Running adjacent to the Wadi Feiran, from north-west to south-east, lies the Wadi Mukattab, whose name means the ‘Valley of Writing’. In the base of the valley the steep rocky walls contain around three kilometres of ancient writings and graffiti carved or bruised into the rock. The wide sandy wadi was deserted and very beautiful in the late afternoon when I arrived there but many of the carvings were darkened by shadows and our Bedouin guide was getting restless as dusk would soon come to this remote place.
The graffiti here is dated mostly to the time of the Nabataeans, from between the second and third centuries AD. The Nabataeans were an ancient trading people who came from southern Jordan and Canaan and their presence can seen in several places in Sinai, though they are better known for the wonderful rose-coloured architecture at their capital city of Petra in Jordan. The Romans under the Emperor Trajan had conquered the Nabataeans and incorporated them into the Roman Empire, after which time their characteristic culture, identified by their fine pottery and ceramics, became eventually lost.
It is thought that our modern European alphabet derived from a language first identified by Petrie as Proto-Sinaitic after he found examples of this at the Temple of Hathor at Serabit el-Khadim. This unique language first appeared in Sinai around 1500 BC and consists of vertical signs used to denote single sounds which were derived from Egyptian hieratic and Semitic scripts. The Nabataeans used this language, which eventually became the basis for Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic scripts. The Nabataeans later combined the proto-Sinaitic language with Greek and Roman and Byzantine. Examples of most of these writings can be found on the rocks at Wadi Mukattab, which is a treasure house for both archaeologists and philologists.