True to any archaeological field project, especially one involving large tombs, the “good stuff” turns up at the end. Most of the “tomb team” (Lauren, Lizzie, the two Annas, Rachel, Jessica, Carlos, Gina, and me) have spent our early afternoons (2:30 – 5:30) working on burials in the tombs. I am using that term loosely – really what we are dealing with is a mass of commingled skeletal remains above the floor, including 12 skulls in tomb B.5. A few articulated skeletons are turning up in the mess, and in the built features within the tomb such as niches and “troughs”.
Today we spent most of our time getting the jumble of remains at the eastern end of B.5 ready for photos and drawing, and tomorrow we will remove them and work our way westward to see if there are more remains laid out at floor level. After that we will tackle the two remaining niches and one floor shaft burial partially covered with capstones. The skeletal remains in the “troughs” along the western and northern walls of tomb B.4 had mostly fallen to the floor, probably due to the occasional rainstorm that would wash into an open tomb. Thus after clearing the “troughs”, we began articulating the bones in the soil below the troughs. We also found an intact, articulated burial with a complete unguentarium next to its (her?) head. Tomorrow we will finish drawing this burial and continue trying to find skeletal remains at floor level.
The strangest feature within tomb B.4 was the discovery of a “window” of sorts carved into the northwest corner of the chamber. Within this space we found large pieces of flat molded window glass, suggesting that a window actually had been installed at some point. There also is a round “window” opening into the tomb shaft. It is unclear if these windows are accidental features due to carving the tomb through the bedrock face or were created on purpose.
We decided to close Tomb B.6 and tackle its tomb features in future excavations. We feared that we would be so rushed that we would not be doing good archaeology. At this point, in addition to tombs B.4 and B.5, excavation is ongoing only in Russell, Emily, and Caiti’s trench B.1, where they are trying to reach the structure floor but keep finding interesting things that slow them down! As we are closing trenches, we also are planning our strategy for conservation and backfilling. Petra’s role as a UNESCO heritage site means that we need to be responsible for leaving the site in serviceable condition. At this point, until we have, for example, enough domestic structure walls to consolidate and restore, that primarily involves backfilling. The tombs also will be backfilled, as they constitute a hazard with their deep shafts. We anticipated this outcome at the end of the season, and so in most cases left our excavation dumps close to the excavation trenches, allowing easy backfilling. However, the soil from the tombs present a difficult situation. We sifted almost 100% of the soil removed from the tombs, and logistics regarding placement of the sifters, the prevailing winds, and the nature of the bedrock outcrops limited where we could dump this soil. Unforunately, it will not be easy to remove the soil to backfill the tombs, or to even remove the soil to protect the integrity of the site. We hope to come up with a workable solution the next couple of days.