Reviewing the Temple of the Winged Lions (TWL), Petra: Digging through Forty Years of Archives

Dr. Pauline Piraud-Fournet is an archaeologist, architect, and associate researcher at the French Institute of the Near East.  In 2019, she was the recipient of a six month TWL Publication Fellowship at ACOR. In 2016, she received her Ph.D. in Archaeology on the topic of ‘the city of Bosra’ (Southern Syria) in Late Antiquity from the University of Paris Sorbonne (France). Since the 1990s, Pauline has taken part in research and fieldwork on various archaeological sites in Tunisia, Egypt, Kuwait, Pakistan, as well as Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Her interest and knowledge of the Nabataean world comes from her long-standing involvement in the fieldwork and publication of the Nabataean sanctuaries of Dharih (Jordan) and Sia (Syria).

Safa’ Joudeh is a graduate of Hashemite University, Zarqa, Jordan (2018-2019), with a degree in Architectural Engineering. She is interested in the reuse and renovation of heritage and archaeological sites. In fall 2018, Safa’ joined ACOR as an Intern, and in spring 2019 became a Publication Trainee, in support of the Temple of the Winged Lions Cultural Resource Management (TWLCRM) Initiative.

Fig. 1: Aerial view of the remains in 2009, from the south-east (photo: C. Tuttle, ACOR-TWLCRM).

By Pauline Piraud-Fournet & Safa’ Joudeh

In Petra, on the northern bank of the Wadi Musa and facing several major buildings that belong to the ancient ceremonial and civic center, stand the remains of a major Nabataean sanctuary called “Temple of the Winged Lions.” This huge complex was discovered between 1973 and 2005 by the American Expedition to Petra (AEP) led by archaeologist Philip C. Hammond. The main features of the excavated area include domestic units, a large temple and ancillary facilities, and on its north side an elegant courtyard surrounded by benches. Most of these buildings were likely built between the 1st and the 4th century AD.

Since 2009, ACOR has undertaken the TWLCRM Initiative in order to enhance and preserve the archaeological site for future visitors. Efforts have also concentrated on the preparation of the publication of research and excavation of this important complex. For this purpose, the archives produced over four decades in the field by the AEP were transferred to Jordan and stored with the data recently collected by the TWLCRM Initiative. ACOR is now in the process of digitizing, identifying and describing this material.

In order to study the Temple, what information is available?

Pauline Piraud-Fournet at ACOR, spring 2019. Photo by Jack Green.

Pauline writes:
“Thanks to a Publication Fellowship from ACOR, I had the opportunity to help prepare the groundwork for a multi-year collaborative research and publication project. Under the supervision of Jack Green and with the support of the ACOR Publication Committee, I started by carrying out a bibliographical review and assessment of the archives produced and collected during the excavations and site management work at the site. The survey included bibliographical references and approximately thirty published volumes and articles directly related to the TWL excavations, as well as twelve other publications and reports related to the work of the TWLCRM Initiative and the conservation of the site. Approximately fifty other volumes and papers about Petra and the Nabataeans were added to the set of bibliographic references since they can be regarded to be useful for contextual, comparative, and reference purposes. Through this review, I identified a number of preliminary issues, including aspects of the site’s wider context, the state of research regarding the world of the Nabataeans in the 1970s when the AEP Program was launched, and the objectives of Philip C. Hammond.”

Fig. 2: The AEP team at work in 1978. On the left: the archaeologist Philip C. Hammond (Photo: AEP / Philip Hammond Archive).

Beyond the work on the bibliographical survey, the aim of this fellowship was also to explore and identify the available data to prepare a final publication. They include the archaeological material housed at ACOR and at the Department of Antiquities (Amman and Petra), and the archives produced by the AEP and TWLCRM Initiative during excavation and conservation projects. This scientific data consists of more than 200 unpublished interim and preliminary reports, notebooks written in the field by the excavators, item registers, more than 20,000 photographs depicting fieldwork and findings, a large amount of pottery and object drawings, and at least 340 plans, elevations and stratigraphic sections.”

Fig. 3: Safa’ Joudeh with Jack Green in ACOR’s Seminar Room. This shows the AEP archival materials that were recently inventorized, scanned and rehoused by Safa’ (ACOR 2019)


Fig. 4: Safa’ Joudeh at ACOR standing next to crates of TWLCRM materials recently processed by her. Photo by Jack Green.

Safa’ writes:
“As TWL Intern and Publication Trainee, I helped process, identify, photograph, and measure a large number of archaeological objects excavated and sifted from the TWL. I then undertook the assessment and description of the architectural documentation, and drew up an inventory of all the drawings made during the excavation seasons between the 1970s and the 2000s. I prepared spreadsheets based on the labeling system that Dr. Hammond was using, and categorized the drawings (plans and sections) upon the different areas. Different types of pictures were found, field documentation on graph paper and tracing paper, original hand-inking drawing on tracing paper, blueprint copies, and black and white photocopies. With the help of the ACOR Archivist Jessica Holland, I planned the scanning and rehousing process for one hundred and sixty-three original identified drawings.

