La monumental ciudad nabatea de Petra, Jordania, asombra a los visitantes con sus magníficas construcciones cobijadas a lo largo del cañón del Siq, pero junto a la bulliciosa actividad de los turistas, los arqueólogos siguen trabajando para profundizar en el pasado de esta fascinante urbe caravanera. En equipo de la Universidad de Carolina del Norte, que excava allí dentro del Petra North Ridge Project, ha descubierto recientemente un conjunto escultórico que representa a Afrodita (Venus) y Eros (Cupido). Mediterráneo Antiguo ha querido conocer en qué consiste este proyecto de la mano de su director, el profesor Thomas Parker (en inglés).
Aphrodite. Photo: T. Parker
Question – Could you explain us what is the purpose of the Petra North Ridge Project?
Answer – To learn about the non-elite population of Petra through excavation of non-elite (simple rock-cut) shaft tombs and of ordinary domestic structures.
Question – Could you talk us about your team?
Answer – Ca. 45 staff and students plus about 20-25 local Jordanian workers.
Question – What is the current situation at the Petra Archaeological site? I mean about the archaeological situation, of course
Answer – Petra has been under excavation by various teams sine the last 1920s but most of the ancient city still lies unexcavated. The site is reasonably well protected as a national park.
Question – Your team have unearthed a great sculpture of Aphrodite and Cupido. Could you talk us about its value?
Answer – Actually, two such statues were found. If by “value” you mean cultural value” (or “significance”?), they provide further evidence for the assimilation of Graeco-Roman culture by the indigenous Nabataean Arabs, especially after their annexation into the Roman Empire in A.D. 106. These two statues are of the finest imported marble (likely from Italy or the Aegean- the stone is yet to be sources) and also underscore the enormous wealth acquired by the Nabataeans through the aromatics trade from South Arabia and lands farther east. Further, both statues retain some evidence of colorful paint, by which marble statues were normally painted but which rarely survives the centuries. The surviving traces of paint will also be the subject of further study.
Thomas Parker and his team. Photo: Thomas Parker
Question – What was the archaeological context where they were discovered?
Answer – They were found within debris dumped into a room within a previously abandoned structure (perhaps an urban villa). This occurred in the late 4th century, perhaps reflecting cleanup after the well documented A.D. 363 earthquake which devastated Petra. This deposit is closely date to the late 4th century by associated pottery. The statues themselves appear to be much earlier, probably 2nd century. Where they originally stood is unknown although a early 2nd century papyrus discovered near the Dead Sea does refer to a “Temple of Aphrodite” somewhere in Petra. But the statues may have instead come from a bath (several known in Petra, an elite residence, or elsewhere.
Question – What will be the next steps on your project?
Answer – The project has completed its field work after three seasons in 2012, 2014, and 2016. Now we are moving into further analysis and publication of our evidence. The statues, which remain in Jordan, will be the focus of further documentation, conservation, and restoration. They will likely eventually be displayed in the newly constructed Petra Archaeological Museum.
Mario Agudo Villanueva