The burial chamber of Tomb 779 is approximately 12.2 m wide and 10.2 m long. Its walls are straight and neatly carved with fine line dressing tilted on a 45 degrees angle from the horizontal, and bands of horizontal lines below the ceiling and vertical lines down the corners. This tooling style is notably similar to that found in the Obelisk Tomb and Bab es-Siq Triclinium McKenzie 1990: 44. . Several ‚loop-holes‘ are carved both high and low in the walls of this chamber and the only visible burial place is the pit grave carved inside the arcosolium in the back wall (Fig. 16). The chamber floor is blocked with approximately 0.40 m of goat dung and sand, which became evident with the opening of Trench 9 in the threshold of the tomb. Thus, the full height of the chamber is 4.52 m.
Trench 9 was connected to Trench 1 in Sector A and extended 0.70 m across the southern half of the threshold, 2.5 m inside the chamber to the north and 2.5 m to the east (Fig. 5). The pottery within this fill was mostly Medieval, indicating later reuse of the tomb. Approximately 0.10–0.13 m below the surface, large stone blocks appeared in the threshold area (LO 93), most likely placed there in the Medieval period to block the entrance to the tomb. One of these blocks (BL 7), now broken in two pieces, was decoratively carved with what appears to be a vine motif, typical of the 1st century AD (Fig. 17). It may have once formed part of the decoration of this tomb, before being reused at a later period.
After removing the stones from the threshold area, the rock-cut holes for the frame and bolts of the tomb door became evident (Fig. 18). No rock-cut stairs were found leading to the tomb chamber, nor were there burials in the section of the chamber floor that was cleared.
The other work inside the chamber involved clearing and excavating the pit grave (Trench 6) carved in the floor of the arcosolium in the back wall. The first 1.26 m of the fill of this grave was disturbed material, including Medieval pottery, animal bones and modern rubbish. It then became clear that the grave had been looted from the south end, which contained a number of disturbed stones, sand and more modern material. A common tactic of looters was to cut down into the supposed head area of the burial where the most valuable grave goods were usually located Schmid – Barmasse 2006: 221. .
However, the north end of the grave was undisturbed and it was possible to observe the original sealing layers of the burial in section (Figs. 19–20). The top layer consisted of a hard and compact grey mortar (0.15 m thick) with inclusions of small stones, charcoal, bones and pottery. The painted sherds embedded in the mortar date to Schmid’s Phases 3a and 3b (Fig. 21), giving the sealing of the burial a terminus post quem of AD 75–100.
Below this was a 0.45 m thick layer of large stones embedded in the same mortar, with numerous potsherds of the same phase as those in the layer above. Underneath the layer of large stones and mortar was an empty space of c. 0.43 m, and below this large covering slabs resting on the rock-cut shoulders of the grave. These were sealed with a chalky white mortar that was more brittle than the grey mortar and had inclusions of small pebbles and no pottery (Fig. 22). Unfortunately, this level had been disturbed by the looters, who presumably reached in and under the grey mortar layer (in the empty space) from the southern end.
Although disturbed, the final layer of the burial underneath the cover slabs revealed some interesting material: at the northern end of the grave was a gritty black material with inclusions of charcoal, small potsherds and bone fragments. Within this layer a circular lump of bronze was recovered. After cleaning, this turned out to be the foot of a camel (2.5 x 2.5 cm), most likely broken off a small bronze figurine originally placed with this prestigious burial (Fig. 23). Camel imagery is of course appropriate for Petra, considering the role that camels played in trade and the wealth this brought the Nabataeans. The Nabataean terracotta camel figurines el-Khouri 2002: 189–96. and the camel caravan carved in the Siq Ruben 2003: 40–43. provide further examples of this imagery.
The ashy black material lay over a fine sand that contained disturbed and fragmentary human remains, and therefore may indicate the deposition of burnt material over the burial, a practice that has been noted in other Nabataean burial contexts Perry 2002: 266. . Small skull fragments were found in the north end of the grave, indicating the orientation of the burial. The grave robbers had mistakenly presumed the head was at the south end when they looted this grave. Among the disturbed bones at the bottom of the grave were large sherds of cooking pots, a base fragment of an inscribed Nabataean lamp, and painted fineware of Phases 3a–c (Fig. 24), indicating the variety of objects deposited with the burial. In addition, small pieces of charcoal and small chunks of the greyish mortar that was used to seal the burial were noted.
Despite its disturbed state, the excavation of this burial provides new information on Nabataean burial practices, such as the careful way the burials were sealed with various types of mortars used at different levels (of which samples were taken for analysis), and the possible deposition of burnt material at the bottom of the grave. In addition, the fragmentary human remains collected will be studied by an anthropologist, providing further insight into the Nabataeans’ treatment of their dead. This data can then be compared with that from the few excavated pit grave burials from the Tomb of Unaishu, the Renaissance Tomb and the Soldier Tomb Complex in Wadi Farasa to enhance what we know of Nabataean funerary customs Zayadine 1974: 144–45; Schmid – Huguenot – al-Bdool 2004: 204–6; Schmid – Barmasse 2006: 220–27. .
Although it shares similarities with other pit graves in Petra, the structure of the grave in Tomb 779 is noteworthy: the complete depth of the grave is 2.90 m and the rock-cut shoulders for supporting the covering slabs appear at a depth of 2.40 m (Figs. 25–26). To provide access to this deep grave, four toe-holes were carved in a vertical line in the western wall (Fig. 27), a feature which is usually only observed in shaft tombs at Petra.
The dimensions of the top of the grave are 2.25 m long and 0.88 m wide, whereas at the bottom they are 2.03 m long and 0.52 m wide, indicating the significant narrowing of the walls. This deep grave was for a single burial, clearly of an important individual given its size, the complex sealing system, the accompanying grave goods, and the elaborate arcosolium carved above (Fig. 28), which is located in the most prominent position of the chamber usually reserved for the tomb owner Wadeson 2013a. .
The arcosolium, which measures 2.96 m wide, 1.69 m long and 2.92 m high, has abundant traces of plaster, indicating that it was left open (Fig. 29). This type of burial structure is rare in Petra, being observed in only a handful of other tombs, such as Tomb 781, Tomb 825, the Obelisk Tomb and the Soldier Tomb. In further research a comparative study will be made of all the arcosolia in order to shed light on the chronological relationship between these tombs.
Even more uncommon is the peculiar niche carved in the southern wall of the arcosolium in Tomb 779, measuring 1.57 m high, 0.86 m wide and 1.02 m deep (Figs. 16, 30). We cleared the bottom of this niche to discover that it extends 0.23 m below the rock edge. Traces of a greyish hydraulic mortar at the base indicate that it may have held water. However, the walls were once plastered, and two regular sets of two small square holes (0.05 m x 0.05 m) in the back wall may have been used to support wooden shelving. This would suggest that it was a storage area, perhaps for cult implements or offerings to the dead. The entire niche was decorated with architectural framing, as inset grooves at the top and bottom reveal.
The interior of Tomb 779 appears to be finished, unlike parts of the exterior, and its size and original decoration would have been an impressive sight to visitors to the tomb. It remains to be seen if further burials are carved in the floor of this massive chamber, the clearance of which is planned for the second season of excavation.