A new example of proto-hamzah in the early Islamic graffiti of Wādī al-Khirqah (poster)


  • Risa Tokunaga Arabic Islamic Institute in Tokyo / Kanazawa University


Early Islamic Arabic graffiti, Inscriptions, Arabic orthography, Hamzah, Saudi Arabia


It has long been considered that the authors of the earliest Islamic Arabic documents did not write hamzah, a sign for the glottal stop. For instance, the Qurʾān was compiled with an orthography representing the Hijazi dialect, which lacked hamzah. After the expansion of Islam to those speaking other Arabic dialects and to non-Arabs, hamzah was added to some Qurʾān manuscripts as coloured dots, but a universal rule did not exist. Hamzah only came to be written consistently after the new scripts, such as Thulth, gained popularity on paper in the eleventh century.

However, during the last decade a new group of hamzah, referred to as ‘proto-hamzah’, was discovered in early Islamic inscriptions and graffiti. At present, twelve examples of hamzah that belong to this group are known. This paper introduces a new example of proto-hamzah in Wādī al-Khirqah, Saudi Arabia, which differs in appearance from any existing example. By analysing the new material, as well as the existing proto-hamzah, in its historical and geographical contexts, the position of proto-hamzah in the development of Arabic orthography will be reconsidered.


Cadbury Research Library, Birmingham University. 2015. Islamic Arabic 1572A folio 2 verso, Cadbury Research Library, Mingana collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts. ww.flickr.com/photos/cadburyresearchlibrary/18869892534/in/album-72157655161018888/ (Accessed 18 December 2021).

Chester Beatty Library [n.d.]. Three folios from Juzʾ 17 of the Qurʾan. Chester Beatty Library. https://viewer.cbl.ie/viewer/image/Is_1421/54/ (Accessed 29 September 2021).

al-Dānī, Abū ʿAmr ʿUthmān b. Saʿīd/ed. ʿA. Ḥasan. 1960. al-Muḥkam fī naqṭ al-maṣāḥif. Dimashq: Mudīriyyat iḥyāʾ al-turāth al-qadīm, Wazārat al-thaqāfa wa-ʾl-irshād al-qawmī fī ʾl-iqlīm.

Déroche F. 2004. Le livre manuscrit arabe. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Diem W. 1976. Some glimpses at the rise and early development of the Arabic orthography. Orientalia 45: 251–261.

al-Faqīr B.ʿA. 2009. Āthār al-ʿaṣr al-islāmī. al-Ṭabīʿah wa-ʾl-āthār fī muḥāfaẓat al-ʿulā: Jawharat siyāḥiyyah. Riyadh: Private publication.

Fiema Z.T., Al-Jallad A., Macdonald M.C.A. & Nehmé L. 2015. Provincia Arabia: Nabataea, the emergence of Arabic as a written language, and Graeco-Arabica. Pages 373–433 in G. Fisher (ed.), Arabs and empires before Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fisher G. & Wood P. 2015. (with contributions from Bevan G. et al.). Arabs and Christianity. Pages 276–372 in G. Fisher (ed.), Arabs and empires before Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gacek A. 2009. Arabic manuscripts: A vademecum for readers. Leiden/Boston: Brill.

George A. 2010. The Rise of Islamic calligraphy. London/Beirut: Saqi.

George A. 2015a. Coloured dots and the question of regional origins in early Qur’ans (Part I). Journal of Qur’anic Studies 17/1: 1–44.

George A. 2015b. Coloured dots and the question of regional origins in early Qur’ans (Part II). Journal of Qur’anic Studies 17/2: 75–102.

Ghabban A. 2008. The inscription of Zuhayr, the oldest Islamic inscription (24 AH/AD 644–645), the rise of the Arabic script and the nature of the early Islamic state. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 19: 209–236.

al-Ghul O. 2004. An Early Arabic inscription from Petra carrying diacritic marks. Syria 81: 105‒118.

Imbert F. 1995. Inscriptions et espaces d’écriture au Palais d’al-Kharrāna en Jordanie. Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan 5: 403–416.

