The Nabataeans probably spoke a form of Early North Arabic.
For their inscriptions and papyri, they used Aramaic script with their own spelling. As is the case in all Semitic languages, the words were written without vowels. Texts are read from right to left.
The appearance of Nabataean writing changes depending on the surface: on papyri and walls, it is cursive; for incised or raised inscriptions on stone, it’s block script. As in other ancient cultures, the script was used by the administration and for official inscriptions. Nevertheless, inscriptions in the Nabataean language and script are rare, and date exclusively from the 2nd to the 4th century AD, in other words, the period after Nabataea lost its independence in 106 AD. They’re found not only in present-day Jordan, but almost all around the Mediterranean. Longer texts are only known from tomb inscriptions and dedications. Have you noticed the letters on the black curtain at the exit from our exhibition? It is the longest inscription so far discovered – from a tomb in the Wadi Turkmaniya in Petra. It reads:
"This tomb, along with the large chamber therein and the small chamber beyond, wherein are the burial places (in the form of) an arrangement of recesses, furthermore the enclosure in front of them, along with the facade and the buildings therein, and the tree pits and the banqueting site, the water cisterns, as well as the rock walls and the retaining walls, and all other things in this place, are sacred and consecrated to Dushara, the God of our Lord, and his sacred throne and all the deities. This is by virtue of instruments of consecration in accordance with their contents.
And so (it is) the responsibility of Dushara and his throne and all the deities to act in accordance with what is contained in these instruments of consecration; that nothing be eliminated from all that is therein, and that no person be buried in this tomb except the one who forever possesses a written burial permit in these instruments of consecration."
The curtain marks the end of our tour of the culture and history of Petra, the desert city. Make your way back through our Siq to the rooms of the Prehistory Department. You’ll also find our exhibitions on geology and cave research – or speleology – here on the upper floor. You’re welcome to carry on exploring and hope you’re finding it interesting.