men on a hillside overlooking Petra. I found WWI bullet casings
nearby. It is
likely that their great-grandfathers knew T.E. Lawrence (aka:
"Lawrence of Arabia"), whose
exploits in this area are legendary
Anthropological Archaeology and
Arab Bedouin of the Levant
Folks who wanted some photos of Levantine Bedouin pinned on a website did not ask me to delve
into anthropological theory. So for now I won't go too much into how investigating inter-regional exchange systems
and their influence on societal development helps us gain a better sense of cultural evolution.
been recent publicity around UCSD and Dr. Thomas E. Levy's research projects in the
region. I'd like to discuss our work there, however it cannot be the focal point for a
website on Bedouin tribal culture.
And Dr. Levy's ongoing research projects are best understood with full attention and in much more
detail than I am able to do on this simple site.
Friends have asked if this site is specifically about the Bedouin, people
whose tribal lines cross-cut political borders demarcating Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and into North
Africa and beyond.
The arab Bedouin inhabiting these regions have provided us with
assistance and support over the years. They are keen, resourceful, and I've always enjoyed hanging out with
Many website visitors want to see polaroid-like images of tribal bedouin and skim over background on
the ancient or modern Middle East.
Others are more inclined to appreciate clear explanations for how we understand processes of
increasing social complexity. They want to learn about the work and terms such as "heterarchy," an organizational concept recently applied to segmentary societies in the Near
This is a useful concept elaborated by Thomas Levy for
providing an explanatory framework to interpret shifting patterns of identity-formation processes and social
interaction within tribal societies. The concept reveals the power of archaeological theory for generating
explanations of social phenomena. It has also been effective for building models to understand recent
sociocultural dynamics in Afghanistan.
Eco-tourism is a niche among world
travelers. Eco-tourists are interested in environmental and cultural preservation. Along
with pyramids and kings and ancient battles, they also want to know
about people and ideas.
They follow National Geographic stories such as those
on Israel's King
Solomon and his mines to learn about cultural treasures being uncovered
by a hard-working team of archaeologists and GIS experts from UCSD. But they also want to become aware of the
cultures that created these objects.
My intention for this site (which doesn't deserve to be called a full fledged "website" because it's
still just a web page) is to eventually share resources in anthropology, cultural informatics, geographic
information systems and communication development. It will have to evolve into this, but I'm confident it will get
traction over time.
It's ambitious, and will be the result of how I came to live and work among tribal
bedouin whose lifestyle until recent years was to follow their herds of sheep and goats zig zagging
across political boundaries demarcating Sinai, Israel, Jordan and Syria.
Finding Life in Jordan's Wadis
("wadi." Arabic: Seasonal streambed or drainage, usu. along a valley)
Urban Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians, Saudis, Lebanese, Iraqis and Jordanians each have a local
variant of spoken arabic. I am told that I speak arabic with a definite Bedouin accent. That is peculiar.
Despite the surprised reactions I've always gotten when I go to say something and it comes out the way
a bedouin would say it, this accent is an ice breaker. When city people hear my Bedouin accent, they demand to
know why. They want to make sense out of something that doesn't make sense to them.
Hardly anyone imagines that a Westerner would have any reason to live alongside desert-dwelling
bedouin tribes. What sounds sensible to us - that it's all about the archaeology - seems
just... odd, to people in these societies.
It helps that there is generally a profound respect for bedouin culture and language. These people
capture something of the "pan-arab identity," evoking images of the genuine tribesman living a desert warrior's
life with his ear close to the ground and vigilantly protecting kin and clan.
Even now, urban arabs hold images of bedouin armies descending on horseback from the hills to
sweep through the countryside and wipe out townsfolk for no other reason than the simple fact that
they are city dwellers.
Defiant, fierce, loyal and generous. These are words that immediately come to people's minds when
they think of the Bedouin. It has often appeared to me as a kind of awe-inspiring ice-breaker when I tell urbanites
around places such as Amman about the Bedouin living only a few hundred kilometers south and east.
