Archaeologists Find Gigantic Ancient Monument in Jordan

In the ancient city of Petra, Google Earth and drones helped uncover remnants of a platform the size of an Olympic swimming pool

Visitors sit in front of Petra's famous temple at night. Nearby, Google Earth and drones helped researchers find a previously undiscovered platform probably used for ceremonial purposes. Sylvain L. (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The ancient city of Petra has long fascinated archaeologists, and its impressive tombs are considered one of the new seven wonders of the world. But researchers have not yet unlocked all of its marvels. It turns out that Petra has even more to explore, Kristin Romey reports for National Geographic. Archaeologists have discovered a gigantic ancient monument just half a mile away from the city.

The research, which was published in the journal Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, was motivated by a simple question—how did Nabataeans alter landscapes in and around Petra? The kingdom is thought to have once included portions of much of the modern-day Middle East. Between about 100 B.C. and 100 A.D., the Nabataeans became savvy engineers and rich urbanites. Petra is their greatest remaining creation, and the team wanted to study the marks they left behind.

To do so, the researchers relied on everything from Google Earth to drones to track down and document the footprint of a massive ceremonial platform, Romey reports. They didn’t go looking for the new site specifically. Rather, they looked at previous research to find the range of types of sites they might encounter, then used satellite imagery to focus in on different areas. The use of filtering tools allowed them to identify potentially interesting sites—and to find one that was essentially hidden in plain sight.

The discovery is 184 by 161 feet, about as long as an Olympic swimming pool. The research team thinks it was once an open platform used by residents of Petra for ceremonial purposes. Petra was a caravan city—a place where the goods of the ancient world, such as spices, textiles and incense, crossed paths. These lively traditions didn't stop at its temple doors, which also bore witness to spirited religious traditions. Though the newly found monument could have played a role in those rituals, its exact purpose remains unknown.

Either way, the discovery is a testament to just how much modern-day imaging can reveal. “Archaeologists will always need to survey and excavate to confirm findings,” the team writes, but satellites are now a powerful tool in any archaeologist’s arsenal. “…we take for granted much of what is left to discover,” they conclude, “even when monuments are hiding in plain sight.”

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