The Camel Reliefs in Petra’s Siq: Reflections on the Life and Afterlife of an Early Nabataean Monument

Björn Anderson


In 1997, clearing of Petra’s Bab es-Siq revealed a monumental sculptural group carved on the walls of the narrow passageway. This group comprises two nearly matching reliefs that approach a corner, cut with several cultic niches, near the eastern end of the Siq. Each relief shows a drover leading a camel, followed by a second drover leading a second camel. At ca. 3.5m high and 10m in length, they are among the largest relief sculptures in the ancient world. They are among the earliest surviving reliefs sculptures at Petra, predating the paving of the Siq in 50 B.C.E. Given the monumentality of scale and the prominent location they occupied, these reliefs shaped the experience of passersby for centuries. This paper examines the biography of the camel reliefs, beginning with an art-historical examination of structural components drawn from earlier Mesopotamian, Iranian, and Egyptian art, then considering the context and purpose of their original moment of execution, and concluding with an exploration of the ‘afterlife’ of the reliefs in post-Nabataean times. This diachronic approach highlights the importance of Petra’s monuments in the formation and perpetuation of cultural memory.


Nabataean sculpture, Camel Reliefs, Memory

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