site identified with the ruins of al-Khuraybah in the al-῾Ula oasis in Saudi Arabia by Eduard Glaser In 1890, mainly on the basis of geography (26°37′ N, 37°50′ E). This is one of the most fertile valleys in northwest Arabia, where the main route used by the incense trade and pilgrim traffic is restricted by forbidding sandstone mountains, sand desert, and harra (“lava flows”). References to Dedan in the Hebrew Bible make it clear that it was one of the most important caravan centers in northern Arabia. The site had been visited by a number of European travelers prior to Glaser, but it was Antonin Jaussen and Raphael Savignac (1914) who were the first (1907–1910) to describe its ruins adequately and to record the many rock inscriptions (in various pre-Islamic Arabian scripts) that amply confirm the identification. Their work remains basic, although it has been supplemented by the more recent, though still very superficial, examination of the site by Fred V. Winnett and William L. Reed (1970), Peter J. Parr and others (1970), and Garth Bawden (1979).

The biblical citations most likely refer to the sixth century BCE, in about the middle of which the site is mentioned (as Dadanu) in an inscription from Harran, in southern Turkey. The inscription records a number of North Arabian centers which the king of Babylon, Nabonidus, attacked at the time of his sojourn in Tayma'. Winnett (Winnett and Reed, 1970), whose reconstruction of the history of Dedan based on the epigraphic material is probably the most reliable, postulates the existence of a short-lived, independent “Dedanite” kingdom in about 500 BCE, after the collapse of the Neo-Babylonian Empire and before the Achaemenid rulers had had time to impose their own control over this strategic part of Southwest Asia. Northern Arabia seems to have prospered under Persian rule, and by about 400 BCE an independent—or semi-independent—kingdom, known from the inscriptions as Lihyanite, was centered at Dedan. By about this time also a small trading colony of Minaean merchants from southwest Arabia was established there, leaving inscriptions in their own language and script. Minaean traders were also to be found in Egypt, and Dedan was probably in contact with them, across the Red Sea. Relations with Egypt seem to have been maintained after the fall of the Persian Empire and the establishment of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty; Ptolemy II is known to have been active in promoting the Red Sea trade and may well have supported the Lihyanite rulers in the face of the rising power of the Nabateans, based farther north at Petra. Nevertheless, Winnett has advanced evidence to suggest that the native Lihyanite dynasty was in fact overthrown by a Nabatean adventurer, Mas῾udu, in the second or early first century BCE. Shortly, thereafter, it seems that Dedan was replaced as a trading center by the Nabatean town of Hegra (Meda'in Saleh), a few kilometres farther north. [See Meda'in Saleh.]

In addition to the inscriptions, the archaeological remains at al-Khuraybah comprise a number of simple tomb chambers cut into the cliffs, two of which are flanked by pairs of crudely carved lions, and a low mound of ruins, some 800 × 250 m in extent and just a few meters high. The tomb has been badly disturbed by digging for building material—much of it for the Hejaz Railway, which cuts through it—and only a few traces of ancient walling and much broken pottery can be seen on the surface. Jaussen and Savignac were able to detect part of the plan of a monumental structure, adjacent to which were four statue bases with Lihyanite inscriptions. Winnett (1937) dated them to the late fourth or early third century BCE. Fragments of several nearly life-sized sculptures found close by clearly come from these bases, and presumably represent rulers; their style shows marked egyptianizing characteristics of the late dynastic or Ptolemaic period. All of these remains lay close to the surface of the mound and evidently belong to the last major period of building. Apart from a handful of Nabatean graffiti, there is little evidence for a Nabatean occupation of the site.

[See also Nabateans; and the biography of Winnett.]


  • Bawden, Garth. “Khief El-Zahra and the Nature of Dedanite Hegemony in the al-῾Ula Oasis.” Atlal 3 (1979): 63–72. Most useful for its brief account of recent Saudi Arabian excavations at the site. Find it in your Library
  • Jaussen, Antonin J., and Raphael Savignac. Mission archéologique en Arabie II. Paris, 1914. Long out of print but still the most complete description of the site, and the principal publication of its epigraphic remains. Find it in your Library
  • Nasif, Abdallah A. Al-῾Ula: An Historical and Archaeological Survey with Special Reference to Its Irrigation System. Riyadh, 1988. Account of recent work by Saudi Arabian archaeologists, with numerous illustrations (including color plates), but concentrating on the Islamic remains. Find it in your Library
  • Parr, Peter J., et al. “Preliminary Survey in North West Arabia, 1968.” Bulletin of the Institute of Archaeology, University of London 8–9 (1970): 193–242. Adds important detail to Jaussen and Savignac's description (see above). Find it in your Library
  • Parr, Peter J. “Aspects of the Archaeology of North-West Arabia in the First Millennium BC.” In L'Arabie préislamique et son environnement historique et culturel: Actes du Colloque de Strasbourg, edited by Toufic Fahd, pp. 39–66. Leiden, 1989. Primarily a discussion of controversial issues relating to the archaeology and chronology of another important Arabian oasis center, Tayma', but surveys the history of Dedan as well. Find it in your Library
  • Winnett, Fred V. A Study of the Lihyanite and Thamudic Inscriptions. Toronto, 1937. Find it in your Library
  • Winnett, Fred V., and William L. Reed. Ancient Records from North Arabia. Toronto, 1970. Find it in your Library

Peter J. Parr