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Huge monument found ‘hiding in plain sight’ in Jordan’s Petra

AP | KARIN LAUB
Published : Jun 13, 2016, 4:10 am IST
Updated : Jun 13, 2016, 4:10 am IST

Satellite and drone images have led to a new discovery in the ancient city of Petra — a massive man-made stone platform hidden under sand.

US archaeologist Christopher A. Tuttle (above) investigates the doorsill of the small building on the platform. (Photo: AP)
 US archaeologist Christopher A. Tuttle (above) investigates the doorsill of the small building on the platform. (Photo: AP)

Satellite and drone images have led to a new discovery in the ancient city of Petra — a massive man-made stone platform hidden under sand.

The platform might have been used for ceremonial purposes because it was fronted on one side by columns and a monumental staircase, said Christopher A. Tuttle, executive director of the Council of American Overseas Research Centres.

Only excavations would be able to shed more light on its original use, but no digs are planned for now, he said. Petra is a sprawling archaeological site of tombs and monuments carved into rose-hued desert sandstone some 2,000 years ago by traders known as Nabataeans.

Petra’s most famous building is the Treasury, where scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were filmed in the 1980s.

Scientific exploration of Petra goes back some 200 years, and Tuttle worked at the site for close to a decade.

The platform is located about 900 metres (3,000 feet) from the ancient city centre, but away from paths used by tourists and away from major monuments, Tuttle said late Friday.

It is not clearly visible from the ground or nearby hills, and its outlines only emerged in satellite and drone images, he said.

“It’s this very large platform that many of us (archaeologists) have walked over for years, and probably didn’t even realise we were walking on it,” said the archaeologist, who collaborated with Sarah Parcak from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Tuttle led four ground surveys while Parcak analysed satellite data.

The platform was constructed by levelling a natural plateau, according to the pair’s findings, published last month in the Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research. It measures about 56 metres (184 feet) by 49 metres (161 feet), or about the size of six professional basketball courts.

A second, slightly smaller platform was built on the first and was paved with flagstones, some of them exposed by erosion, the report said.

The remnants of a small structure, including a doorstep, are visible on the smaller platform.

The east side of the smaller platform was originally lined by a row of columns that was partially revealed by illegal excavations, the researchers wrote. The columns “crowned a monumental stairway that spanned the entire width of the smaller platform,” they wrote.

Some of the treads of the staircase were found further down a slope.

Location: Jordan, Amman