arc Brown University Petra Excavations elephant elephant
  arc 1997 Field Campaign - Fifth Year elephant elephant
1997 Results | Discussion | 1997 Catalog | Consolidation and Preservation | 1997 Publications

1997 Results

The earth choking the east exterior wall by the excavation of the East Interior Antae (Pierre) was removed in Trench 48 so that the full sweep, 6.50 m width-by-24.7 m length, of the Temple Pronaos could be viewed.  It was found that the East Corridor Wall extending between the Temple Stylobate to the south was in a better state of preservation than its twin counterpart excavated on the west in 1994.
The Theatron-shaped Structure and Related Features
In the Great Temple several new initiatives were undertaken.  As one of our 1997 goals and of particular interest was the 1996 discovery of the upper courses of a major east-west semi-circular wall opening into the central cella.  We posited that the excavation of this structure would define the cella — it held the promise of being a major architectural component of the Great Temple.  In exposing the upper courses of this wall, we also wanted to understand how it interrelated with the rear West Stairway, the rear West vaulted room, and of course, with the Great Temple architecture as a whole.  Our expectations were more than met!

Trench 40, measuring 9.8-by-6 m, was located to the west of the Lee Column and extended to the center of the cella — which before excavation we thought to be the rear wall of the curvilinear cella.  One-half of an apsidal structure with tiers of seating was discovered, which we tentatively identified to be a small Nabataean structure in the form of a theatron  (from the Greek, meaning "a place of seeing").  Facing north, were five extant courses of seats in the cavea (where the seats were placed) with two six-step stairways (scalaria) above a 1.5 m high plastered apsidal wall.  The lowest tier was a paved walkway on top of the cavea wall measuring 1.5 m in width and set with alternating white and dark red sandstone pavers.

The projected preserved diameter of the orchestra is approximately 6.5 m. The floor of the orchestra is paved with rectilinear sandstones longitudinally placed, north-south, and perpendicular to the center of the cavea.  These were set in place after the cavea was constructed.  A line of red pavers led us to speculate that originally this floor may have had a variegated patterned design.  Unfortunately, the damage to it is appreciable - perhaps in our future excavations of the remaining part of the structure the floor design may become better delineated.

The cavea seats average 0.40 m in height and 0.55 m in depth.  The second to fifth tiers are of white sandstone ashlars divided into four wedge-shaped sections (cunei) and bordered by three staircases - one in the center and two on either side.  Although the collapse of the West Colonnade scarred this structure, further evidence for the seating can be found to continue up to the east and west platforms to the rear of the cavea.

Of note is that some of the blocks in the seating area are ashlars that are channeled - their tops and facing surfaces have been chiseled out to produce narrow, 0.02 m deep rectilinear channel-like slots.  We reason that these may have served as the socles for arm rests or dividers. When studied we hypothesized they may have delineated single and double seats. (Massive collapse also has been evidenced by the channeled ashlars found in the debris that fell into the West Staircase and the West Room.)

We projected that there may have been as many as 13 original courses of seats, and estimate the seating capacity of this structure to be a minimum of 568 persons, if not more. 

In the east balk of the orchestra is a collapsed stone feature of four ashlars that has yet to be excavated.  This may have served as a platform, or perhaps even an altar - future excavation will clarify the function of this feature.

The east-west excavations between the Paul Column to the rear of the east Pronaos Mohammed Column were very productive.  Here, in Trench 47, is an architectural component that we tentatively identify as a pulpitum or the front of a raised platform.  Constructed of sandstone ashlars four courses in height, the excavated portion of this feature is 5.66 m in length-by-approximately 1 m in width.  Interrupting the wall of diagonally-dressed sandstone blocks, in the south wall facing the cavea, are two small staircases, and in the center there appears to be a niche, which at this time has been incompletely excavated.

A paved walkway of some 3 m width lies between this stage-like structure - in front of the pulpitum and the orchestra.  At the east end of the excavated portion of this walkway and positioned perpendicular to the pulpitum is a threshold, 3 m in length-and-0.30 m in width, with deeply-cut squared hollow cavities in its upper surface.  Because quantities of metal were found in this area, it is probable that these cavities supported a gate or door with metal fittings.

As in past years, the interior of the Great Temple was found to have been highly-decorated for the walls in Trenches 45 and 47 of the West Corridor and in Trench 48 behind the West Anta pier (Patricia) were frescoed with red, yellow, and blue stucco, and more vestiges of red and white stucco-covered columns also were found to serve as decorative idioms.

Excavations also took place in the West Corridor behind the West Anta Wall (Patricia) and the engaged Paul Column to the Erika Column extending to the Temple center west to define the architecture of this area.  Recovered were many well-preserved, worked decorative stucco fragments with egg and tongue and egg and dart motifs, and painted cornice fragments, as well as fruit and vegetal elements fashioned in stucco.  One limestone acanthus capital fragment still had gold leaf adhering to its surface!

