At 02:39 PM 6/3/2007, Niels Peter Lemche wrote:
>To put things in relief, an English soldier during the desert war (WW
>II) needed 25 litres of water a day, or so I have heard.
That's probably a gross figure. The net figure would be what was left
after the water was boiled to make tea ... :)
>after my fourteen litres in a day in Petra some years ago. Soldiers can
>also travel longer because they may carry their provision, including
>water, with them.
>But didn't this start as a discussion about whether or not Palmyra was
>on a main caravan route already in the MB age? I thing I never got an
>answer. And if we take nomadism before the introduction of the camel,
>water supplies should be enough to feed perhaps comprehensive flocks of
>animals, who also needed time to find food.
>It has been as if this discussion was aiming of refuting what most
>people working with nomadism have formerly agreed on.
>If I am not absolutely wrong, it is also interesting that Hebrew midbar
>"desert" may etymologically have to do with gazing land, steppe, and not
>desert in the Lawrence of Arabia fashion.
>By the way, Lawrence's tour via the Nefud (wadi Sirhan) to Aqaba is also
What tour? The part of crossing the Nafud in the movie is indeed
impressive and I never tire of watching it again. But the story in
the book ("The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom") is different. I don't recall
if the Nafud part is very different in the book or is simply not
there at all. But I when I first read the book (which was after being
"imprinted" by the movie) I checked on the Nafud, feeling cheated by
the book :( Checking now quickly ... here:
"Three great deserts isolate Najd from north, east, and south as the
Red Sea escarpment does from the west. In the north, the An
Nafud--sometimes called the Great Nafud because An Nafud is the term
for desert--covers about 55,000 square kilometers at an elevation of
about 1,000 meters. Longitudinal dunes--scores of kilometers in
length and as much as ninety meters high, and separated by valleys as
much as sixteen kilometers wide--characterize the An Nafud. Iron
oxide gives the sand a red tint, particularly when the sun is low.
Within the area are several watering places, and winter rains bring
up short-lived but succulent grasses that permit nomadic herding
during the winter and spring."
I have no idea if the site above is reliable or not, but what it says
about the Nafud is consistent with what I found out back then - that
the Nafud is not as dry and deadly as the movie makes it to be.
And the term "nomadic" is a little too vague because you have
Bedouins, Mongols, Gypsies, etc - all of them "nomads". The one
culture that we know that has been living in these NE deserts for
centuries are better termed semi-nomads, and are
hunters/gatherers/herders/raiders - all at the same time.
I'm not trying to refute some agreed upon notions about ANE desert
nomadism, because I haven't come across such agreed upon notions.
I've seen everything from ideas even more romantic than in "Lawrence
of Arabia" (the movie) to ideas that use as much hard science as
possible. But it all comes back to the basic problem - there being
very little direct evidence of what, if at all, people were doing in
those deserts during ANE periods before, roughly, the middle of the 1st mbc.
And strange things do happen in deserts. I caught today another part
of that BBC documentary on the crocodiles. Apparently these
crocodiles in Mauritania have developed a unique survival strategy in
which they aestivate for nearly half a year in very deep burrows
(15-20 meters). Young crocodile hatchlings, instead of making their
first journey to the nearby river, cross parched land to the nearest
burrow. The crocs come out of those burrows only when the rains have
started and temporary shallow lakes are formed.
If anything, I think there shouldn't be "agreed upon" notions, or
"magical" numbers. Each case should be examined for its own merits -
what kind of group, what were they trying to accomplish, what do we
know about the conditions in that specific area at that specific period, etc.
And the importance of camels is exaggerated. I didn't check exact
percentages of surface area, but significant parts of the NE deserts
are rugged, hilly terrain where camels suck as transport animals.
[100% bona fide dilettante ... delecto ergo sum!]
Ariel L. Szczupak
AMIS-JLM (Ricercar Ltd.)
POB 4707, Jerusalem, Israel 91401
Phone: +972-2-5619660 Fax: +972-2-5634203