The International Khubta Tombs Project

Preliminary Report on the 2010 Season

by Lucy Wadeson

VI. Concluding Remarks and Future Work

Tombs 779 and 781 on the west flank of el-Khubtha at Petra must have belonged to prominent members of Nabataean society in the 1st century AD given their elaborate façades and interiors, prominent positions, and the accompanying structures found outside the tombs. The two most important burial places in the back of both tomb chambers were likely those of the tomb owner(s) given their prominence and the evidence from the Mada’in Salih tomb inscriptions, which indicates that the tomb owners were usually buried at the back of the chamber Wadeson 2013a. . The burials inside these arcosolia graves are roughly contemporary, having taken place towards the end of the 1st century AD and the beginning of the 2nd century AD, according to the pottery. However, the tombs themselves could have been carved much earlier. This hopes to be verified by a second season of excavation, in which further burials inside these tombs will be cleared. Although the burials are likely to be disturbed, as was the case with the arcosolia burials, the material recovered is valuable for reconstructing the little known Nabataean funerary customs. For example, from the first season of excavation we can propose that the effort invested by the Nabataeans in sealing their burials so thoroughly speaks against the supposed custom of secondary burial, which has often been attributed to them in the past Negev 1986: 74–75; Healey 1993: 8, 39; Wright 1998: 160–64; Nehmé 2000: 177; Perry 2002: 265. . Analysis of the bones, mortar, burnt deposits and organic material will also shed light on burial practices and bring us closer to understanding how the Nabataeans treated their dead. Furthermore, in Tomb 781 we discovered an entirely new form of rock-cut burial structure consisting of a deep shaft and side niche for burial, sealed by an underground wall.

The excavated areas outside Tombs 779 and 781 revealed that they were both part of ‚tomb complexes‘, which included large enclosed platforms, porticoes, additional chambers, and possible sources of water. All these structures aided the funerary ritual that took place outside the tomb, including gathering, feasting and honouring the dead. The portico discovered in front of Tomb 779 would have ordered the space in front of the façade and added to the aesthetic effect, even though the platform surface appears to be unfinished. In addition, it would have directed the visitor towards the side chamber in the north wall, perhaps where the first funerary rites took place. The discovery of an external doorway leading into the complex of Tomb 781 suggests that access into the funerary area was controlled. The alignment of this external entrance with the tomb entrance, burial chambers and arcosolia burial is reminiscent of Alexandrian funerary architecture, particularly the Ptolemaic-period Mafrousa Tomb McKenzie 1990: 65–66, Pl. 186. , and highlights the possible use of the external platform for the focus of the funerary activities in honour of the deceased within the tomb. In the second season, we plan to continue excavating outside Tomb 781, particularly beneath the southern wall, in order to determine what structures were associated with it. The last quarter of the courtyard of Tomb 779 will also be cleared.

In terms of the chronology of the façades, by studying the architectural relationship between Tombs 779 and 781, and unfinished Tomb 780 it could be concluded that the massive Double Pylon Tomb 780 was the first to be carved. The rock removed for the carving of the latter tomb allowed access and visibility to Tomb 779, proof that the smaller Double Pylon tomb was carved later (Fig. 4). This accords with the patterns revealed in the author’s study of the chronology of the façades, i. e. the largest façades were the earliest in Petra, and the smaller versions (even of the same type) were carved later Wadeson 2010a. . It is hoped that through further seasons of excavation, the IKT project will be able to elucidate the reason that Tomb 780 was left unfinished, and its relationship to the neighbouring Tombs 779 and 781.