American Expedition to Petra

Temple of the Winged Lions site in Petra circa 1976. Photo by Phillip Hammond.

The Temple of the Winged Lions is a Nabataean religious building situated prominently on the north slope of the Wadi Musa (Moses’ Valley), overlooking the ancient city center of Petra. The temple is currently believed to have been completed around the end of the first quarter of the first century C.E based on interpretations of an inscription and archaeological materials recovered from levels below the floors of the building.

The pioneering survey team of R.E. Brünnow and A. von Domaszewski (1904–09) first investigated remnants of the temple and other neighboring buildings in 1897–98. Modern scientific work on the temple began in 1973 by the American Expedition to Petra (AEP), an independent archaeological mission under the direction of the late Dr. Philip C. Hammond.  These AEP excavations of the temple took place between 1974 and 2005.

Dr. Hammond’s and AEP’s initial fieldwork uncovered unique capital fragments decorated with winged lions. This discovery prompted the name “Temple of the Winged Lions” for the site.

Dr. Hammond’s and AEP’s initial fieldwork uncovered unique capital fragments decorated with winged lions and prompted the re-naming of the building as the “Temple of the Winged Lions”.  Hammond’s team identified 12 “winged lions” columns, and a total of 34 columns and pilasters crowned with Nabataean-Corinthian capitals as well as large niches for votive and cultic objects decorating the first level of the temple. Subsequently, the team’s excavation recovered a number of the cultic objects, including the famous inscribed ‘Eye-Idol’ that had been dedicated in the temple to the ‘Goddess of Hayyan Son of Nybat.” In a basement room, over 1,000 pieces of marble were found collected together, several of which had partial inscriptions on them. Thousands of other artifacts — carved and ceramic goddess images, perforated seashells and small copper bells for example — were also recovered. AEP excavations also extended to areas adjacent to the temple precinct, including a series of rooms and storage spaces that may have been used for grain processing, oil production, or the making of miniature altars.

American Expedition to Petra (AEP) team working on the site, 1975. Photo P. Hammond.

International and Jordanian scholars have highlighted the enormous potential of the Temple complex to contribute substantially to our understanding of Nabataean religion, culture, industry, and architecture.  With the completion of AEP’s fieldwork in 2005, however, unfortunately no conceptual or practical plan was ever launched for the site, for its restoration or conservation, or for making available either data or artifacts. Dr. Hammond published a report on the 1974-1990 seasons’ excavations (Hammond 1996) but the results of later fieldwork are no longer accessible.  Scholars as well as Jordan’s Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism were worried that the lack of conservation on the site had severely threatened the survival of the temple.

The TWLCRM Initiative is grateful for the generous support of Royal Jordanian Airlines.

Royal Jordanian Airlines