Following the results of the 2010 survey and the 2011 excavations, two main areas were selected for excavation during the 2012 season, Structure 26 (ST 26 on fig. 2), built at the very edge of a promontory protruding east towards the city centre, and Structure 20 (ST 20 on fig. 2), standing on the NE edge of the plateau.
Structure 26 (ST 26 on fig. 2, no. 1 on fig. 3, figs. 4–8) is the structure that was already investigated by Morton in the early 1950s and, therefore, the same that had been interpreted by Bennett as a Nabataean temple. After verification it turned out that the rectangular structure previously recorded is only part of a more substantial building, continuing on at least three sides (N, S, W), while towards the east the steep cliff made a further extension impossible. However, the regularly cut off rock that was previously interpreted as steps might suggest instead the positioning of a major wall, using the classical Nabataean technique of a zigzag-like contact between the built and the rock-cut parts of walls. Last year´s finds indicated a destruction of this huge hall by the earthquake of CE 363. The hypothesis of an earthquake destruction can also be supported by this year´s excavations, especially when considering the collapsed architectural members on the original floor slabs (fig. 4).
Within the main structure, i. e. the one already mapped by Bennett in 1965, parts of the original floor slabs still are visible in situ. In the SE part of that room, a rectangular structure built of two ashlars and measuring 66 x 80 cm stands directly on the floor slabs. As we suspected in last year´s report, this structure corresponds to a rectangular pillar that was excavated this year (figs. 5. 6). It turned out that the second layer of stones belonging to the pillar is still partially preserved and in situ. Perfectly aligned to it but a few metres to the W stands a second pillar (figs. 5. 6). On the W side of the paved room, the continuation of the back wall was exposed, showing the same row of pedestals as already excavated in 2011 in the N part. These pedestals are very similar to – although smaller than – the pedestals of the temenos gate in the Qasr al-Bint area McKenzie 1990. . On top of these pedestals one would imagine pilasters, and indeed during the 2012 season several fragments of pilaster bases and capitals were found. This would indicate a reasonable height of that room, reaching around five metres.
Surprisingly, nothing was found in the N half that might correspond to the above mentioned pillar base that is visible in the S half. This would suggest a very wide colonnade and, therefore, the room would have been much bigger than the visible remains indicate. While in previous years we could not exclude that it once continued towards the S, making use of massive walls, now collapsed and fallen down the cliff, this year we were able to define a S limit of the room.
In fact, the two rows of stones, perfectly aligned in an E–W-direction and defining the S limit of the paved area, are the foundations of what must have once been the southern wall (fig. 6). This is confirmed by small remains of wall plaster on several parts of the wall, still standing upright, although preserved only a few centimetres high (fig. 7). This indicates that the main room had an overall size of 12 by 6.4 metres. It still remains to explain why only the S half of the room has pillars but not the N half. It is possible that in antiquity only about one third of the room – from the pillars to the S wall – was covered, while the rest was an open courtyard, splendidly overlooking the city centre (fig. 8).
From the excavated parts of ST 26 we have some hints regarding its ancient interior decoration. Besides the finds of fine marble and limestone slabs reported in 2010 and 2011, we continued to find small fragments of the stucco decoration of that room. Most of the fragments belong to architectural elements, but some more elaborate pieces suggest a figurative decoration, such as the substantial fragment of what seems to be part of a cloak covering a human shoulder (fig. 9). Additional luxury in this hall is indicated by marble statuettes, as testified by two hands, presumably belonging to a female statuette, holding with its right hand part of a cloth, while the left hand was holding an unknown object (fig. 10).