Keeping Traditions in a Modern-Day Bedouin Village

Mar 03, 2008
Keeping Traditions in a Modern-Day Bedouin Village
Professor Tom Paradise in Petra, Jordan.

University of Arkansas researchers have used modern digital-mapping technology to uncover an ancient tradition still practiced by a Bedouin tribe that once roamed Jordan but now has settled into a modern village. The findings appear to have no parallel anywhere.

Tom Paradise, professor of geosciences, and graduate student Chris Angel worked with the country of Jordan and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to create a digital map of the Bedouin city of Um Sayhun on a cliff that overlooks Petra, Jordan. When Petra became a World Heritage Site in 1985, a nomadic Bedouin tribe was spending part of the year living in some of the ancient structures. In creating the World Heritage Site, UNESCO helped relocate the Bedouin tribe to a nearby hilltop, which became Um Sayhun. Now, almost 20 years later, Paradise and Angel visited Um Sayhun and used satellite imagery to examine its structure.

On the ground, the village has undergone revolutionary change since the 1980s.

"It used to be little more than mortar and cinder blocks, with beat-up trucks out front," Paradise said.

Over the past 20 years, tribe members have opened travel agencies, restaurants and hotels - and they have accumulated wealth.

"Today, many people drive BMWs and Mercedes and have second homes," Paradise said.

The city landscape has transformed from tiny houses to magnificent three-story mansions. The origins of the village appear to have disappeared, and some express concern that many Bedouin traditions have disappeared as well.

However, when Paradise and Angel took to the air, they found something unusual - while the original structures from the 1980s were not visible, the city blocks appeared to be oval in shape.

"When walking through the village, you don't get the feeling that the house layouts are curved," Paradise said.

When they asked the clan sheikh about the unusual morphology, he told them: "We didn't want to leave our desert traditions behind because we were living in a city."

The researchers examined the city blocks, and realized that the fronts of the houses, which faced the streets, were not the least bit social; instead they found the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the interior courtyard of each city block. When they entered the interior of a city block, they found gardens, terraces and low walls. Moms cooked, kids played and neighbors socialized.

"That's where the action takes place," Paradise said.

This "action" looks much like what occurs in Bedouin desert camps, where the tents surround an inner courtyard designed to protect children and valuables from possible danger.

Paradise and Angel wanted to see who was living in these city blocks, which consisted of 20 to 40 houses, so they interviewed the inhabitants to determine the village structure.

"Everyone in a particular block was related through marriage or through blood" - more evidence of the preservation of their ancient culture, Paradise said. They could not find a parallel city structure anywhere.

"This appears to be the perfect setting for this: A 20-year-old city, where everyone moves at the same time to the same place with the same resources," Paradise said. The fact that modern amenities - including access to health care, satellite television and the Internet - have transformed the lives of these Bedouins, they continue to embed some of their traditions in the very foundations of their village.

Source: University of Arkansas

Explore further: Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Continents may be a key feature of Super-Earths

17 minutes ago

Huge Earth-like planets that have both continents and oceans may be better at harboring extraterrestrial life than those that are water-only worlds. A new study gives hope for the possibility that many super-Earth ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

27 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

41 minutes ago

For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look "whiter than white," but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different ...

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

7 hours ago

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

Apr 17, 2014

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

Apr 17, 2014

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.