Antiquities and Archeological Mysteries

UM professor awarded distinguished fellowship in Jerusalem to continue archeological research
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For almost forty years, Dr. David F. Graf has traversed the deserts of the Middle East, searching for and discovering archeological gems.

Now, Graf, a faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Religious Studies, will continue his research in antiquities as the winner of the prestigious Seymour Gitin Distinguished Professor Fellowship at the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Israel.

Graf says he was “stunned” when he received his award letter from the renowned institution, founded in 1900, because “there is a lot of competition for this fellowship from people who have made a significant contribution in the area of archeological research.”  

During his four months at the archeological research institute, Graf will work on a monograph on “The History of the Nabataeans: Rome’s Arabian Client-Kingdom.” Nabataea was a Roman client-kingdom in Arabia, located on the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire. According to Graf, the kingdom played an important role in the regional politics and international trade in the Hellenistic and Early Roman eras, serving also as a buffer on the border of the Roman Empire.

Since 1978, Graf has engaged in a number of archeological projects and excavations to uncover an understanding of the Nabataean kingdom, including its languages, army, trade, ethnicity, and relations with Rome.

“The Nabataean kingdom is quite large,” said Graf. “It extends from Damascus in Syria to the Hijaz of Saudi Arabia, and from the middle of the Syrian Desert to the Suez Canal of Egypt. For many years, I have been working in this area doing pioneering, archeological work. Most of this vast territory was previously unexplored. The history of the Nabataeansis what I am going to write this monograph about while in Israel.” 

Petra, Jordan is home to the captial of Nabataean kingdom, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, and considered one of the new “Seven Wonders of the World.” In 1989, the site was also featured in the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Graf, who was excavating at the site during filming, said he had the pleasure of meeting the film’s actors Sean Connery and Harrison Ford.  

This summer, Graf is attending a conference on the “Cities of the Roman East” in Italy where he will read a paper on Palmyra, an ancient Syrian site destroyed by ISIS. He is also heading back to Petra to direct excavations at Ba'aja, a site near Petra. His nine-member international team will assist Graf as he surveys the area, which includes buildings, houses, shrines, and hydrological systems in which the Nabataean inhabitants irrigated fields for the production of wine.

Graf says he would now like to focus his efforts on gathering all of his research from his 30-year career for others to read.

“At this point in my career, it’s important to me that I publish what I have accumulated over the years and make it available for other researchers, scholars, and students,” said Graf. “I have worked all over the Middle East. I’ve excavated at Petra and collected and published inscriptions in Turkey, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. The way I like to put it: I’ve worked from the Euphrates to the Nile.”



April 17, 2017