Two marble statues representing Aphrodite/Venus, the Greco-Roman goddess of love, were found recently at Petra, an ancient desert city in Jordan. The statues, which date to the second century A.D., are nearly intact and are remarkably well preserved, retaining traces of the paint applied to them centuries ago. They were discovered by archaeologists and graduate students from the U.S. working in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. Carved in a distinctly Roman style, the statues hint at ways in which Rome influenced local culture in Petra, following its annexation of Nabataea — the Arabic kingdom that included Petra — in A.D. 106.
Petra is a sprawling city covering 102 square miles (264 square kilometers) in southern Jordan; it’s partly freestanding and partly carved into the surrounding desert bedrock. Two thousand years ago, it was the Nabataean capital, serving as an important stopping point along major caravan routes. It is perhaps best known for its magnificent tombs, temples and other impressive buildings, and was featured as the purported hiding place of the Holy Grail in the 1989 movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
Archaeologists have been investigating Petra’s ruins since the late 1920s, but there is still much to discover, according to archaeologist Tom Parker, co-director of the excavation team that found the statues. The team’s three-year project focused on Petra’s North Ridge, located in a previously unexplored area where the city’s less privileged residents lived and were buried, said Parker, a history professor at North Carolina State University.