Biblical Archaeology Review 7:2, March/April 1981

A Plea for the Bedoul Bedouin of Petra

New tourist facility threatens Bedouin cave dwellers with eviction

By Judith W. Shanks

The spouse of a BAR editor has the opportunity to see many archaeological sites, few of which, however, are as spectacular as Petra.

But the BAR editor, even armed with a letter from the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, could not create a vacancy at Petra’s comfortable little guest house for the second night of our stay. The inn was simply full and there was nothing we could do about it. We would have to give up our room. It was 160 miles back to Amman and about 60 miles south to the Red Sea port of Aqaba.

In Amman, we had been warned that the guest house might be full—and Nazmieh Tawfiq at the Antiquities Department had added a note to our letter of introduction to the chief Bedouin restorer who was to be our guide at Petra, asking that we be put up in a Bedouin cave if the inn were full.

“You will find the Bedouin caves quite comfortable,” Nazmieh said, “Don’t worry.” She was right.

The Nabataeans who built Petra dug thousands of room-size chambers, perhaps for burial, in the rose-colored limestone hills which rise steeply above the valley. For hundreds of years now, the Bedoul Bedouin tribe has used these burial chambers as homes. The Bedouin call them caves and so does everyone else.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.