Massive monument ‘hidden in plain sight’ discovered at Petra

10 Jun 2016

Archaeologists have discovered a monument bigger than an Olympic-sized swimming pool at the historical landmark of Petra in Jordan.

Drones are being used for an awful lot of varied projects at the moment. They are gradually being incorporated into animal conservation, an immediate solution to the problem of park rangers needing to cover large areas by foot.

They are used to monitor security issues – and create them, too – as well as give us access to sea monitoring like never before.

Future Human

Dig down, look down

Archaeologists don’t want to miss out on such easily-attainable eyes in the skies either, so, kit in hand, Sarah Parcak and Christopher Tuttle went to Jordan to get to work.

Mapping the region from above, in manageable, speedy collections of images, allowed the duo to find a previously unknown structure a few hundred metres from the UNESCO world heritage site, which featured so heavily in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade back in 1989.

Using Google Earth, WorldView and drone footage, the duo were looking for what they called “significant structures” within the city’s historic walls that “remain to be discovered”. Their paper Hiding in Plain Sight has been published, showcasing the findings.

Everybody wants a piece

Petra is an archaeology goldmine, with the city abandoned around the end of the Byzantine period in the seventh century. It attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists, and an immense deluge of historians and archaeologists on the lookout for unknowns.

The structure, visible through the sand, is around 56m wide and 49m long, with a smaller 8.5sqm facility built towards its edge – it is unlike anything else in the area.

“I’m sure that over the course of two centuries of research [in Petra], someone had to know [this site] was there, but it’s never been systematically studied or written up,” said Tuttle to National Geographic.

“I’ve worked in Petra for 20 years, and I knew that something was there, but it’s certainly legitimate to call this a discovery.”

If you want an armchair walk around Petra, try Google Street View.

Main Petra image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic