Rock-hewn Petra

Part of the Petra exhibition.

Frieze block and pediment

Carving a tomb required a team of stonemasons supervised by a master builder or architect, who designed the project to the owner's liking. Sometimes the work started at the top--often more than 100 feet up--and proceeded down to the ground. Another process involved two teams carving simultaneously, one from the top and the other from the bottom.

Petra exhibition
© AMNH Photo Studio

Top down

One tomb-cutting process started at the top of a rock face. Masons made a rock-cut platform on which they stood to carve facade details. When they finished that section, they chipped out a lower platform, working their way down the cliff.

Splitting stone

Masons took advantage of existing cracks and clefts in the rock to help with the carving process. Otherwise splitting solid rock required a mason to chip out a hole and insert a piece of wood. Adding water made the wood swell, which cracked the rock.