ECU News Services
ECU faculty, students discover unexpected
Sept. 16, 2016
By Jules Norwood and Lacey GrayUniversity Communication
East Carolina University students and faculty members helped unearth surprising
discoveries while excavating the ancient Nabataean capital city of Petra,
ECU professor of
anthropology Dr. Megan Perry is co-directing the Petra North Ridge project with
fellow archaeologist and historian Dr. Thomas Parker of North Carolina State
University. Their task is to piece together the puzzle of an enigmatic people.
The city was the
center of the Nabataean Kingdom until it fell into ruin sometime between 300
and 700 A.D.
virtually unknown to the Western world until a Swiss explorer discovered it in
1812, at which point the civilization’s relics were still beautifully preserved
thanks to the protective nature of the rock formations.
Since then, researchers like Perry have been asking questions about the lives
of ordinary people who lived there.
Parker’s project has focused on excavating first- to fourth-century A.D. houses
in the ancient city, along with first-century B.C. to first-century A.D. tombs
used by its residents to bury their dead. Two faculty members and eight current
and former ECU students, along with students and staff from other institutions,
returned to the Middle East this summer for six weeks in May and June to follow
up on excavations performed in 2012 and 2014.
Exploration in a
new area of the city’s northern edge revealed a surprising discovery — the
remains of a first- to second-century A.D. complex that contained a caldarium,
or heated room typical of Roman-style baths.
“The function of
the complex is not clear,” said Perry, “but it could have served a domestic
function similar to other buildings nearby, albeit a more elaborate version.”
Perry said the
find led the team to change its hypothesis on the history of the neighborhood.
caldarium indeed is part of a larger villa, that would imply that elite
individuals lived in this sector of the city — and essentially in the same
neighborhood as more moderate dwellings,” she said. “If it is a public
bath, it would mean that Roman-style bathing was more widespread amongst the
Nabataeans than we previously thought."
The debris that
eventually filled this complex also contained the project’s most stunning find,
according to Perry — two almost-complete marble statues of the goddess
Aphrodite along with her companion, Eros, that probably date to the second or
third century A.D.
likely had been imported, based on stylistic characteristics along with the
marble qualities. These hypotheses will be tested further through
art-historical analysis of the sculpting as well as chemical analysis of the
marble itself,” said Perry.
items,” she added, “really makes you see how museum objects — usually presented
devoid of any context — had ties to actual people and places in the past.”
Studies alumna Melissa Price (M.A. ’15) served as the project conservator and
directed the statues’ cleaning.
suggestions for their conservation — essential for these exquisite objects that
rival those found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre,” said Perry.
The statues are
largely intact, and additional portions of the heads and upper extremities were
within the tombs, supervised by project staff that included ECU anthropology
graduate students Akacia Propst, Mallory Provan, Tara Stanko and Emily Sussman,
and ECU alumni Alex Garcia (M.A. ’14) and Jessica Walker (B.A. ’07), continued
to uncover more remains of the city’s ancient inhabitants. The remains help
illuminate the diet, disease and mortality profiles of the city along with
practices they used to bury and commemorate the dead.
Dr. Thad Wasklewicz
from ECU’s Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, along with ECU
geography graduate student Kailey Adams, provided greater three-dimensional
documentation of the burials and the domestic structures. They used terrestrial
laser scanning for geospatial analysis of artifacts and bones at the site.
Over the years,
the Petra North Ridge Project has served as a study abroad opportunity for
students from ECU and other institutions. This year, 17 students from across
the United States participated in the project for course credit, gaining
hands-on knowledge in archaeological field techniques and experience with
Middle Eastern culture.
“Many of our
graduates become practicing archaeologists for government organizations or
private companies,” said Perry. “Our field schools provide first-hand
experience in the methodological choices and critical decisions professional
archaeologists make every day.”
Funding for the
excavation is provided primarily by grants from the National Endowment for the
Humanities and the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration,
with additional support from ECU’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences
and the departments of anthropology and geography, planning and environment;
the al-Himma foundation of Amman, Jordan; the American Center of Oriental
Research; and the American Schools of Oriental Research. The grants supporting
the project run through the end of the 2016-17 academic year.
Now that the
excavation process is complete, Perry and her team move to the analysis and
publication phase of the project.