Nabataean city located in the southern part of the modern Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Petra is renowned for its elaborate tombs hewn out of the rock cliffs. The Nabataeans were Arabs and their trading kingdom extended south into the Arabian peninsula, West into the Negev and Sinai, and North toward Damascus. Romans annexed Petra in the early second century CE. The Nabataean necropolis at Hegra (Mada'in Salih) in the north Hijaz also features monumental tombs carved from the mountains.

Nabataeans carved and erected stela, apparently for religious purposes. Some scholars believe that a stela, sometimes called a "bytel" (literally "house of god") was used like an idol, to represent the physical presence of a deity. Other scholars maintain that the stela were simply erected stonse (Nab. "mesiba" means something set up) that could mark a particular territory as being sacred.

Nabataean stela are often found in groups of three, perhaps representing a family of gods. According to Greco-Roman sources, the main deity of the Nabataeans at Petra was Dusares, or "Dhu Shara" (literally "He of the Rock"), Shara being another term used to designate the "rock" of Petra.

Some of the structures and carvings found at Petra and Hegra are roughly cubicle in nature. These cubicle structures have been called "Jinn blocks" but there purpose is unclear. It is possible that these cubicle blocks are related to the cube-shaped Ka'abah in Mecca. A number of these Nabataean blocks are carved so that they appear to have been adorned with special clothes, perhaps as the Ka'abah is covered with the kiswa.


Pitt Rivers