Mada'in Salih, a Nabataean town in north west Arabia:
analysis and interpretation of the excavation 1986-1990.
University of Southampton, School of Humanities,
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 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.
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