My interest in the architecture, sculpture, and religion of the Nabataeans, the desert tribe of the 3rd century BC to 6th century AD, and their capital Petra began with my work on the architecture of Petra, focusing on the city's larger facades and the free-standing buildings, and on the tombs at Medain Saleh. I demonstrated that the main classical influence on the architecture of Petra in the 1st centuries BC and AD came from Alexandria. That led me to more extensively explore the architecture of Alexandria and Egypt, from Alexander the Great to after the Islamic Conquest. Her re-examination of Nabataean sculpture for the 2003 Petra exhibition in New York resulted in the Khirbet et-Tannur Nabataean Temple Project www.classics.ox.ac.uk/khirbet-et-tannur-nabataean-temple-project.html , when I discovered that the scientific finds from Nelson Glueck's 1937 excavations of the temple were in the Semitic Museum, Harvard University. Studying those finds led me into Nabataean religious practice and iconography. My study of the late antique Ethiopian Garima Gospel illuminations arose as a result of the depictions of architecture in them, some of which have Alexandrian connections, alongside Ethiopian ones.
My experience working in Syro-Palestine/the Levant and Egypt, since 1981, led to my interest in the continuity, as well as change, which occurred at religious sites in the region in late antiquity (AD 250–750), through the transition of the dominant religion from paganism to Christianity and, in turn, to Islam, resulting in collaboration with Neil McLynn on the Leverhulme Trust Research Project Late Antique Egypt and the Holy Land: Archaeology, History, and Religious Change www.classics.ox.ac.uk/late-antique-egypt-holyland.html .In response to scholars working in the region needing photographs of buildings and art at sites which they could not readily visit, I established the open-access photo-archive www.manar-al-athar.ox.ac.uk in order to present the extensive visual record of sites collected. Since then, many of these monuments have been damaged or are endangered, making these records increasingly important. Many of these buildings are (or were) decorated with monumental scenes, on wall-mosaics, floor mosaics, wall-paintings, and relief sculptures. These artworks became the subject of my current ERC project, Monumental Art of the Christian and Early Islamic East: Cultural Identities and Classical Heritage.