Posts Tagged ‘Petra’


Topic Farming at Petra

—A team of international archaeologists including Christian Cloke of the University of Cincinnati is providing new insights into successful and extensive water management and agricultural production in and around the ancient desert city of Petra, located in present-day Jordan. Ongoing investigations, of which Cloke is a part, are led by Professor Susan Alcock of the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project (BUPAP).

Using a variety of tools and techniques, including high-resolution satellite imagery and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of soils, Cloke, a doctoral student in the Department of Classics at UC, and Cecelia Feldman, classics lecturer at UMass-Amherst, have suggested that extensive terrace farming and dam construction in the region north of the city began around the first century, some 2,000 years ago, not during the Iron Age (c. 1200-300 BC) as had been previously hypothesized. This striking development, it seems, was due to the ingenuity and enterprise of the ancient Nabataeans, whose prosperous kingdom had its capital at Petra until the beginning of the second century. The successful terrace farming of wheat, grapes and possibly olives, resulted in a vast, green, agricultural “suburb” to Petra in an otherwise inhospitable, arid landscape. This terrace farming remained extensive and robust through the third century. Based on surface finds and comparative data collected by other researchers in the area, however, it is clear that this type of farming continued to some extent for many centuries, until the end of the first millennium (between A.D. 800 and 1000). That ancient Petra was under extensive cultivation is a testament to past strategies of land management, and is all the more striking in light of the area’s dry and dusty environment today. Cloke and Feldman will present their findings Jan. 4 at the Archaeological Institute of America Annual Meeting in Seattle, in a paper titled “On the Rocks: Landscape Modification and Archaeological Features in Petra’s Hinterland.” Their research efforts are contributing to a growing understanding of the city, its road networks, and life in the surrounding area.


Dating the start of extensive terrace farming at Petra to the beginning of the common era has important historical implications, according to Cloke, because this date coincides closely with the Roman annexation of the Nabataean Kingdom in A.D. 106. He explained, “No doubt the explosion of agricultural activity in the first century and the increased wealth that resulted from the wine and oil production made Petra an exceptionally attractive prize for Rome. The region around Petra not only grew enough food to meet its own needs, but also would have been able to provide olives, olive oil, grapes and wine for trade. This robust agricultural production would have made the region a valuable asset for supplying Roman forces on the empire’s eastern frontier.”

In other words, said Feldman, successful terrace farming and water management when Petra was at its zenith as a trading center added not only to the city’s economic importance but to its strategic military value as well, because there were limited options in the region for supplying troops with essential supplies.


On large stretches of land north of Petra, inhabitants built complex and extensive systems to dam wadis (riverbeds) and redirect winter rainwater to hillside terraces used for farming. Rainfall in the region occurs only between October and March, often in brief, torrential downpours, so it was important for Petra’s inhabitants to capture and store all available water for later use during the dry season. Over the centuries, the Nabataeans of Petra became experts at doing so. The broad watershed of sandstone hills naturally directed water flow to the city center, and a complex system of pipes and channels directed it to underground cisterns where it was stored for later use. “Perhaps most significantly,” said Cloke, “it’s clear that they had considerable knowledge of their surrounding topography and climate. The Nabataeans differentiated watersheds and the zones of use for water: water collected and stored in the city itself was not cannibalized for agricultural uses. The city’s administrators clearly distinguished water serving the city’s needs from water to be redirected and accumulated for nurturing crops. Thus, extensive farming activity was almost entirely outside the bounds of the city’s natural catchment area and utilized separate watersheds and systems of runoff.” These initial conclusions from the first three seasons of BUPAP fieldwork promise more exciting discoveries about how the inhabitants of Petra cultivated the outlying landscape and supported the city’s population. The presence of highly developed systems of landscape modification and water management at Petra take on broader significance as they offer insight into geopolitical changes and Roman imperialism.

Original article:
January 2, 2013 by M.b. Reilly



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Topic:Common life in Petra

I am looking forward with anticipation to more excavations of the houses in Petra. What ancient food insights these kitchens might hold for us only time will tell.

The word “Petra” brings to mind images of the elaborately sculpted rock-cut temples and tombs that characterize this much-visited site in southeastern Jordan, a site that has been voted one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World”. But like most ancient monumental centers revealed by the careful work and research of archaeologists and conservationists, what meets the eye at Petra is only part of the picture. It represents an ancient populace that constituted the elite minority. The rest of its forgotten inhabitants remain shrouded in comparative mystery. They have been overlooked.

But not now.

