The ‘Incense Road’ from Petra to Gaza: an analysis using GIS and Cost functions

Motti Zohar, Tali Erickson-Gini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As early as the fourth century BCE, the Nabateans established the Incense Road to facilitate the transport of aromatic substances (frankincense and myrrh) from the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean basin. An important part of this road was the segment between Petra and Gaza. Although studied before, the accurate route of parts of this segment is still vague since evidence of Roman milestones are scarce and significant portions of the landscape have changed dramatically in modern times, essentially wiping out the tracks of ancient roads. In this study, we use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Least Cost Path (LCP) analyses for reconstructing the original path of the Incense Road as well as verifying the factors influencing its establishment. The implemented analyses support the archeological evidence of two travel phases between Petra and Oboda (Avdat): During the first phase the Nabateans used the Darb es-Sultan route; during the second phase, from the first century BCE onwards, they passed through the Ramon Crater. This is the first time such reconstruction is made in the southern Levant. It was found that slope degree and the distance to water resources are dominant factors in reconstructing the accurate path of the Incense Road.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)292-310
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Geographical Information Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Minerva Foundation [Post-doctoral fellowship];Rothschild Foundation [Post-doctoral fellowship]. We wish to acknowledge Adi Ben Nun, Krina Doekes-Brandt and Dr. Dov Gavish (the Hebrew University in Jerusalem) for their assistance in acquiring the data used in the study; Dr. Yulia Meister, Prof. Brigitta Schutt and Vincent Haburah from the Freie University of Berlin for their assistance and support; Oren Shmueli (Israel Antiquities Authority) for his guidelines in resolving the location of the ancient track northwest of ‘En Orohot; Moshe Devere for language editing and the three anonymous reviewers for their useful comments and suggestions, which improved the manuscript significantly. The study was funded by the Rothschild and Minerva post-doctoral fellowships.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Historical GIS
  • Incense Road
  • Least cost path
  • Nabateans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Library and Information Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'The ‘Incense Road’ from Petra to Gaza: an analysis using GIS and Cost functions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this