Hundreds of Nabataean façade tombs are found throughout Petra, carved in the mountains and wadis that surround the city centre. Despite having been looted in the past and used for habitation purposes in the previous century, the author’s recent comprehensive documentation and examination of their interior plans in relation to their façades has shed new light on their chronology, the little known Nabataean burial practices, and funerary architecture Wadeson 2010a, 2010b. . Nevertheless, many of the tombs have unclear floors and exterior platforms, limiting what we know about the form of burials and structures carved into the ground that functioned in the funerary ritual. For this reason, the monumental Tombs 779 and 781 The numbering system of Brünnow – Domaszewski (1904) is retained in the author’s study of the tombs. on the west flank of the el-Khubtha mountain were chosen for clearance and excavation, with the aim of enhancing knowledge of Nabataean burial procedures and the sorts of activities taking place outside the tombs, in so-called ‚tomb complexes‘ Schmid 2009b. .
The few façade tombs that have been methodically excavated in the past, such as the Tomb of Unaishu (BD 813), Tomb 64B, the Soldier Tomb (BD 239), the Renaissance Tomb (BD 229) and the tombs beneath the Khasneh (62D–E), yielded important information for our understanding of Nabataean funerary customs Zayadine 1974: 142–50; Zayadine 1982: 365–93; Schmid – Huguenot – al-Bdool 2004: 204–206; Farajat – Nawafleh 2005: 373–93; Schmid 2009a: 95–105. . Thus, we were confident that the IKT project would produce significant results that would advance the field of Nabataean funerary archaeology.
The western flank of el-Khubtha is well-known for having some of the largest and most elaborate of the façade tombs (the so-called ‚Royal Tombs‘), including the Urn Tomb, the Corinthian Tomb, the Palace Tomb, the Tomb of Unaishu and a large number of Hegr and Double Pylon tombs, which are the most complex types among the non-classical façade tombs Wadeson 2010a: 51–2. For example, among the 35 façade tombs recorded in this area in the ‚Funerary Topography of Petra Project‘ (FTPP) directed by the author, 29 belong to the Complex Classical, Hegr and Double Pylon types. . This necropolis lines the Wadi Musa as one exits the Siq and proceeds north, and has excellent visibility from the city centre and the Theatre area (Figs. 1–2). Most of the Khubtha tombs lie on an east-west alignment and their façades face west.
Tombs 779 and 781 Brünnow – Domaszewski 1904: 398–99. are located on a terrace to the south of the Urn Tomb and almost opposite the Theatre (Figs. 3–4). They appear to form a complex with Tomb 780, which lies between them, yet this tomb is unfinished and therefore was not the focus of any detailed work in the first season of this project. Tombs 779 and 781 were chosen for clearance and excavation since they both have interior chambers notable for their size, arrangement, tooling, arcosolia burials and decorative elements, and large platforms in front of their façades with traces of accompanying structures forming ‚tomb complexes‘. Furthermore, Tomb 779 has a façade of the Double Pylon type, while Tomb 781 is a Hegr tomb, meaning that any datable material excavated from the tombs could throw interesting light on the relative chronology of the different façade types at Petra Wadeson 2010a: 48–69; 2011a. .