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Forthcoming events

Set in Stone: Interpreting Funerary Sculpture at Petra

A PEF lecture by Dr Lucy Wadeson, University of Oxford


The Nabataean tombs at Petra are usually considered in the context of the carved architectural elements on their façades, the arrangement of which has allowed them to be sorted into typological groups. Less well-known is the figurative and non-figurative sculpture that is either incorporated into the design of several tombs or accompanies them. This includes portrait busts, statues and other figural and mythological motifs, as well as nefesh carvings and betyls. In this lecture, such sculpture will be explored in relation to the interior design of the tombs, as well as their exterior installations and setting in the urban landscape. It will be revealed how study of the funerary portraiture can inform us about the debated chronology of the tombs and the identity of those who owned them, while investigation of the mythological motifs and betyls sheds light on their protective function and the nature of the space belonging to the tomb.


Furthermore, the assumed dichotomy between the figurative and non-figurative sculpture will be reviewed, with special reference to the so-called Obelisk Tomb. Although there is a variety of funerary sculpture at Petra, it is not a common occurrence on the tombs, unlike the situation at Madâ’in Sâlih (ancient Hegra), the southernmost outpost and commercial centre of the Nabataean kingdom. The possible reasons for this will be discussed, taking into account the valuable information provided in the inscriptions on the Madâ’in Sâlih tombs.


The free lecture will be at 4pm in the Clore Education Centre at the British Museum and is followed by a wine reception.  

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