Friday, November 09, 2012

Excavations Uncover Common Life in Ancient Petra

November 7, 2012 by ancientfoods

The ancient city of Petra, one of the New Seve...
The ancient city of Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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