Michael C. A. Macdonald


Research Associate of the Khalili Research Centre.
Honorary Fellow, Wolfson College, Oxford
Fellow of the British Academy

Faculty / College address:

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies / Wolfson College


Research Interests:

The languages, scripts and inscriptions of ancient Syria, Jordan and Arabia, particularly Ancient North Arabian (Taymanitic, Dadanitic, Hasaitic, Thamudic, Hismaic and Safaitic), Nabataean, and pre-Islamic Arabic.
Literacy in the ancient and late antique Near East.
The prehistory of the Arabic language.
The Rock-art of Syria and Arabia.
The history of the nomads of Syria and Arabia from the first millennium B.C. to the rise of Islam.

Current Projects:

— Academic director of the Online Corpus of the Inscriptions of Ancient North Arabia (OCIANA)[http://krc.orient.ox.ac.uk/ociana/index.php] supported by the AHRC. It will make available all the inscriptions of ancient Arabia north of Yemen in a fully searchable online database, with photographs downloadable free.
— Academic director of the Ancient Arabia: Languages and Cultures project [http://krc.orient.ox.ac.uk/aalc/index.php/en/] which makes available previously unpublished collections of material relevant to ancient Arabia.
— Director of The survey of the Badia of north-eastern Jordan which records thousands of inscriptions in the basalt desert of north-eastern Jordan which will be included in OCIANA. The first season took place in April 2015.
— Leader of the UK section of the Saudi-German-British project The Epigraphy and Ancient Landscape in the Hinterland of Taymāʾ. An interdisciplinary study of human habitation and movement in the region surrounding the oasis. The first season took place in February-March 2015.
— Member of the Saudi-German Archaeological Mission to Taymāʾ, working on the Nabataean inscriptions found in the excavations. He has also produced a catalogue of the inscriptions in the Taymāʾ Museum which will be published during 2015.
— Old Arabic within its linguistic environment. A study of what is known of the Arabic language before the Rise of Islam (mid 7th century AD), from texts which have survived independently of the early Arab grammarians (i.e. “epigraphic Old Arabic”). A study in collaboration with Dr Ahmad Al-Jallad of the University of Leiden [http://www.hum.leiden.edu/lias/organisation/arabic/aljalladam.html]

Recent Publications:

See: https://oxford.academia.edu/MichaelMacdonald


• A.F.L. Beeston at the Arabian Seminar, and other papers. Edited by M.C.A. Macdonald & C.S. Phillips, Oxford: Archaeopress. 2005.
• Literacy and Identity in Pre-Islamic Arabia. (Variorum Collected Studies, 906.) Farnham: Ashgate, 2009.
• The development of Arabic as a written language. Papers from the Special Session of the Seminar for Arabian Studies held on 24 July, 2009. Edited by M.C.A. Macdonald. (Supplement to the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies volume, 40). Oxford: Archaeopress, 2010.


