The Nabatean city of Petra is one of the world’s most recognizable sites.* Modern western fascination with Petra began after Johann Burckhardt rediscovered the site in 1812 and has continued over the past two centuries through extended archaeological activity, a thriving tourism industry and of course, the dramatic climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Jordan’s monumental rock-cut façades reflect the wealth and architectural ambition of the Hellenized Arab nation that built them, but what do we know of life in the city?
This summer, North Carolina State University and East Carolina University began a new excavation on Petra’s North Ridge, exposing evidence from shaft tombs, domestic structures and the city walls. Much of Petra’s early archaeology focused on the monumental remains, and this new project aims to balance our image of the city by investigating the lives of Petra’s non-elite citizens. Shaft tomb excavations exposed human remains alongside burial goods including jewelry fragments, oil lamps and perfume bottles. The team’s work on two Roman-era domestic structures, both destroyed in a 4th-century C.E. earthquake, will help archaeologists understand the local diet, trade and economy.
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The team was able to date the city’s wall to the early 2nd century C.E., around the time when the Romans annexed the NabateankKingdom. It is unclear whether the walls were built to (unsuccessfully) thwart the Roman invaders, or whether they were built after the annexation to reinforce the new Roman territory. We hope this mystery is solved when the NC State and East Carolina University team returns to the field in 2014.