In my recent role as a fellow at ACOR, it was my responsibility to assist with the preparation of the upcoming final publication of the Temple of the Winged Lions (TWL) and to conduct my own research about this Nabataean- to Roman-era (1st–4th-century AD) site in Petra, Jordan, which will lead to a comprehensive chapter in the volume. The TWL is a large sacred complex consisting of a distylos in antis temple (a building with a porch with two protruding side walls and two columns in between at the front) and several other surrounding architectural structures, such as a colonnaded courtyard on the lower terrace and closely connected rooms to the north and west of the temple building (Fig. 1). It was built in the 1st century AD and is one of the most important buildings within the city center of Petra.
Fig. 1: Temple of the Winged Lions. Aerial view. (AEP/Hammond Archive. 2005.)
The TWL was excavated from 1974 to 2005 by the American Expedition to Petra (AEP), directed by Philip C. Hammond, and subject to continued conservation, site documentation, excavation, and site presentation work as part of the TWLCRM Initiative from 2009 onwards. In the course of the AEP’s excavation of the inner chamber or cella, a number of column capitals featuring winged lions and lion heads were discovered (Hammond 1977), which led Hammond to give the site its modern name (Figs. 2 and 3). The design of the capitals can be seen as a special variation of the Corinthian capital. Given the topic of my dissertation, it was only logical that I was particularly interested in the analysis of the architectural decoration of the temple.
Fig. 2: Capital with winged lions from the cella. (AEP/Hammond archive. 1975.)
Fig. 3: Capital with lion heads from TWL. (Drawing by M. Dehner. 2021.)
Both the remaining findings in the area of the TWL and the extensive information in the AEP/Hammond archive provide material for a wide range of discoveries. A comparative analysis of this important material has been lacking so far, even though individual components have already been discussed in detail in the past by the excavator and other researchers (Hammond 1977–1978; Hammond 1996; Freyberger 1998). The large number of preserved architectural elements offers the opportunity to examine individual components of the temple more closely and to draw conclusions, not only about the decoration of the building but also with regard to typological characteristics of individual architectural elements at the temple and in Petra as a whole. Although a comprehensive study of Nabataean architectural decoration was written by Judith McKenzie in 1990, and this volume still serves as reference, many questions about Nabataean architectural decoration, especially the architectural decoration of freestanding buildings, remain unanswered to this day, e.g., did the freestanding architecture resemble that of the rock-cut facades in Petra, or was it the other way around? Does the evaluation of decorative elements from excavation contexts allow a more detailed chronological classification of these than the observation and analysis of rock-cut facades? Or do detailed typological examinations of individual architectural elements provide more clues to the development of certain decorative forms and, therefore, allow the identification of different construction phases? My new study of the extensively preserved decorative elements, which are still in the area of the TWL, can contribute to new insights into Nabataean architectural decoration and, furthermore, to a better understanding of the development of the city, especially of the decoration of specific buildings.
As TWL Publication Fellow, I was able to concentrate on studying the extensive archival material at ACOR that covers the entire excavation documentation from the AEP between 1974 and 2005, with special interest in the field notebooks and photographs. The chance to work with archival material opens up many opportunities in this regard but also holds great challenges. On the one hand, it allows one to understand important information about methods of work and documentation, to track the progress of excavations and the accuracy of documentation, to rediscover material thought lost, and to identify previously unknown material. On the other hand, the evaluation of the archival material in comparison with already published material and the objects remaining in the excavation area reveals gaps that still need to be filled. This applies in particular to the material group of architectural decoration, which, despite extensive findings, had, to date, not yet been comprehensively documented. As an example, there was a disproportionate focus on the capitals with winged lions and sculptural findings, but the wide variation of capital forms and other groups of architectural elements were given far less attention.