Imbert F. 2012. Réflexions sur les formes de l’écrit à l’aube de l’Islam. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 42: 119–128.

al-Jallad A. 2015. Outline of grammar of Safaitic inscriptions. Leiden: Brill.

King G.M.H. 1990. Early North Arabian Hismaic 1. PhD thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies. http://krc.orient.ox.ac.uk/ociana/index.php/database/13-scripts/39-hismaic (accessed 19 December 2021).

Macdonald M.C.A. 2009. 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. Procházka (eds), Philologisches und Historisches zwischen Anatolien und Sokotra: Analecta Semitica in Memoriam Alexander Sima. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Musée du Louvre. 2011. Borne milliaire au nom du calife ‘Abd al-Malik. Musée du Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010317828 (Accessed 29 September 2021).

Museum with no frontiers. 2021. The Ibn al-Bawwab Qur’an. Museum with no frontiers: Explore Islamic art collections (MWNF Working Number: IR 05). http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;EPM;ir;Mus21;5;en (Accessed 29 September 2021).

Nehmé L. 2010. A glimpse of the development of the Nabataean script into Arabic based on old and new epigraphic material. Pages 47–88 in M.C.A. Macdonald (ed.), The development of Arabic as a written language. (Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, Supplement 40). Oxford: Archaeopress.

Rabin C. 1951. Ancient West-Arabian. London: Taylor’s Foreign Press.

Robin C. 2006. La réforme de l’écriture arabe à l’époque du califat médinois. Mélanges de l’Université Saint-Joseph 59: 319–364.

Robin C., Al-Ghabban A.I. & Al-Saʿīd S.F. 2014. Inscriptions antiques de la région de Najrān (Arabie Séoudite méridionale): Nouveaux jalons pour l’histoire de l’écriture, de la langue et du calendrier arabes. Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 158e année, 3: 1033–1128.

al-Saʿīd ʿA.A., al-Bayṭār M.Sh.Kh., al-Saʿīd S. & al-Dāmigh A.M. 2017–2018 (1439AH). Nuqūsh ḥismā: kitābāt min ṣadr al-ʾIslām shimāl gharb al-mamlakah. Riyadh: Majallat al-ʿArabiyyah.

Segal J.B. 1953. The Diacritical point and the accents in Syriac. London/New York: Oxford University Press.

Shaddel M. 2018. Traces of the hamza in the early Arabic script: The inscriptions of Zuhayr, Qays the Scribe, and ‘Yazīd the King’. Arabian Epigraphic Notes 4: 35‒52.

Sharon M. 1997. Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae 1. Leiden: Brill.

Al-Shdaifat Y., Al-Jallad A., Al-Salameen Z. & Harahsheh R. 2017. An early Christian Arabic graffito mentioning ‘Yazīd the King’. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 28: 315‒324.

Tekeli G. 2021. Distance marker (milestone). Museum with no frontiers: Explore Islamic art collections (MWNF Working Number: TR 01). http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;tr;Mus01;1;en (accessed 29 September 2021).

Tokunaga R. 2019. Early Islamic Arabic graffiti of Wādī al-Khirqah: Tracing the development of formulae by generation. Pages 231–242 in S. Nakamura, T. Adachi & M. Abe (eds), Decades in deserts: Essays on Near Eastern archaeology in honour of Sumio Fujii. Tokyo: Rokuichi Syobou.

Tokunaga R., Fujii S. & Adachi T. 2019. Early Islamic and Ancient North Arabian graffiti and petroglyphs in Tabūk Province – Saudi-Japanese al-Jawf/Tabūk Archaeological Project (JTAP), March 2017 field season (poster). Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 49: 275–282.

Van Putten M. 2018. Hamzah in the Quranic consonantal text. Orientalia 87: 93–120.



How to Cite

Tokunaga, R. (2022). A new example of proto-hamzah in the early Islamic graffiti of Wādī al-Khirqah (poster). Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 51, 403–412. Retrieved from https://archaeopresspublishing.com/ojs/index.php/PSAS/article/view/635