Anyway, back in the mountains, my attempts at explaining to local Bedouin how we have game
animals such as moose and deer in North America came out differently than I intended. I got into this conversation
when I watched guys from a local tribe hunting a gazelle by trying to run it over in a 4-wheel drive Subaru station
I wish I had photos of the 5 bedouin men in a station wagon chasing the gazelle through the wadi
(a "wadi" is a seasonal streambed similar to what in the southwest United States is known as an "arroyo"). I saw
the car airborne at least twice.
Expecting an inevitable fail, I still admired their focus and their persistence. The
juxtaposition of our high technologies of subterranean imaging and GIS, our field survey methods and cultural
theory, with the style and unapologetic action of the Bedouin men was kind of surreal.
What comes to mind in describing this bizarre event in the desert mountain wadis is not
unlike Joe Frank's story about mountain climbing in his Ascent to K2.
And as Joe Frank remarks: "Too often our lives our mapped out for us." So I was impressed
with the spontaneity these local people often demonstrated.
Amazingly, the Bedouin hunting party succeeded. Before that gazelle became dinner, I stood over it
shaking my head: I could not believe someone could "hunt" a game animal by running it down in a car. But
like I said, the Bedouin are resourceful.
I thought there are laws against this. There are no park rangers to police the area though, and either
way, law is replaced by culture and custom (the exact opposite of life in the city).
This is the Bedouin tribal homeland. They survive according to tribal law, as they have for many
hundreds of years.
They pretty much do what they want within constraints imposed by codes existing within the
cultural idioverse rather than the State.
But this has begun to change too.
I am working on my understanding of the language, but I think the bedouin guys told me
this is a type of large deer in the area. If it is a desert moose or something it is not
as well fed as its Canadian cousins.
Whatever it is, there are many of them around here.
Language instructors. These fellows taught
me slang that I should not repeat on this website.
( but I still use it )
Extraordinary hospitality comes
to mind when I think of the Bedouin in Jordan and Sinai.
... this trait extends beyond this cultural area, found universally among the
Bedouin across the cultural landscapes of North Africa, Saudi Arabia, the Levant and farther
east. It's a good way to be.
Archaeology is uniquely effective for looking at culture change. For example, we may be interested in looking at
the material culture surrounding down-the-line trade over long distances and how it offers a perspective of change
in human societies through time.
Economic exchange is not only economic behavior, but also cultural. In important ways, such interactions within
defined peer networks can be viewed as information flows, channeling significant symbolic meaning along lines of
communication between participants. So inter-regional exchange systems are central to analyzing diachronic change
observed in culture areas.
It is a wide area, and maybe I was unsure which which direction to head in.
We at least try to look busy even if we
don't always know what to do.
Being around our methods and techniques such as GIS, data recording, etc, the bedouin
men enjoy participating as field assistants.
They offer suggestions and generously share insights grounded in their unique familiarity
with the local social and natural environments.
Their new identities as fledgling field anthropologists-in-training probably gives them a
wider scope for viewing their own experience in ways that otherwise would have never been available to them.
This itself is an example of how cultural development occurs.
I am not suggesting a simple "Diffusion of Culture" model. It is more involved than that.
Nevertheless, I believe our social interactions significantly influenced how we - Bedouin and Westerner -
perceive ourselves. And this has an influence on our personal and social identities.
day. Toyota was put to the test.
Relentlessly plowing off-road through unforgiving desert mountains became routine. It's not
Wilshire Boulevard and these trucks handle rough terrain well.*
Still, there is the occasional breakdown in the desert.
It's amazing watching a bedouin strip spark plug wires with his teeth, then mix spit and dirt to form
some kind of bond, get a spark, and get the truck back in action. It is like magic or something. (there's a
pic somewhere which I'll eventually post.)
This lifestyle involves weeks and months trekking along treacherous paths cutting through
desert mountains. It is kind of like an extreme style of camping. But it is not Yosemite.
We encountered Bedouin from various tribes and were accompanied by some of them.
Some folks have suggested that local tribes people must think we are out of our minds for
spending so much time and trouble climbing hills and poking under rocks, recording and analyzing, and then arguing
over what it all means.
But I think the Bedouin appreciate how much importance we place on their desert
mountains and wadis.
* I am not getting any kind of sponsorship from Toyota
for saying this.