So I put my focus on the comprehensive documentation and analysis of the architectural decoration of the TWL, both the documentation in the excavation archive and the remaining findings in the area of the TWL. Due to the pandemic, it was particularly challenging to plan and conduct the fieldwork in Petra, which I was not able to address until February 2021. For this, there was more time to first analyze the information from the archive before I documented the architectural parts in Petra. The field notebooks from 1974 to 1977 alone provide information on more than 2,000 architectural elements found in the temple building and the pronaos area (Figs. 4 and 5). However, their documentation remained very superficial, so that neither dimensions nor photographs were taken for a large number of the components mentioned. For comparison, between 1974 and 2005, only 800 architectural elements were documented photographically. An extensive architectural survey did not take place during the course of the AEP, even though the building and the preserved structures were repeatedly described in detail (Hammond 1977–1978; Hammond 1996; Hammond 2003) or individual dimensions, e.g., of column drums or ashlars, were presented in summarized form (Hammond 1996). Only in exceptional cases it is possible to assign single photographed architectural elements clearly to the components mentioned in the notebooks. Nevertheless, the photographed architectural blocks allow a first visual impression of the decoration of the temple.
Since the information from the notebooks provides valuable insights into the distribution of certain components, which cannot be clearly identified, my research focused first on the photographed objects. One challenge was now to match the remaining elements in the area of the TWL with the information from the AEP/Hammond archive and to synchronize the variety of information. This results in an exciting field of research, which I first came across in the course of my dissertation. Thanks to the support of ACOR, I was able to survey the objects in the TWL area in 2014 and subsequent years to find comparative objects to the architectural elements from the North-Eastern Petra Project (Schmid et al. 2012; Fiema et al. 2016; Dehner 2020) that I addressed in my dissertation. During the TWL Publication Fellowship, the opportunity now arose, after analyzing only a selection of architectural elements, to gain an overall overview, taking into account the information in the AEP/Hammond archive as well as the objects located on site. Thus, my path led me from the site to the archive and from the archive back to the site in order to create a comprehensive documentation and database on the components for the first time, based on the findings and observed desiderata.
In the following, I would like to briefly outline the challenges that arose during the course of the work and how they were met.
This extensive archive collects information from almost forty years of excavation activities in the TWL area. The photographic documentation and field notebooks in particular are of essential importance for the group of the decorative architectural elements. As mentioned before, however, this documentation is not complete. Judging by the character of the descriptions in the field notebooks, with regard to the architectural decoration, mainly very representative objects were sought out, which were then also included in the registry (Fig. 6), such as winged felines and lion heads. The vast majority of all architectural elements were merely mentioned in the diaries and were partly recorded with distribution sketches and tabular listings. Dimensions are not consistently given. Although there are indications that individual objects mentioned in the diaries were photographed, an assignment of any of the more than 800 photographs with architectural blocks to the information in the diaries is possible only in rare cases. Drawings and section drawings of these objects were completely absent.
TWL Area in Petra
As noted before, it was quite challenging to plan the documentation campaign in Petra. But the overall situation in the winter of 2021 also meant that I was able to enjoy the rare experience of being almost completely alone in Petra and, in addition to the work, being able to enjoy the incredible landscape at my leisure. If you visit the TWL in Petra today, with or without tourists, you will notice not only the building but also several stone collections (lapidaria) that surround the temple. In these lapidaria, more than 800 architectural elements of all groups (capitals, bases, column drums, cornices, and pediment blocks, as well as ashlars) have been collected. This made it necessary to compare the elements still present in the field with the information from the excavation documentation. It quickly became clear that a comprehensive redocumentation of the components in the area of the TWL was essential.
Fig. 7: Lapidarium 1. Mapping of the documented stones. (SfM 3-D model by M. Dehner. 2021.)
Fig. 8: Lapidarium 1. View from north. (SfM 3-D model by M. Dehner. 2021.)
The scope of the redocumentation was greatly reduced by documentation work conducted as part of the Temple of the Winged Lions Cultural Resource Management (TWLCRM) Initiative from 2012 to 2014: team member Qais Twaissi had already documented a large number of objects photographically and by drawing. Thus, a comparison of the information from the AEP/Hammond archive with the documentation of Q. Twaissi, along with documentation by Halemah al-Nawafleh, significantly reduced the number of objects to be documented in detail. Nevertheless, more than 400 additional components, ranging from capitals to cornices, bases, and frieze elements, were extensively documented in February 2021. I not only recorded the dimensions of individual blocks and prepared photographic documentation but also produced more than fifty elevation and section drawings of selected elements as well as more than a hundred 3-D models via structure-from-motion (SfM) photogrammetry. These data, especially the detailed information on dimensions and moldings, now allow for a discussion of the question of use, whether they have to be considered as originating from inside the building (from a first or second floor) or from the exterior, possibly from another architectural structure. All recorded objects were mapped (Fig. 7). For the mapping, the individual lapidaria were also digitized via SfM (Fig. 8), so that at least the location of the architectural blocks in 2021 is understood. A comparison to the documentation of Q. Twaissi and my own documentation from 2014 makes it clear that only a few blocks have changed their location (human intervention) or were no longer detectable or deteriorated due to natural processes (sand drift/erosion) and exposure to rain and humidity.
