening a window to a time when this arid, sandy landscape was once filled with people, animals and trees:

“Nowadays, the Jebel Qurma area, and the Black Desert in general, is a highly inhospitable area, very arid and difficult to cross,” said Peter Akkermans, a professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands who leads the Jebel Qurma Archaeological Landscape Project. Photos the team took of the modern-day landscape show little water, vegetation or wildlife.

The inscriptions are written in Safaitic, an alphabetic script used by people who lived in parts of Syria, Jordan and Arabia in ancient times. Research is ongoing, but the archaeologists say their finds indicate that around 2,000 years ago, Jebel Qurma had trees, wildlife and a sizable human population.

The petroglyphs, or rock art, show images of lions, gazelles, horses and large birds that may be ostriches. The inscriptions found near these petroglyphs tend to be very short. “Most of the texts are simply names, like ‘so-and-so, the son of so-and-so,'” Akkermans said.

Some texts contain information on what people were doing, with a few hinting that the people who inhabited Jebel Qurma had conflicts with the Nabataeans, a people who built the ancient city of Petra. “I am on the lookout for the Nabataeans,” one inscription reads.

“Our excavation at one site revealed masses of charcoal from the third century A.D., which appeared to represent several taxa [groups] of trees, which needed water year-round,” Akkermans said. “Hence, the conditions in at least the third century A.D. may have been quite different from today. This is certainly something I wish to explore in the next field seasons, by coring for pollen.”

Be interesting to see what happened to turn the place into a desert.

[via Archaeological News]