Mutable mobilities: 15,000 years of nomadic settlement in the Qa’ Shubayqa, eastern Jordan

Joe Roe and Tobias Richter

Paper presented at the 53rd Seminar for Arabian Studies, Leiden, 2019.


The Qa’ Shubayqa is a seasonal wetland (qa’) in the heart of the harrat al-Sham – a tract of stony, semi-arid rangeland straddling the border of the Arabian and Syrian deserts. Conventionally, the settlement (pre)history of this region is understood to be exclusively nomadic: beginning with mobile foragers in the Epipalaeolithic and continuing with the advent and diffusion of pastoralism from the Neolithic onwards. Since 2013, archaeological surveys carried out at Shubayqa by the University of Copenhagen have revealed a more complex picture. An exceptionally well-preserved surface record, spanning at least 15,000 years, shows that the qa’ provided a ‘fixed point’ in the landscape that repeatedly attracted semi-permanent settlement by otherwise mobile people. In this paper, we summarise this and other aspects of the settlement history of Shubayqa that belie a simple conception of ‘nomadism’. Long durée changes in mobility are traced using spatial and aoristic analyses. We contrast ecological and cultural explanations for the formation of ‘persistent places’ like Shubayqa within the context of the broader socioeconomic system of the Badia.


landscape archaeology; mobility; pastoral nomadism; persistent places; Badia