After the redocumentation, a database of 1,200 architectural elements was created, which—in combination with the information from the AEP/Hammond archive and the documentation carried out through 2014—provides, for the first time since the start of the AEP in 1974, an overview of the architectural elements found in the past as well as those still present today. This database can now serve as a starting point for further research on the building decoration of the TWL, and also on Nabataean architecture in general.
Through the first evaluation, it has become clear that a large part of the elements documented during the AEP can no longer be found in the lapidaria today. It can be assumed that a large number of objects were deliberately reburied in the course of time (Hammond et al. 1999, 3), as was confirmed by Chrysanthos Kanellopoulos, among others, in a personal conversation. This probably included some of the capitals with winged lions. It remains to be discussed whether a new excavation would be useful to collect more data or whether the existing components provide an insight comprehensive enough to investigate the architectural decoration of the TWL. While some objects cannot currently be located, it also became obvious that a large number of architectural elements present in the lapidaria today were not documented by the AEP.
Thus, at the end of the fellowship, a comprehensive database on architectural elements from the area of the TWL was created, which makes it possible to answer several research questions, to conduct new analyses, and at the same time to raise a multitude of new questions. Some of the questions, such as on the typology of the wide variation of capitals and cornices as well as the use of such in the interior and at the exterior of the TWL, will be answered in my contribution to this group of materials in the final publication on the Temple of the Winged Lions. For those who do not want to wait until the final publication comes out, some of the results of my research will be presented at the American Society of Overseas Research (ASOR) annual meeting later in 2021.
Editor’s Note: To find out more about ongoing scholarly work at the Temple of the Winged Lions, visit the Archaeological Projects portal on our website or check out this recent recorded presentation by project director Dr. Jack Green. Subscribe for future updates about this and other research initiatives at acorjordan.org/mailing-list.
Dehner, M. 2020. “The Capitals of the Capital: New Insights into Freestanding Nabataean Architecture in Petra.” Jordan Journal for History and Archaeology, Special Issue “The Third International Conference on Petra and the Nabataean Culture,” 14 (4): 125–146.
Fiema, Z. T., S. G. Schmid, and B. Kolb. 2016. “A Palatial Quarter in Petra: Preliminary Results of the North-Eastern Petra Project.” Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan 12: 747–763.
Hammond, P. C. 1977. “The Capitals from ‘The Temple of the Winged Lions,’ Petra.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 226: 47–52.
Hammond, P. C. 1977–1978. “Excavations at Petra, 1975–1977.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 22: 81–101, 229–246.
Hammond, P. C. 1996. The Temple of the Winged Lions: Petra, Jordan, 1974–1990. Fountain Hills, AZ: Petra Publishing.
Hammond, P.C., L. J. Hammond, and D. J. Johnson. 1999. “Interim Report: 1999 Season.” Unpublished report. American Expedition to Petra/Hammond archive, American Center of Research, Amman.
Hammond P. C. 2003. “The Temple of the Winged Lions.” In Petra Rediscovered: The Lost City of the Nabataean Kingdom, edited by G. Markoe, 223–229. London: Harry N. Abrams.
Lichty, A. 1976. “Field Notebook: Site II.2.S.U.224.” Unpublished notebook. American Expedition to Petra/Hammond archive, American Center of Research, Amman.
McKenzie, J. S. 1990. The Architecture of Petra. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schmid, S. G., P. Bienkowski, Z. T. Fiema, and B. Kolb. 2012. “The Palaces of the Nabataean Kings at Petra.” In The Nabataeans in Focus: Current Archaeological Research at Petra; Papers from the Special Session of the Seminar for Arabian Studies Held on 29 July, 2011, edited by L. Nehmé and L. Wadeson, 73–98. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 42, Supplement. Oxford: Archaeopress.