Led by Dr. Tom Parker of North Carolina State University and colleague Dr. Megan Perry of East Carolina University, a team of archaeologists, students and volunteers are investigating the lives of the ordinary people at Petra — the people (everyday Nabataeans) who really made the city hum. Excavating along Petra’s North Ridge, they are digging up evidence that is giving clues to common life in the desert kingdom. The North Ridge features fifty rock-cut shaft tombs — narrow, vertically cut holes in the earth and rock that provide the simple and far more numerous internments for the “common” inhabitants. Dating to the 1st centuries B.C. and A.D., most of the tombs have been looted over the years by tomb robbers, but excavations of three of the tombs during the summer of 2012 have still uncovered evidence, including human bones and artifacts such as the remains of pottery, glass, jewelry, and whole ceramic vessels, oil lamps and perfume bottles. Excavation of several Roman period (2nd to 4th centuries A.D.) domestic or house structures have revealed collapsed walls and associated artifacts. The excavators posit that the houses may have been destroyed by an earthquake that affected Petra in A.D. 363. Archaeologists are suggesting that the artifactual, structural and human remains recovered thus far and in future excavations will provide not only a glimpse into the socio-economic life of the non-elite population, but also the demography of the population, including health history and possibly the geographical origins of the people.

And for the first time, excavation of Petra’s city wall has revealed associated pottery shards that date the wall to the early 2nd century A.D., placing its construction to the time when the Roman empire annexed Petra as a province. It is still unclear to archaeologists whether the wall was built by the Roman legions after the annexation or by the Nabataean inhabitants themselves as a defensive measure before the Romans arrived.

Petra is best known historically as the capital location of a desert Nabataean kingdom (established possibly in about 312 B.C.) that grew rich because of its strateic economic location at a key point along a major caravan trade route, becoming a major player in the aromatic goods trade, particularly frankincense and myrrh. The extraordinary remains were rediscovered in 1812 by the Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt, and archaeological excavations have been conducted at the site since the early 20th century. Those excavations have focused primarily on the monumental structures, such as the temples, elite tombs, theaters, and several Byzantine churches. Petra is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s most visited tourist attraction.

More information at Petra north ridge project

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Topic Water in the desert

Near Petra

About 15 km to the east of the ancient city of Petra, archaeologists from the University of Leiden have discovered an impressive network of ancient water conservation measures and irrigated field systems.


Water management in the desert

“A huge green oasis” is how Dr. Ir. Mark Driessen describes it. “That’s what this part of the desert must have looked like in past times.”

Channels designed to collect and distribute precious water resources near Udhruh

In Antiquity, an ingenious system of underground canals, hacked out of the limestone bedrock, in addition to specially built aqueducts and reservoirs with capacities of millions of litres of water, transformed this marginal region into a complex man-made landscape. This is a fantastic example of ancient water-management technology, constructed to irrigate the surrounding terraced field systems.

Dr. Driessen, director of the Udhruh Archaeological Project, said, “Thanks to the enthusiasm and hard work of the students and staff of the Faculty of Archaeology we have succeeded in linking the diverse elements of this complex which lie scattered over an immense area of many square kilometres, thereby closing the gaps in this fascinating archaeological puzzle’.

It is possible that parts of this agricultural system – which was certainly exploited in the 6th century CE– were already well established at least 2000 years ago. Analysis of construction mortar and other artefacts such as pottery will hopefully provide a firmer date for the system.

A complete Roman fort


The Udhruh Archaeological Project  started in 2011 as a cooperative project between the Faculty of Archaeology of the University of Leiden and the Petra College for Tourism and Archaeology of the Al-Hussein Bin Talal University. Surveys carried out in June and July in and around the Roman fort of Udhruh have resulted in many more interesting discoveries.

Exploration of the 4.7 hectare Roman fort of Udhruh shows that this is probably the most intact fort of the entire Roman Empire.

In several places the outer walls and towers still stand several metres high and the interior buildings lie under a layer of construction debris more than 2.5 metres thick. The quarries that provided stone for fort construction have been extensively surveyed. They cover an area of several hectares and are amongst the largest to be identified in the Roman provinces.

The site of Udhruh most probably played an important logistical role in the trade of myrrh and frankincense through which the Nabateans acquired their wealth, and their capital Petra its prosperity. The archaeological research aims of the project deal with the development of this trade and the transformation of the landscape through Nabatean, Roman-Byzantine times into the early Islamic periods.

Survey near the Roman fortress of Udhruh

Greening a now barren desert is only part of the technological benefits that could have uses today. Udhruh offers interesting possibilities for applied archaeology and interdisciplinary research related to modern sustainable agricultural use and community-based tourism in which the local peoples participate and benefit.

The South Jordan survey will be continued in May and June 2013.

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