A team of archaeologists led by professors at N.C. State and East Carolina universities made an unexpected find this summer in an old dump in the ancient city of Petra: two marble statues of the Greek goddess Aphrodite that one of the professors describes as “absolutely exquisite.”
The 2.5-foot statues were made of marble from Greece or Italy and were probably imported to the Nabataean city of Petra in present-day Jordan as long as 1,900 years ago. Tom Parker, a history professor at NCSU, says the team that includes students from both schools found the pieces while excavating domestic structures in Petra’s North Ridge area in May and June.
“I’ve been doing field work in the Middle East for 45 years and never had a find of this significance,” Parker said in a statement. “These are worthy of display at the Louvre Museum or the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
The statues are Roman in style, suggesting they date from after the Roman annexation of Nabataea early in the first century A.D. They were found as part of an ongoing excavation of homes and tombs in a part of the city where commoners were thought to live.
The statues were found in a surprisingly large home for the area, but how they got there isn’t known yet. The statues were found in a garbage dump dating to the 4th century A.D. that filled the rooms of the old villa, which was equipped with a heated room typical of a Roman-style bath, said Megan Perry, an anthropology professor at ECU.
“Since Aphrodite statues have been associated with other contexts related to bathing, it is not inconceivable that the statues came from this or a similar building,” Perry said in an email. “But we simply do not have the data to determine this.”
The bodies of the statues are largely intact, and their heads and most of their arms and hands were found nearby and will be restored. Perry said a scholar from the University of Georgia who studies Greco-Roman sculpture will analyze the statues and make recommendations for conserving and restoring them. They will then be turned back to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, she said, and will likely end up being displayed at a museum in Jordan.