Giant Pool and New Stairs Discovered at
JORDAN – Two amazing new archaeological discoveries have been made by a joint
BYU/Jordanian team working to preserve the Ad-Deir Monument (The so-called
‘Monastery’) on the Ad-Deir Plateau in Petra, Jordan (See Figure 1). Dr. Cynthia Finlayson of the BYU Department
of Anthropology is heading a team of experts and students along with the Jordanian
Department of Antiquities, and Tahani Salhi, Cultural Resource Manager of the
Petra Archaeological Park to reduce the current erosion damage on the Ad-Deir
Monument by excavating, studying, and restoring the ancient Roman-era Nabataean
water containment facilities on the Ad-Deir Plateau. These ancient Nabataean water engineering
accomplishments protected one of the largest rock carved edifices in
Petra. The team’s work this season also
answered one of the great mysteries of Nabataean archaeology, i.e., what are
the large circular stone rings on the Ad-Deir Plateau? (See Figure 2). Archaeological excavations revealed that the
so-called ‘Great Circle’ close to the Ad-Deir Monument is actually a giant pool
60 meters in diameter and just under 1.5 meters in depth along its inner wall
(See Figure 3). This gigantic pool on
the Ad-Deir Plateau above ancient Petra had two major ring walls, one inside
the other as well as a series of small stone wall rings on its exterior edges. The inner pool-side wall is carefully carved
from the local bedrock including a prepared stone floor with water
channels. The top of this lower pool
wall has large capstones that create a lip over the edge of the collected
water, perfect for sitting and enjoying the pool when filled to its maximum
capacity from seasonal rains.
man-made pool in the high southern desert of Jordan is believed by the
excavators to have been built by the Nabataeans of Petra during the late first
century B.C to the early first century A.D. in order to control water erosion
on the Ad-Deir Plateau and to capture as much seasonal rain as possible through
the massive engineering of the Plateau’s natural lime and sand stone
bedrock. The pool would have been in
existence during the time that Herod the Great spent much of his late childhood
in Petra as a refugee. The pool also
hosts a beautifully smoothed upper stone courtyard floor that surrounded the
pool and helped to channel rainwater into its depths. This complex also
included a water filtration system. When
dry, the structure may have also been multifunctional and used for a
performance or ritual setting and/or a central market area. Given the small carved head of a woman in a
festival headdress recovered this year from the site, one possibility is that
the giant pool may have also functioned as a Maiumas Festival pool similar to
the Birktein at Jerash, Jordan (See Figure 4).
The Maiumas Festival was a widely practiced pagan harvest celebration in
Classical antiquity in which selected priestesses of Aphrodite were thrown into
deep pools, or the sea, to symbolize the renewal of universal fertility for the
next season of planting and harvest.
one of the great mysteries of Petra concerning the function of the so-called
Great Circle at Ad-Deir,” said Project Co-Director, Dr. Cynthia Finlayson of
the BYU Department of Anthropology. “We
can now confirm that the Great Circle is actually a number of concentric walls
built by the Nabataeans to control seasonal water and slow this water’s progress
toward the central courtyard of the Ad-Deir Monument. The Nabataeans were recognized as the best
water engineers in the ancient Levant.
Their engineers and techniques greatly impacted Herod the Great’s later
building of his desert retreats with pools at Masada and Machaerus.” “Our second project team is also
concurrently working on uncovering the other most important water control
feature adjacent to the Ad-Deir Monument itself, the slot entrance into the
water from the south, west, and eastern sides of the Ad-Deir Plateau flows to
this very spot (See Figures 5 & 6).
“We are trying to discover how the Nabateans controlled this resource so
that we can help conserve the façade of the Ad-Deir Monument from continued
seasonal water erosion as well as conserve and restore the Nabataean cistern
complexes to the northeast of the Ad-Deir Monument,” said Finlayson. The
western slot entrance to the Ad-Deir Monument contained 2,000 years of churned
erosion debris that lay over a beautifully carved bedrock double staircase that
continues downward toward the Ad-Deir Monument courtyard. “We believe that there may be a very large
vaulted cistern under the Ad-Deir Monument courtyard that once collected all
the seasonal water erosion coming to it from the upper slopes of the Ad-Deir
Plateau,” said AMPP’s Director Finlayson.
