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Signposts in the Landscape: Marks and Identity among the Negev Highland Bedouin

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Over the course of the past millennia, pastoral nomads migrated from the Arabian Peninsula and neighbouring regions into the Negev desert. Particularly with the last major wave of Bedouin migration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these groups introduced the 'Bedouin Phase' into Negev rock art, a tradition that was central to the Negev Bedouin culture up until the mid to late twentieth century. The 'Bedouin Phase' is mostly made up of combinations of abstract marks, many of which signify tribal affiliations, and a limited number of Arabic inscriptions. Frequently engraved near earlier motifs, the Bedouin tribal markings formed a link with the past while also indicating to their intended audience landownership rights and resource-use entitlement. Rapid and broad changes took place in Bedouin society and culture as it transformed from being semi-nomadic and pastoral-based to being more dependent on agriculture and finally to a broad-based wage labour economy. The article describes how the placement of rock art within the landscape and the function it played for the Bedouin in the region reflects these changes. In the absence of official documentation, the study of Bedouin rock art is of special interest, since these engravings enable a fresh perspective on current-day Bedouin claims to ancestral or historical land ownership rights.
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Keywords: Negev Bedouin; cultural change; doodling; idle graffiti; rock art; territorial markers; wasm

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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  • Nomadic Peoples is an international journal published by the White Horse Press for the Commission on Nomadic Peoples, International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Its primary concerns are the current circumstances of all nomadic peoples around the world and their prospects. Its readership includes all those interested in nomadic peoples, scholars, researchers, planners and project administrators.
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