Petra, the Jordanian city that appears in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and is known for its towering temples of carved red stone, has recently become the site of a momentous archaeological discovery: 2,000 year-old cave paintings. Long shrouded by layers of camp-fire soot from Bedouin encampments, the works could provide a precise historical glimpse into relations among Greeks, Romans, and Arabs in the desert basin around the first century.
The paintings depict winged putti — cherub-like figures — floating around intertwining vines of grape, ivy, and bindweed, alongside an array of flowers, birds, and hovering insects. The winged putti, chubby and childlike, play flutes and swat away birds that come to close to their grapes. The Hellenistic style of the painting is furthered by the symbolic vines, all of which are associated with the Greek god Dionysus, yet the image includes a strong Roman influence, as well. However, the cave paintings were not created by Romans or Greeks but by the Nabateans, an Arab civilization that was later conquered by the Romans.
Conservation expert Stephen Rickerby said that the paintings, which show "a lot of external influences from the ancient world are as good as, or better than, some of the Roman paintings you see, for example at Pompeii," ArtDaily reports. Rickerby stressed that the find had "immense art-historical importance."When he and his team began cleaning the paintings three years ago, the artwork was in a state of severe deterioration from the effects of smoke from fire, graffiti and attempted thefts in some areas of the vault. Officials had fenced off the cave for cleaning and only recently decided to unveil their findings. Now they hope to uncover further secrets about the cultures that once inhabited the area.