“We must first take measures to ensure that no more erosion damage is
done to the Ad-Deir Monument itself before exposing and restoring the
courtyard’s functions to drain all water away from the Monument.” During the clearance of the erosion debris
over 70 ancient Nabataean coins were retrieved mostly minted by the Nabataean
king Aretas IV. Massive amounts of
pottery fragments were also recovered along with a gold bead, a Nabataean
builder’s maul, and numerous lithics.
of the 2014 project was to begin the cleaning of the upper façade of the
Ad-Deir Monument of all erosion debris collecting in its four major
alcoves. This debris was forcing rain
and snow melt over the façade of the Monument causing severe erosion of the
building’s sandstone exterior. Three
geologists, Dr. Ron Harris and Greg Carling of BYU as well as Jiri Bruthans of
Charles University of the Czech Republic not only did the daring climb to the
heights of the Ad-Deir’s second level, but also cleaned two alcoves and
completed a geologic conservation assessment of the condition of the building
(See Figure 7) .
Monument and Plateau project is Co-Directed by Ms. Tahani Salhi, Director of
Conservation for the Petra Archaeological Park and Dr. Cynthia Finlayson of the
Anthropology Department of Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. The project’s Jordanian Co-Director, Ms.
Tahani Salhi, Conservation Officer of the Petra Archaeological Park, was
instrumental in getting the project started and beginning to focus on the
conservations needs of major Nabataean buildings outside of Petra’s ancient
city center. This project’s goals
include stopping the seasonal flood and wind erosion now damaging the Ad-Deir
Monument, a World Monuments/UNESCO site through the study and restoration of
the ancient Nabataean water engineering systems that worked together to do this
in antiquity. The project also seeks to
study Nabataean water engineering on the Ad-Deir Plateau in order to provide
needed renewable water resources for the Petra Archaeological Park and Petra
region. The directors of the Ad-Deir
Monument and Plateau Project plan to also develop the Plateau as a working
interpretive site that will help visitors better understand the water
engineering accomplishments of the ancient Nabataeans of Petra, Jordan. The
project is supported by Rex and Ruth Maughan, the BYU Department of
Anthropology, the American Center for Oriental Research-Amman, the Petra
Archaeological Park Authority, the David M. Kennedy Center for International
Research at BYU, and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at BYU.
Figure 1: The Ad-Deir Monument (The ‘Monastery’) of
Petra, Jordan. One of the largest
rock-cut facades in ancient Nabataean Petra (note the relative size of the
visitor at the door of the building).
BYU Archaeology survey equipment in foreground donated by Rex and Ruth
Maughan (AMPP 2013).
Figure 2: Aerial view of the Great Circle at Ad-Deir
(in lower left side of photo) taken from the drone utilized in the 2013 survey
of the Plateau. Funding for the GATEWING
UAV/drone and advanced TRIMBLE GPS Survey equipment for the project was donated
by Rex and Ruth Maughan. Dr. Cynthia Finlayson and Scott Ure from the
BYU Department of Anthropology passed the required UAV/drone pilot training at
GATEWING headquarters in Bruge, Belgium in 2013. (AMPP 2013)
Exposed pool wall and floor as well as wall capstones from the 2014 AMPP
excavation of the Great Circle at Ad-Deir, Petra, Jordan. (AMPP 2014).
Figure 4: A small carved head of a woman with a
elaborate headdress recovered from the 2014 excavations of the Great Circle of
Ad-Deir, Petra, Jordan. (AMPP 2014).
Figure 5: BYU students Jose Newbold and Michaela Miller
working with Suleyman Haroun and Muhammad Auda on the clearance of the Ad-Deir
Monument’s western courtyard entrance.
Under the supervision of Dr. Glenna Nielsen-Grimm and Deborah Harris,
Assistant Directors for the project in 2014.
Figure 6: Excavations of the Ad-Deir northwest temenos
slot entrance to the Ad-Deir complex have revealed a previously unknown set of
mysterious stairs leading under the courtyard floor and possibly indicating
that a massive cistern complex is under the current Ad-Deir Monument courtyard.
A new temporary dam in the upper picture was built to replace a Nabataean
structure that had fallen and was no longer protecting the Ad-Deir courtyard
from seasonal water erosion. (AMPP 2014)
Figure 7: BYU geologists Dr. Ron Harris and Dr. Greg
Carling along with Dr. Jiri Bruthus of the Czech Republic working on the
clearance of the first alcove of the second story of the Ad-Deir Monument after
repelling down its exterior. This view
of the alcove is taken from the upper edge of the façade looking downward. (Photo:
BYU Geology/Archaeology student Josie Newbold, 2014).