nl en

Archaeology of Arabia



This course provides an overview of the archaeology of Arabia with a focus on the Eastern and Northern parts of the peninsula. It gives an overview of the cultural history from the Neolithic up to the Islamic period. Key issues that will be discussed:

  • the history of research, the geography and climate of Arabia, and how this changed over time;

  • the nature of societies in this region during the Neolithic period and how we should define the Neolithic in Arabia;

  • the remarkable transformation in the 3rd millennium, in which we see the emergence of monumental ‘towers’ and collective burial monuments, long distance trade and metallurgy, and oasis agriculture;

  • the nature of Arabian society in the Wadi Suq period and the rise of Dilmun as a trading statelet;

  • the development of agriculture, society in the Iron Age, and the domestication of the dromedary;

  • how we can understand the rise of camel-based long distance networks of trade and interaction;

  • how we should understand Late Antique pastoral societies in northern Arabia;

  • how we can understand Late Antique rock art and epigraphy in northern Arabia.

Meeting Topic Lecturer Reading + controversies
1 Region + Research Neolithic Düring Magee chapters 1-3
2 3rd millennium Düring Magee chapter 4
3 2nd millennium Olijdam Magee chapter 6
4 Iron Age Düring Magee chapters 7&8
5 Camels & caravans Brusgaard Köhler-Rollefson 1993 Seland 2015
6 Late Antique desert archaeology Huigens Rosen 2008
7 Late Antique epigraphy and rock art Brusgaard & Della Puppa Betts 2001 Macdonald 2010

Course objectives

  • To gain an overview of the culture-historical development of Arabia;

  • To gain insight into research traditions in Arabian archaeology and what the current academic controversies are within the discipline;

  • Ability to critically assess key issues in Arabian archaeology in oral and written formats.


Course schedule details can be found in the BA3 time schedule.

Mode of instruction

Seminar presented by various members of the Near Eastern section.

The course has a dual character. In the first half of each session the lecturer of the session will present a critical introduction into the archaeology of the specific topic being addressed.
After the break there will be a series of brief (10 minutes) presentations on key issues and / or controversies, which will subsequently be discussed.
Students will read chapters or articles prior to each session and will prepare 3 questions for the class which they will submit before class.
About 2 weeks after the end of the course, students will submit an essay on one of the topics addressed in the course.

Course load

The course load will be distrubuted as follows:

  • 14 hours of seminar (1 ec);

  • 300 pages of literature (2 ec);

  • Final essay of 3,000-4,000 words plus a short presentation (2 ec).

Assessment method

  • Short presentations during the course (20%);

  • Final essay of 3,000-4,000 words, dealing with one of the case studies discussed in class (80%).

The weekly questions have to be submitted before each class.

All exam dates (exams, re-sits, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the BA3 examination schedule.

Reading list

  • Betts, A.V.G., 2001. "The Middle East", in: D.S. Whitley (ed.), Handbook of Rock Art Research. Walnut Creek (CA): Altamira Press, 786-824. Especially pp. 786-793 and 795-801;

  • Köhler-Rollefson, I. 1993. "Camels and Camel Pastoralism in Arabia", in: The Biblical Archaeologist 56(4), pp. 180-188;

  • Macdonald, M.C.A. 2010. "Ancient Arabia and the Written Word", in M.C.A. Macdonald (ed.), The development of Arabic as a written language, (Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, vol. 40). Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 5-27;

  • Magee, P. 2014. The Archaeology of Prehistoric Arabia. Adaptation and Social Formation from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press;

  • Rosen, S.A., 2008. "Desert pastoral nomadism in the logue durée. A case study from the Negev and the southern Levant deserts", in: H. Barnard & W. Wendrich (eds), The Archaeology of Mobility: Old World and New world Nomadism. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, Los Angeles, pp. 115-140;

  • Seland, E.H., 2015. "Camels, camel nomadism and the practicalities of Palmyrene caravan trade", in: ARAM 27(1&2), pp. 45-54.


Registration for the course or the exam is not required.


For more information about his course, please contact dr. B.S. Düring.


  • The maximum amount of participants for this class is 20. If the number of interested students exceeds 20, those who have to take this course as part of their programme requirements will be prioritised.

  • Compulsory attendance. If attendance and participation in group discussions is too limited, no credits can be earned.