V.a. Preliminary Results: Tomb 781 – Exterior (Sector B)
Tomb 781, to the south of Tomb 779, has a façade of the Hegr type, that measures 10.45 m in width (Fig. 4). The surface of the façade is heavily eroded, but one can make out a shallow niche high above the doorway. Either side of the doorway are windows, and above is a groove for an inset pediment. The platform in front of this tomb is much larger than that of Tomb 779, measuring c. 16.70 m long by 13.30 m wide (Fig. 31).
On the northern and western sides, the platform is enclosed by a low rock wall. On the southern side is a high rock wall with a series of carved grooves, possibly to support a roofed structure in this area, to the side of the façade (Fig. 32). At the base of this wall, but blocked by sand, the tops of two niches are visible, perhaps once used as a support for vaulting, as commonly observed in Nabataean cisterns. The southern wall cuts the façade of Tomb 782 to the south, and thus postdates this tomb.
A 3 x 3 m trench (Trench 3) was opened at the western limit of the platform, in alignment with the tomb entrance (Fig. 5). After the removal of a c. 0.26 m layer of sand and stones, the bedrock was reached. The pottery from this layer was mostly Nabataean, of Phases 2c and 3 (1st century AD). The bedrock surface was smooth and well-worked, but the most notable features were the holes for a doorframe and locking system at the western edge (Fig. 33). This reveals that an exterior doorway provided access into the whole complex from the west (on the same axis as the tomb entrance). A comparable example in Petra is the monumental entrance-building providing access to the Soldier Tomb Complex in Wadi Farasa East, although this is perpendicular to the tomb for the latest report on the IWFP, see Schmid 2009a: 95–105. . Monumental gateways are also found leading into the complexes of Tombs 269/270 and Tomb 572. Control of access into the funerary area was clearly required, perhaps due to issues concerning the legal property of the tomb or its sanctity (Wadeson 2013b: 6).
In the case of Tomb 781, it is difficult to reconstruct how this external doorway was accessed from the west, since the rock edge has broken off into large boulders which now lie in the wadi below. Notably, a channel (1.10 m long, 0.20 m wide) is carved beneath the level of the threshold (and between the post-holes) perhaps to conduct water accumulated in the platform (which slopes down from east to west) over the edge of the rock. However, it is not connected to any drainage system and seems to be unfinished since it slopes down from the east end and rises up again on the west end. It is possible that this is a later structure, but the pottery inside the channel was exclusively Nabataean, of Phase 3a–b (AD 20–100), without any later material (Fig. 34). A channel is also carved into the threshold of the Painted Room (BD 849) in Siq el-Barid, but this is related to a complex hydraulic system Twaissi et al. 2010: 36, Fig. 8. .
Trench 3 was extended to the north by 5 metres with the addition of Trench 5, which reached the northern rock wall (Fig. 5). The pottery findings were similar to those of Trench 3, yet there were also some Medieval sherds at the northern end, where there were traces of later fires. Nothing of significance was noted in the bed-rock, apart from a carved protrusion on the western side that may have been the support for a wall separating this area into two rooms (Fig. 35).
The large platform of Tomb 781 may have further notable structures carved in the rock, given the discovery of the external gateway. In future seasons we aim to complete the clearance of this external area, starting with the south-eastern corner beneath the high rock wall. However, this will take some time due to the large amounts of sand that have accumulated over the eastern half of the courtyard.