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The Affluent Society?

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Wall mosaic tiles


For all its size and grandeur, Petra's cathedral provided no sanctuary from natural disaster. Archaeologists have found nearly 4,000 fragments of shattered marble in its ruins, the result of a fire that raced through the structure in the late 500s. The fire also charred--but did not destroy--more than 140 papyri, records of a single well-off Petra family that were stored in a room adjoining the church. One of the most important manuscript finds since the Dead Sea Scrolls, these documents illuminate the social and economic state of Byzantine Petra.

Taken together, the lavish church decorations, the propertied citizens--and the luxury goods found even in outlying towns--create a picture of prosperity and deepen the mystery surrounding the region's decline. When, exactly, did it begin?

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