Whereas many perceive the Black Desert as a place of death, I see it rich with life!
With a sturdy 4by4, some extra gasoline, spare tires, water, and the company of experienced friends, I went in an off-road adventure to find out how the Black Desert provided the early settlers with the necessary means of survival. But what I saw surpassed all my initial expectations!
The Black Desert, known as “ Harra”, is harsh, rugged, hot, and arid. Basalt rocks cover the entirety of its vastness in a surreal scene that extends beyond the Jordanian borders to Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.
A place that is threatening, lifeless, poignant, or even macabre is to be avoided. Not only that, seemingly inhospitable, many quickly equate it with death. But, in spite of its harsh environment, it offers life in abundance.
The Black Desert is located in Jordan’s Eastern Badia. Thousands of years ago, lava flowed from Damascus to the northern edge of the Nafud desert in Saudi Arabia covering its entire terrain with basalt rocks.
With an abundance of volcanic rocks and flint stones, the early settlers made use of them to build shelters, corrals for animals, burial sites, or artifacts.
Signs of early human settlement can also be clearly viewed on top of the desert’s mesas.
The Black Desert is home to at least fifty Mesas many of which offered protection and a place for dwelling. Maitland’s Mesa or “Mesa 03”, located in wadi al- Qattafi, is exceptionally unique. It was first viewed by RAF Flight Lieutenant Maitland hence the name from his biplane en route from Baghdad to Cairo.
Easy to summit with the use of basic scrambling techniques, one can identify remains of animal pens, temporary room dwellings, different kinds of buildings, burial cairns with standing stones and artifacts.
Once upon a time, wildlife like ostriches, ibex, and gazelles roamed this desert. Therefore, innovative hunting techniques were required.
The evenly distributed desert kites are testimonial to humans ingenious. Neolithic hunters drove groups of gazelles inside the kite’s short walls and waited with spears.
The multitude of petroglyphs with wild animals, riders, hunting scenes or safaitic inscriptions speak volumes about those who mastered hunting and flourished in this terrain.
Just like the rest of its terrain, early settlers made use of the playas “mudflats” or “Qi’an” in Arabic for agricultural purposes. Barley and wheat were grown and used for personal consumption and for trade.
Without a tree in sight, it is hard to imagine how early settlers used fire. I deduced that either it was covered with more vegetation in the past or they figured out a way to use the volcanic rocks to start and keep a fire burning.
With an average of less than 5 cm of rain per year, water is scarce; however, the deserts gradual elevation towards the summit of Jabal al- Druze in Syria, officially known as Jabal al-Arab attracts the waters of the rich orographic rain which creates feeding basins for nearby valleys.
Its natural incline, moreover, allows seeping water to reappear as springs under its dense cover of basalt.
Today, these basins are an important water and economic source for Jordan in more than one way.
The basins continuously feed the Yarmuk river; the main tributary of the holy Jordan River which in turn feeds the Dead Sea.
Without a constant feed of water from the Yarmuk, the threat of rising temperatures, industrial and agricultural use, both the Jordan River and the Dead Sea run the risk of going dry.
A country that is reliant on tourism for its GDP cannot afford to lose its major source of income.
The springs also feed one of Jordan’s most populated cities “Irbid” with water through a 120 km pipe.
The Azraq basin currently sustains the Syrian refugees in the nearby al- Azraq camp.
Economic wise, the marshes offer the Chechen and Druze residents of al-Azraq a chance to generate income by extracting salt or working in salt refinery factories.
Unfairly equated with Death, clearly the Black Desert has a lot to offer. Not only did it grant our ancestors the tools to survive and flourish in its terrain, it continues to give life to this day and in abundance.
For more adventures in the Black Desert, click here.
For video of the Mesas, click here.
Some more photos from this adventure:
Writing & Photography
PS: This blog reflects my personal opinion and my personal take on many issues. Its not a scientific paper, the information used is based on internet searches and some scholarly articles. Its purpose is to entertain and everything mentioned is open for debate and correction.