“This project is an important chapter in my early career path, as a young Jordanian architect, who is highly committed to the support and enhancement of cultural heritage in my home country, Jordan. I learned a lot from working on digitizing such a huge range of archival material.”

Fig. 4: Pauline Piraud-Fournet and Qais Twaissi (PDTRA/Petra Museum) working on architectural documentation (Photo J. Green 2019).

From all this documentation, we started to reconstruct the history of the excavation, highlighting its organization and process, placing areas and subareas on a new schematic ground plan of the sanctuary designed on Adobe Illustrator to offer a better understanding of the archaeological reports and registers.

Fig. 5: Schematic ground plan of the sanctuary showing the stages of the AEP excavations over the decades (Drawing: Pauline Piraud-Fournet 2019).

Which tasks and scientific issues are emerging?

Throughout the exploration of the publications and archives, many topics and issues appeared as outlines for future studies. Hammond already noticed and discussed many of them in his preliminary publications. The American archaeologist described the temple, mentioned the domestic units and ancillary buildings.  He identified among them a workshop where portable altars were likely made as tourists’ or pilgrims’ souvenirs, a metal workshop, an oil workshop, a painter’s workshop, and a marble workshop. He also offered an interpretation about the deities worshiped (likely the goddesses Al-‘Uzza or Allat), phasing and chronological markers, and the impact of earthquakes on the history of the complex. Nevertheless, Hammond focused on specific aspects more than others. For instance, many of his papers deal with stratigraphic and chronological issues, and provide brief presentation of remarkable archaeological and architectural elements.

Fig. 6: Painted stucco panel within the temple cella, 1976 AEP excavations (P.C. Hammond/AEP Archive at ACOR).

By contrast, the limited analysis of the architecture, architectural decoration, pottery, coins, and attempts at interpretation in terms of worship practices is noticeable. Likewise, an issue regarding the boundaries of the sanctuary, its temenos, was addressed superficially and still needs to be resolved. The stone elements, plaster and stucco samples, archaeological artifacts, i.e. more than 400 complete pottery vessels, 75 terracotta figurines, 128 lamps, 600 coins, 30 statue fragments, 40 inscriptions, ostraca and graffiti, 630 metal nails and objects, 250 stone objects, and glass, bone and ivory items, beads, and so on, need to be studied in-depth and will give rise to synthetic studies.

Fig. 7: Fragment of a mourning Isis figurine from Area I near the Temple of the Winged Lions, 1976 AEP excavations (Photo: P.C. Hammond/AEP Archive at ACOR).

Furthermore, since excavations were resumed at other sites connected with the temple up until 2005, including the Nabataean and Roman so-called Temple of the Qasr al Bint, the Great Temple, ez-Zantur Houses, the Market, most of the publications from Hammond’s time take minimal account of contemporary discoveries made in Petra at those sites during the 1990s and early 2000s. Likewise, during the period of the American Expedition to Petra, and prior to the work of ACOR, some planning efforts were made to prepare the site for tourism purposes, and these early proposals and efforts need to be described and assessed.

However, this overview of the bibliographical references and the archives enable us to highlight a list of tasks to be performed in order to provide a comprehensive set of data, as well as the key research issues that can constitute the outlines of a future final publication. The research issues could regard the context and identification of the temple’s environment and boundaries, and the analyses of the architecture and decoration of the whole complex in order to provide final reconstructions or visualizations. A new ground plan needs to be drawn from the 1/20th scale AEP archaeological surveys adjusted on the recent topographical survey. With the scanning of elevations, they will allow a better assessment of the temple’s construction in Antiquity and the implementation of an architectural study. Other issues would address the identification of the deities, the functions of the ancillary facilities, the domestic buildings, the dating evidence, the ancient religious life and pilgrimage practices, the methodology and work processes implemented for the AEP excavations, the history of conservation and the implementation of the TWLCRM Initiative. All these topics must be approached anew in the light of a comprehensive study of the material and the remains, and in the light of more recent discoveries and studies carried out at Petra or elsewhere in the Nabataean world.

In order to highlight the richness of this archival collection, we presented and discussed the result of our work together at the Temple of the Winged Lions Study day at Al-Hussein Bin Talal University, Wadi Musa, on July 9th 2019. Pauline also presented her work during a Fellow’s Talk at ACOR, Amman, on July 16th, 2019.

Pauline writes:
“Working on this project and working at ACOR was extremely beneficial to me for many reasons. On one hand, the exploration of the TWL archive at ACOR gave me the opportunity to improve my abilities in terms of process, classification and exploitation of archaeological archives and data. On the other hand, the bibliographical assessment allowed me to enhance my knowledge of the Nabataean word and archaeological methodology.”

We would like to express our gratitude to Barbara Porter, Jack Green, Qutaiba Dasouqi, Qais Twassi, Marco Dehner and Tamara Dissi since it has been a pleasure working with them on the TWL Publication Project at ACOR.

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