Between the last century BC and the fourth century AD the nomads of the basalt deserts of southern Syria, Jordan, and northern Saudi Arabia learnt to read and write for the only time in their history before the present day. They covered the desert rocks with tens of thousands of graffiti, which tell us much about their way of life, their society, their relations with each other, with the Romans, Nabataeans, and others, and their personal feelings. However, there have been few systematic surveys to record them. Instead, many expeditions have moved from landmark to landmark, making hand copies or photographs of only some of the texts and no accurate record of their exact location. This has resulted in the loss of a great deal of data and this article explains the need for systematic and complete surveys of this material, which is of great importance historically, linguistically, and ethnologically.

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