The greatest challenges of living in arid and
hyper-arid regions include the perpetually limited food resources and the
inherent uncertainty regarding the availability, quantity and spatial
distribution of water. These challenges dictate the main weaknesses of desert
societies that, according to the existing paradigm, are prone to suffer from a
permanent risk of collapse.
The Social-Ecological System (SES) model, which
is widely accepted in the research of social-ecological systems' resilience,
seems to support this view. According to this model, the ecological system
provides ecosystem-services that are essential for the existence of the social
system. The resilience of the SES depends on the ecological system's function,
which may be affected either by the pressures applied by the social system,
such as overgrazing, or by external drivers, such as climate change.
It is therefore reasonable to argue that reduced
ecosystem-services, due to climatic fluctuations, will occasionally cause the
social system in arid lands to collapse.
However, archaeological remains and
anthropological findings from various arid lands worldwide indicate long-term
continuity of social systems. Flexibility appears to be these societies' key to
In our paper, we will suggest ways to modify the
SES model to suit nomadic and semi-nomadic societies in arid lands. We argue
that the well-known SES model assumes that human society reside in one place -
an assumption that supports the perception that arid societies are prone to a
permanent risk of collapse. Understanding the resilience of nomadic societies
in arid regions requires the formulation of three new assumptions as a
modification of the existing paradigm:
1. Uncertainty regarding the availability of ecosystem-services
permanently affects arid social-ecological systems.
2. Social systems of arid regions are flexible,
both in terms of structure and function.
3. Social systems of arid regions are mobile and
have flexible geographical boundaries; i.e., the local ecological system that
supports the community is replaced as the nomads move to a new terrain.
Including these assumptions in the SES model
allows an alternative interpretation of the discontinuity of arid societies
(ancient or contemporary) at a particular site; i.e., the abandonment of a site
does not necessarily hint that the society is near collapse.
In my talk, I will describe the Bedouin society
in the Negev Desert and Sinai as an example of a thriving arid society, and
invite listeners to discuss and compare examples from other arid SESs
The extended abstract and supplementary material