In Trench 45 we excavated the arched doorway that stands at the bottom of the rear West Stairway, between the West Stairway and the West Corridor.  Erosional damage was appreciable from annual winter rains that had been trapped at the bottom of the exposed stairs.  The main purpose of this work, therefore, was to open this area for the passage of water from winter rains.  During excavation the structural integrity of the arch, its Inter-Columnar wall and the Lee Column had shown a serious need for stabilization.  The ashlars had not fallen, but had been jostled out of their original positions.  Presumably this arched doorway provided access to the steps that led up to the platforms that served as access points to the steps that led up to the rear of the cavea.

Additionally continued research was devoted the rear of the Temple (1996, Trenches 34, 35 and 26), to better understand the interrelationship between the Central Arch and the Temple rear.  Excavation resumed under the Central Arch in Trench 26, but when the arch ashlars were found to be compromised by earthquake, the project was abandoned until further consolidation efforts could be put into effect.

In the Temple rear, continued excavation also took place on the east side of the Temple in the East Corridor (Trench 34) - to locate its founding level.  This excavation continued the Trench 34 excavations initiated in 1996.  Eight courses of the massive heart-shaped southeastern column were removed section-by-section for re-erection.  Here too large amounts of multi-colored decorative stucco were recovered.

To our great surprise, adjacent to Trench 34 extending from Trench 35 or the center of the Temple rear, was the recovery of an east-west flight of stairs, approximately 7 m in length-by-2.2 m in width, extending from the upper platform of the Central Arch to the East Interior Corridor - at their foot these steps are associated and are built around the Attic heart-shaped column base of the Suleiman column in Trench 34, and at the top they access the small paved platform and the north-south West Staircase excavated in Trench 15 in 1995.  The elevation of these features with the east corridor floor lies at a 7 m depth below present day ground level.


Now, given a new plan for the Temple, how did this structure work?  We have found the flow pattern of this structure to be extraordinarily well-planned and efficient.

On the ground level, access was though the Temple Entrance, to the front of the now-blocked Pronaos forcing the visitor either to turn to the right, and then left into the West Corridor (or to turn to the left to gain entry into the not-as-excavated East Corridor).    The major route which would been taken by most dignitaries who wished to access the cavea, would have been from the West Corridor, through the arched doorway between the Lee and David Columns.  Once they had mounted the steps of the West Stairway, they came to the paved platforms at the top of these stairs, which with a 900 turn accessed the twin small flights of steps which led to an upper walkway and to the no longer extant upper reaches of the scalaria.

Entry or egress from at the rear of the theatron could also have been from the East or West Corridors. These people would have elected to walk up the recently-excavated east stairway  (or the as yet unexcavated west stairway) which accessed the East and West Corridors to the twin platforms which accessed the rear of the cavea.  From the Corridors either entry or exit could have been gained to the East and West Walkways.

From the west we do know that between the Paul and Erika Columns there must have been a formal entrance along the paved walkway which led to the orchestra on the west.  As a narrow series of steps was found leading up the side of the cavea to the lower west cavea walkway,  it would appear that a minor access, perhaps for special purposes, was up these "emergency" steps to the front of the cavea walkway (and from there to one of the three major scalaria).

This theater-like structure must have served as the central focus for the Great Temple after it was rebuilt.  Although the conventions of classical architecture proscribe this building to be the Great Temple, it is clear that Nabataean creativity, their lack of preconceived ideas, and their unusual architectural borrowings from the classical world could have led them to utilize the Great Temple either for ritual or administrative purposes.  If the purpose of this structure is secular - theatron, bouleuterion, odeion - this has yet to be determined.

The Great Temple precinct's location adjacent to the Temenos Gate and the most sacred Qasr al-Bint is not accidental.  A bouleuterion should be accessible to the citizens of Petra and provide a gathering place where the decisions of the day could be announced and discussed by the populace.  So, was the Great Temple a center of worship where performances of a ritual nature were performed?  Or did this structure serve other or perhaps even multiple civic functions?  We seek scholarly discussion of this issue.

1997 Catalog

As for the artifact record, a study of the glass has been initiated. Our data base now stores some 117,521 items - in 1997 the Grosso Modo data base had 31,633 objects recorded with approximately 21,300 or 67% representing pottery sherds.  The 1997 catalog contains an additional 33 coins, 68 lamps and 46 other items including Nabataean wares, a partial Greek inscription, bronze finials, and the extraordinary sculpture of a lion's head found in Trench 50 of the Propylaeum.  Portions of elephant-headed capitals continued to be recovered in the Lower Temenos, however the mystery yet remains as to what part of the Lower Temenos these capitals adorn. Architectural decorative elements continue to be prolific, but of particular interest is a pilaster found in the Lower Temenos fill above the Hexagonal Pavement.  This is a limestone relief of a life-sized male torso, whose identity has yet to be discovered.

