Mada'in Salih, a Nabataean town in north west Arabia : analysis and interpretation of the excavation 1986-1990
This research concerns Mada'in Salih, an archaeological site in north-west Saudi Arabia. Historically, it was part of the Nabataean kingdom which flourished in north west Arabia (Jordan, parts of Syria, Palestine and some parts of Saudi Arabia), with Petra in Jordan as its capital. The Nabataeans were famous for their trading role, as they transported frankincense and myrrh and exported balsam and bitumen. They built monumental tombs in Petra and Mada'in Salih as well as other public buildings such as temples theatres and baths. They were also famous for their skills in hydraulic engineering and the production of very thin, distinctively painted pottery. Mada'in Salih was an important station on the trade route which linked south Arabia with Mediterranean countries. The main feature of the site is the monumental tombs, which are about eighty in number, some of them dated and bearing inscriptions. Those inscriptions are in Aramaic and usually contain information about the owner name, legal rights, and occasionally the mason's name. Little was known about the site's history and other aspects such as the economy, culture, society and religions prior to the excavation. Various questions were raised which the thesis attempts to address. The archaeological work conducted on the site included a survey, several trenches around the town wall and in front of some of the tombs as well as an excavation in the settlement area. The excavation revealed a private house which furnished us with information regarding house planning, building techniques and materials. A large amount of pottery, small finds and coins were recovered, studied and classified. The results added some information to what was already known about the Nabataeans in general and Mada'in Salih in particular. The site had witnessed its peak during the first century A.D. As most previous archaeological work had been carried out in the northern parts of the Nabataean kingdom, the results of this excavation are important for comparative studies between this, the largest Nabataean settlement centre in the south, to the centres of the north. The trade which had been an important factor in the establishment of the site declined when the trade route was shifted from land to sea by the Romans during the last half of the first century A.D.