• On the uses of writing in ancient Arabia and the role of palaeography in studying them. Arabian Epigraphic Notes 1, 2015: 1–50.
• Was there a “Bedouinization of Arabia”? Der Islam 92/1, 2015 (“The Arab East and the Bedouin Component: From Late Antiquity to the Ottoman Period”): 42–84.
• ‘Romans go home’ ? Rome and other ‘outsiders’ as viewed from the Syro-Arabian desert’. Pages 145–163 in J.H.F. Dijkstra and G. Fisher (eds), Inside and Out. Interactions between Rome and the Peoples on the Arabian and Egyptian Frontiers in Late Antiquity. (Late Antique History and Religion, 8). Louvain: Peeters, 2014.
• with A.J. Drewes, T.F.G. Higham, and C. Bronk Ramsey, Some absolute dates for the development of the Ancient South Arabian minuscule script. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 24, 2013: 196–207.
• Goddesses, dancing girls or cheerleaders? Perceptions of the divine and the female form in the rock art of pre-Islamic North Arabia. Pages 261–297 in I. Sachet & Ch. J. Robin (eds), Dieux et déesses d'Arabie Images et représentations. (Orient et Méditerranée, 7). Paris: De Boccard, 2012.
• Wheeled vehicles in the Rock Art of Arabia. Chapter 12, pages 356–395 in M. Khan, The Arabian Horse. Origin, Development and History. Riyadh: Layan Cultural Foundation, 2012.
• The 'Abiel' Coins of Eastern Arabia: A study of the Aramaic Legends. Pages 403–547 + Plates on a CDROM in M. Huth & P. van Alfen (eds), Coinage of the Caravan Kingdoms. (Numismatic Studies, 25). New York: American Numismatic Society, 2010.
• Ancient Arabia and the written word. Pages 5–28 in M.C.A. Macdonald (ed.), The development of Arabic as a written language. Papers from the Special Session of the Seminar for Arabian Studies held on 24 July, 2009. (Supplement to the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies volume, 40). Oxford: Archaeopress, 2010.
• The Old Arabic graffito at Jabal Usays: a new reading of line 1. Pages 141–143. in M.C.A. Macdonald (ed.), The development of Arabic as a written language.
• ARNA Nab 17 and the transition from the Nabataean to the Arabic script. Pages 207–240 in W. Arnold, M. Jursa, W.W. Müller, & S. Prochazka (eds), Philologisches und Historisches zwischen Anatolien und Sokotra. Analecta Semitica In Memoriam Alexander Sima. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2009.
• Arabs, Arabias, and Arabic before Late Antiquity. Topoi 16, 2009: 277–332.
• with M. al-Najem, A new Nabataean inscription from Taymāʾ. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 20, 2009: 208–217.
• Wheels in a land of camels: Another look at the chariot in Arabia. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 20, 2009: 156–184.
• The decline of the 'epigraphic habit' in late antique Arabia: some questions. Pages 17–27 in J. Schiettecatte & C.J. Robin (eds), L'Arabie à la veille de l'Islam. Bilan clinique. (Orient et Méditerranée, 3). Paris: De Boccard, 2009.
• Transformation and continuity at al-Namārah. Camps, settlements, forts, and tombs. Pages 317–332 in K. Bartl & A. Moaz (eds), Residences, Castles, Settlements. Transformation Processes from Late Antiquity to Early Islam in Bilad al-Sham. Proceedings of the International Conference held at Damascus, 5–9 November 2006. (Orient-Archäologie, 24). Rahden/Westf.: Leidorf, 2009.
• The Phoenix of Phoinikēia. Alphabetic reincarnation in Arabia. Pages 207–229 in J. Baines, J. Bennet and S. Houston (eds), The Disappearance of Writing Systems: Perspectives on Literacy and Communication. London: Equinox, 2008.
• Old Arabic (Epigraphic). Pages 464–477 in K. Versteeg (ed.), Encyclopedia of Arabic Language and Linguistics, vol. III. Leiden: Brill, 2008.
• Death between the desert and the sown. Cave-tombs and inscriptions near Dayr al-Kahf in Jordan. Damaszener Mitteilungen 15, 2006 [2008]: 273–301
• Of rock-art, “desert kites” and mesâyid. Pages 332–345 in A.V. Sedov & I.M. Smulyanskaya (eds), Arabia Vitalis: Arabskii Vostok, islam, drevnyaya Araviya: Sbornik Naychnykh statei, posvyashchennyi 60-letiyu V.V. Naumkina. Moscow: Rossiikaya Akademiya Nauk. 2005.
• Ancient North Arabian. Pages 488–533 in R.D. Woodard (ed.), The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the World's Ancient Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2004.
• Languages, Scripts, and the Uses of Writing among the Nabataeans. Pages 36–56, 264–266 (endnotes), 274–282 (references) in G. Markoe (ed.), Petra Rediscovered: Lost City of the Nabataeans. New York: Abrams / Cincinnati, OH: Cincinnati Art Museum. 2003.
• W.J. Bankes and the identification of the Nabataean Script. With N.N Lewis, and appendices by S. Clackson, R.G. Hoyland, & M. Sartre. Syria 80. 2003 [2006]: 41–110.
• with G. M. H. King, Thamudic Pages 436–438 in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition. Volume X. Leiden: Brill. 1999.
• with M. Mu'azzin & L. Nehmé, Les inscriptions safaïtiques de Syrie, 140 ans après leur découverte, Comptes rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions & Belles-Lettres, 1996: 435–492.
• Hunting, Fighting and Raiding. The Horse in Pre-Islamic Arabia Pages 72–83 in D. G. Alexander (ed.), Furusiya. The horse in the art of the Near East, Vol.1. Riyadh, 1996.
• North Arabia in the First Millennium BCE. Pages 1351, 1355–1369 in J.M. Sasson (ed.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, Vol.II. New York, Scribners. 1995.
• Safaitic. Pages 760–762 in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition. Vol. VIII. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

In the press:

• A Catalogue of the inscriptions in the Tayma Museum. Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Berlin.
• Three Dimensions in Two: Convention and Experiment in the Rock Art of Ancient North Arabia. In M. Luciani (ed.), The Archaeology of North Arabia: Oases and Landscapes. Proceedings of the International Congress held at the University of Vienna, December, 5–8, 2013. (OREA Series, 4). Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences.
• Contributions on “The desert and its people” and “The Arabs”, in T. Kaizer (ed.), The Blackwells Companion to the Hellenistic and Roman Near East. Oxford: Blackwells.
• Horses, asses, and hybrids, and their use as revealed in the ancient rock art of the Syro-Arabian desert. In K. Linduff, S. Olsen, and P. Raulwing (eds), Equids in the Ancient Near East, Egypt, and Arabia. Proceedings of conference in memory of Mary Aitken Littauer. Oxford: BAR.
• Towards a re-assessment of the Ancient North Arabian alphabets used in the oasis of al-'Ulâ, in Semitica et Classica.
• The Ancient North and South Arabian inscriptions on the Darb al-Bakra. In A.I. Al-Ghabbān (ed.), Darb al-Bakra, the ancient route between Ḥegrā and Petra. Riyadh.

Further Info:

• Fellow of the British Academy
• Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London
• Membre associé étranger de l'UMR 8167 ‘Orient et Méditerranée’ du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris.
• Corresponding Fellow of l'Istituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente, Roma.
• Honorary Secretary of the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia
• Member of the Steering Committee of the Seminar for Arabian Studies

On the Editorial Board of the journals:

Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy
Arabian Epigraphic Notes
Bulletin of Nabataean Studies
Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Languages
Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies

Photograph of Michael Macdonald