|Westwold, British Columbia, lies in the trees at the far left. The view is from the shoulder of Highway 97C. Arable bottomland stretches to the right of the picture and beyond Westwold proper. It's quite a big piece of land, is what I'm saying.|
Does it hold up? The classic argument turns on showing that various well-known Indian Ocean luxury trades did not pass through Mecca. Rather, the comparatively wet and fertile southwest of the Arabian peninsula, the "Arabia Felix" of the Ancients, either produced these goods or was the entrepot for them, and sent them on by ship to the Red Sea ports serving Egypt and Palestine.
Having come to the point where one could argue that it is at least not obvious that an overland trade via Mecca made sense, the discussion over Delong's place turned in an interesting direction when commentator derrida derider suggested that Mecca might have been the centre of a hypothetical salt trade. .
To the extent that there was an important "Arabic" carrying trade in the region that reached for staples-level activity, it was the camel caravans that cross the northern fringe of the Arabian desert directly from southern Iraq to Egypt via southern Israel and the Sinai. In the fully developed "Hagarene" or Hagaren-light theory, this trade provides the base for an Arab army of conquest. A claimed lack of a Meccan connection then justifies the idea of Islam as an ideological inventin..
It does not, however, carry salt. The climate of Arabia is famously arid and hot. But, in spite of my inspiration, it is the summer, and not the winter that is the season of hardship and flight to safe pastures. In the hottest months, pastoralists huddle around wells, keeping to the shade while their animals roam the land, effectively chained to the well, but browsing freely and as widely as they are capable of doing. While salt licks would probably make for healthier animals, the fact is that the well water is brackish and the scrub is alkali. There are better things to spend one's money on. There's clearly a transport mechanism carrying salt up from the seaside marshes to the plateau, but it is in the body tissue of the livestock.
Sheep and goats are the most important livestock from the point of view of feeding and clothing humans. There are some 4 million ovicaprines in Saudi Arabia today. Camels, formerly raised in large quantities for overland trade, are now something of a prestige animal. The Kingdoms' official statistics say that there are 800,000 in the country, but the FAO estimate can only find half of them. If the international organisationis right, Saudi Arabia's camel herd is only about 25% larger than that of the UAE.
Per the ancient Naval Intelligence Division report, camels tend to get too much salt, rather than too little. An old time Red Sea trading world existed, consisting of of tiny little boatyards in small towns, small-scale textile production, and charcoal exports from favoured ports with access to the forests of the southwest. (And, perhaps, to charcoal burners in the saline marsh.) I find a little more current data thanks to the the National Institute of Health, of all funding sources. A camel-born respiratory disease called MERS is of current interest, and a paper by Megid G. Hemida, et al, provides us with this:
But could it be due to the hajj? No doubt the modern pilgrimage is a factor, but the main movement is the familiar race for northern pasture, and that is simple agronomic logic. Starting in the rough country of Asir province and adjacent northern Yemen, camels move along the bench of the escarpment as far as Mecca, then ascends the escarpment to Taif, racing via Riyadh for the northern grass. the return via Mecca in the spring is much slower.
Yes, it seems like an indirect route:
Meanwhile, a further stream of African camels arrives by ship from Sudan and Somalia. I'm not a camel-trading guy, but I presume that this is because there is demand for camels in Arabia, and Jeddah is a good place to unload them. I would guess that Mecca is a good location for a winter camel fair, and, no doubt, associated wool sales. Finally, given that you're travelling that way, anyway, and in a screaming hurry at that, it makes considerable sense to find some room in the saddlebags for some incense and myrrh.
In conclusion, I will admit to having been intrigued and amused by Crone and Cook's daring. Now, having done a very small amount of research into the very basics of the quotidian carriage trade of livestock and their burdens was and is conducted in Arabia, my intrigue has turned into outrage. All of this is surely everyday knowledge to everyone who works in logistics around Saudi Arabia, and these things have surely been pointed out to obstreperous western scholars. The fact that these criticisms have not passed the gatekeepers --who appear to be Crone and Cook!-- is disheartening.
As for the salt marshes around Jeddah, I assume that they are reserved for sheep and goats. The browse is denser, and there is ash available for cleaning wool.