Mystery Buildings at Petra

Digs & Discoveries September/October 2016

(Courtesy Council of American Overseas Research Centers, Photo: I. LaBianca)

Satellite imagery and aerial photography have revealed several previously undocumented structures a little more than a mile southwest of Petra in Jordan, a major center of the Nabataean culture, famous for its elaborately decorated buildings carved into pink sandstone cliffs. The new survey, conducted by Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Chris Tuttle of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, shows clusters of previously unknown archaeological features, including remnants of two buildings and a trench that was dug by archaeologists in 1929 but whose location had been forgotten. Perhaps the most significant discovery is a 184-by-161-foot platform with a 28-foot-square building foundation atop it. Pottery sherds found there indicate that it was built before the second century B.C. Strangely, the platform is not in a place easily accessible from Petra’s city center. How it might have been used is a mystery.