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The ancient city of Petra reveals some of its secret treasures.

Jess McHugh
September 13, 2016

Researchers have discovered several ancient artifacts in the city of Petra in Jordan, including Roman-style statues and mortuary remains. The objects offer a glimpse into the daily lives of ancient Nabateans, a nomadic people that ended up settling in the area.

Petra was the religious and political capital of the Nabatean kingdom that stretched across most of modern Jordan down into northern Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of Israel and Syria beginning around the third or fourth century B.C.

The city became a mercantile hub, well known for its trade of frankincense in particular. Rome annexed the city in 106 A.D., and traces of Roman influence soon began appearing in the city’s artistic and funereal practices, among other ways of living.

The remains of two second century A.D. statues of Aphrodite and Eros were of particular interest to Thomas Parker, an archeologist and historian from North Carolina State University who was one of the lead researchers on the dig.

The sculptures likely came from somewhere near the Aegean Sea such as Greece, Turkey or even Italy, and they were brought through trade to Petra, according to Parker.

“They used the finest marble. There’s only a few quarries in the entire Mediterranean world that could produce marble of this kind,” Parker told Travel + Leisure. “The craftsmanship, the style, the skill of the sculptures really comes through.”

Anthropologist Megan Perry at East Carolina University focused on the excavation of nearby tombs to discover more about the burial rites of average Nabateans. Residents of Petra employed the practice of commingling, or intermixing the remains of different individuals from the same family into a single burial site, a practice common to the region at that time.

While Perry is still interpreting the symbolism of commingling and other mortuary practices, she says the tradition likely made reference to family values.

“We’re all together in death as you become one with your ancestors,” Perry told T+L. “You lose your individual identity, you become part of that familial, ancestral identity.”

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