Daily Life

Part of the Petra exhibition.

Petra exhibition
© AMNH Photo Studio

Despite the grandeur of its tombs and temples, Petra was above all a city of living people. Home--at its height--to perhaps 20,000 Nabataeans, Romans and merchants from around the ancient world, the valley floor and natural terraces of Petra and its extensive suburbs were crowded with neighborhoods. And while the great rock-cut tombs absorbed the attention of early researchers, recent archaeological work has illuminated the day-to-day life led in the city's households. We now have a richer context in which to admire the elegant pottery some Petra residents used for their food and drink, the bronze lamps that lit their evenings and even the boldly painted stucco that softened the stone interiors of their rooms.

Yet our picture of urban life remains incomplete: the lives documented so far are those of the merchant and ruling elites. The stories of ordinary Nabataeans--people who lacked gold jewelry, whose houses were mud brick and whose pottery was coarse and unpainted--are yet to be told.