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October 27
Giant Pool and New Stairs Discovered at Ad-Deir

Giant Pool and New Stairs Discovered at Ad-Deir


PETRA, 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. 

This giant 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.

“This solves 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 Ad-Deir temenos/courtyard.”

All 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.

Another goal 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) .

The Ad-Deir 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)


Figure 3:  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).


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