A new initiative was the study of the glass by Sara G. Karz.  Up to this point, some 1,326 glass fragments have been entered into our site data base, but they have not been given individual study.  Additional drawings and photographs were made of our architectural fragments and the pottery. And updated was our present data base of some 85,932 objects not only with the new finds, but with a fuller documentation of those we have identified as having come from important loci.

1997 Consolidation and Preservation

  1997 consolidation projects continued the work of previous years.  An additional 75 m of fencing has been installed around the additional areas excavated as well as to protect the large architectural fragments that were recovered.  Before excavation can resume we are devoted to the time-consuming quarrying and cutting of new blocks for step areas that have been robbed, and to the pointing and consolidation of the architectural elements of the precinct.

In the Lower Temenos are three projects, each requiring differing factors to consider as well as immediate attention.  The East Exedra, excavated in 1996, suffered structurally during the 1996 winter rains.  We delayed its pointing and consolidation because it was a priority for excavation in 1997.  There were, however, a number of reasons, including time constraints and logistics that precluded its continued excavation.  Before excavation can continue in this structure it now must undergo extensive consolidation, because it is in danger of collapse and excavation within it would be hazardous.  Now that it has been reinforced, it is planned to undergo excavation in 1998.

The curbing in front of the East-West Retaining Wall has been consolidated, for its blocks over time have shifted from their original positions as have those of the Eastern Stairs from the Lower to the Upper Temenos.  With the 1997 excavations these were found in varying states of collapse into the subterranean canalization system which extended below them.  It is planned to create extra support for these steps before they are consolidated and reinstalled in place.

In the Upper Temenos and the Great Temple, columns that had collapsed from earthquake tremors continued to be re-erected; in addition there was the consolidation of deteriorated blocks found in all areas of the site.

Both the East and West rear Staircases suffered erosion from the heavy rains of 1996.  An enormous effort has been made for their consolidation and restoration.  The re-erection of the heart-shaped Suleiman Column in the rear east of the Great Temple has been undertaken.  The Central Arch, once again requires support before excavation continues here.  Partially conserved in 1995 and 1996, this area was partially excavated again in 1997, and to our disappointment, because we wanted to see it in its entirety, more work has to be done before further excavation can take place.

The West Corridor and the Inter-Columnar Wall arch required complete dismantlement for anastylosis to take place.  The west flank of this wall, its arch, and the Lee Column was excavated in 1997.  It was discovered that it had undergone significant earthquake damage - both the wall and the arch had slumped out of position at an awkward angle to the west.  The Lee Column had to be completely dismantled and re-erected during the 1997 field operations. This had to be completed before work in the theatron - bouleuterion - odeion could be initiated.  Its time-consuming re-erection during the 1997 field season placed an enormous strain on the progress of the 1997 scheduled excavations.

The theater-bouleuterion discovered required consolidation, but we thought it wise to postpone this effort until some point in the future when this structure will be fully excavated.

We are committed to continue the consolidation of this great edifice, which in part has been made possible by the World Monuments Fund.  Although our major subventions are through Brown University, we have received major support not only from the Department of Antiquities, but also from the newly-formed Petra Regional Council.

1997 Publications

Again 1997 was an active year for some 20 scholarly lectures were delivered and several publications appeared.  Klaus Stephen Freyberger, and Martha Sharp Joukowsky published "Blattranken, Greifen und Elefanten: Sakrale Architektur in Petra und ihr Bauschmuck neuausgegrabene Peripteral-tempel," in Petra: Antike Felsstadt Zwischen Arabischer Tradition Und Griechischer Norm. T. Weber and R. Wenning eds. Verlagg Philipp Von Zabern. Mainz,  p. 71-86.  I also saw the publication of  "The Water Canalization System of the Petra Temple." in Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan. Vol. VI, devoted to the Sixth International Conference on the History and Archaeology of Jordan, "Landscape Resources and Human Occupation in Jordan Throughout the Ages." Torino (Italy), pp.303-311; "The Temple at Petra." in the Encyclopedia of Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 4, Oxford University Press and the American Schools of Oriental Research, p. 306-307;  and "The Petra Temple: The Fourth Season, 1996." in the American Journal of Archaeology 101:339.

Erika Lee Schluntz also presented her abstract of "The Architectural Sculpture of the Temple at Petra, Jordan." in the American Journal of Archaeology 101:339.

  arc     arc  
arc     arc

Copyright© 1999 Brown University