The ancient site of Petra (or originally known as Raqmu) is renowned for its intricate facades of fascinating rock-cut architecture, and as such the ‘Rose City’ takes the honor as Jordan’s most-visited tourist attraction. As for the historical side of affairs, Petra might have been the capital (and trading hub) of the Arab Nabataeans, circa 312 BC – given its strategic position that connected various regional trading routes. And now beyond intricacy and wealth, there might be humongous structures that can be added to the scope of Petra – as recently hypothesized by a group of archaeologists. To that end, satellite surveying and analysis have revealed what seems to be a giant platform hidden beneath the sands within the parameters of Petra (3,000 ft away from the main city center).
Measuring 184 ft x 161 ft, or roughly half the size of an American football field, the platform was previously thought be a part of the ancient city’s wall superstructure. But refined satellite imagery, obtained by the collaborative effort of archaeologist and Petra expert Christopher Tuttle and space archaeologist Sarah Parcack (who is also an assistant professor from the University of Alabama), has pointed at a singular structure that is topped off with its own platform – accompanied by columns and a stairway.
Taking advantage of these detailed overhead images, the researchers successfully mapped the area and then physically examined the site in a non-intrusive manner. In one of these trips, they successfully identified fragmented pottery by this massive site. The dating of these specimens (and thus the huge platform itself) hint at the period corresponding to Petra’s apical stage. Now interestingly enough, archaeologists are already aware of many smaller platforms (and shrines) spread across the area surrounding Petra. In fact, some of these structures were possibly even used for cultural demonstrations or political displays.
However in the case of this giant platform, the aforementioned stairway faces away from the center of the main Petra settlement. This orientation suggests that the massive structure was probably not ‘directly’ related to the ancient city – which is surprising to say the least. Hence it brings up the question – then what was the purpose of a such a gargantuan man-made construction? The answer, we are afraid, is not so simple.
Intriguingly, in their earlier days, the ancient Nabataeans were known for their ‘indirect’ style of worshiping, which basically entailed the use of natural and abstract facades that symbolized divine entities. To that end, assorted things that were seemingly organic or abstruse like an empty niche or a carved block, could have represented gods. On the other hand, it should also be noted that with the passage of time, Petra grew into a commercial hub with far-flinging trade routes that even connected the Mediterranean worlds. This ‘globalized’ scope also inculcated the transmission of foreign cultures, which in turn brought forth tangible Nabataean god idols (and figures) that sort of emulated their ancient Greek counterparts.
The study was published published in the May issue of the journal Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.