‘We are now living through the great age of archaeology’ Apr 4, 2016 19:27:42 GMT
Post by UKarchaeology on Apr 4, 2016 19:27:42 GMT
The rock-hewn Al Khazneh, Arabic for the Treasury, in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon
A movie screen gives many people their first glimpse of Petra, the city in the otherwise barren mountains of Jordan. Petra is so dramatic, so obviously filmable, that it seems to have been drawn in a Hollywood studio. To the cynical eye, it’s clearly artificial. That’s what I assumed when I saw Harrison Ford and Sean Connery riding horses past a towering Corinthian gate apparently carved into a mountain. It was the most arresting shot in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
But Petra is indeed real, a 2,000-year-old example of rock-cut architecture, hidden behind a mountain pass by the Nabatean Arabs who built it and grew rich taxing the caravans that passed nearby. Outsiders from the West regarded the place as, at best, a vague rumour until 1812, when a Swiss explorer sneaked into it dressed as an Arab, stayed one day, and revealed it to the world.
The building that provided a sumptuous backdrop for Ford and Connery is called the Treasury because some Nabateans once believed a story that it contained Petra’s riches. Archaeologists have determined that it was the repository for the bones of 800 or so Nabateans, entombed in the cave walls. The facade, 45 metres high, must have been carved into the sandstone by men hanging on ropes from the top of the mountain. The same archeologists have determined that this surreptitious mountain city also had a market, public baths, a forum and a Roman amphitheatre.
Archaeologists are probably given too little credit for their accomplishments. As well as being scientists, they are central to the humanities in our time. They have many of the qualities of artists. They follow strict rules but their ideas often reflect well-tuned intuition.
Their purpose is to lengthen and enrich the story of the earth and its inhabitants. They thicken the story with carefully detailed facts, turning guesses into near-certainties. Occasionally the popular arts manage to wrap this process in a romantic aura, as with Indiana Jones. But their value to civilization is seldom acknowledged.
Full story: news.nationalpost.com/arts/the-artistry-of-archaeology-we-are-now-living-through-the-great-age-of-archaeology