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1998 Catalog | Consolidation and Preservation
Brown University 1998 Excavations at the Petra Great Temple

With the continuing support of the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Dr. Ghazi Bisheh, Director, the sixth season of excavations were carried out at the Petra Great Temple from June 9 to August 10, 1998. With the discovery of the Temple theatron in 1997, we have explored questions about the function(s) of the Great Temple. For the past two years a number of possible explanations for this structure's function have been suggested, which test the hypotheses that the process of rebuilding involved successive changes in the use of this structure. These hypotheses are in print elsewhere. Here we will focus only on the results of the current excavations conducted in 1998.

Under the auspices of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, the sixth excavation season.

Please refer to our past seasons annual reports in Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.

In the Propylaeum, an arched walkway, parallel to the Colonnaded Street, was excavated to a 3.50 m depth. It was constructed earlier than the present steps leading from the Colonnaded Street into the Temple precinct.

Completely excavated in the Lower Temenos was the elegantly-buttressed East Exedra, appointed with interior benches and a central podium, which may have served for the placement of statuary. This semi-circular structure is preserved to a 5.8 m height, a 12.4 m exterior width, a 6.7 m interior width, and a 5.4 m depth from the double entry columns to its rear wall. From the East Exedra there is now a grand vista over the Lower Temenos triple colonnaded walkways, which originally were adorned with Asian elephant-headed capitals. Five pilasters with relief-sculpted figures were found; one was embellished with an ornamental wreath. These elements probably fell from the Temple Façade and served as building components for later walls.

Fully revealed behind the East Exedra was an arched structure measuring 10 m -by- 3.5 m -by- 5 m in depth, partially cut out of bedrock. Originally serving as a cistern, it later saw multiple uses as a dump and perhaps as a workshop. Recovered here was this season's artifact record with a full repertoire of early second century Nabataean painted and plain wares, a plethora of exquisitely painted plaster, including one with a partial Nabataean inscription, a Nabataean-Inscribed bronze plaque, bone implements, and several Nabataean coins.

In the Temple, the excavation of the West Corridor with frescoed walls standing to a 6 m height was completed. This excavation made it possible to measure the Temple as 42.5 m in length. The visitor can now walk down the West Corridor, and mount the southwest stairs to the Temple center for a view of the inner rooms. Descent is facilitated by the now-consolidated vaulted north-south stairway through the arch into the West Corridor, to the partially-excavated Theatron, and from there, to the Pronaos and the Temple entrance.

Highly informative was the excavation of the Temple inner Central Arch to a depth of 5.25 m. Cut out of bedrock, and measuring 8.52 m -by-3.32 m, its floor was comprised of a canalization system with an additional series of bedrock-cut channels. Found in the canalization was a Nabataean cup. In the debris above were 160 coins, tentatively-dated to the Late Roman period.

Also in 1998, excavations recovered more of the East Corridor. Here the initial deposit was clogged with fallen column drums decorated with fruit and acanthus-laden Nabataean floral capitals. Several drums of the Temple East were removed, stabilized, and re-erected. Among the projects involving the consolidation and conservation of the structure was the anastylosis and re-erection of 11 courses of the heart-shaped southeastern column of the Temple rear. The Eastern Stairway leading from the Lower Temenos to the Temple Forecourt was also restored.

Additionally, Leigh-Ann Bedal undertook an extensive survey of the so-called Lower Market. Here was a complex series of water systems and a great pool, which is similar in concept to the Persian paradiseo or garden.

In 1998, these Nabataean architects continued to astonish us with their ingenuity!

 

1998 Catalog

In the 1998 catalog were 186 coins, the fragmented bronze plaque with the Nabataean inscription, painted stucco including a partial human face, 40 additional elephant parts, 37 lamp fragments, and 24 Nabataean bowls, cups, unguentaria, and figurines. Nearly 34,000 fragments of pottery, bone, metal, and glass were classified in our site database. After six excavation seasons, the catalog register includes 382 coins, several inscriptions including three in Nabataean; several fragments in Greek, and an Imperial Latin inscription (Tracy 1999:372-376). Exquisitely painted stucco fragments abound, including one with a partial human face. 146 sculpted elephant fragments are included in our architectural fragment database numbering over 6274 elements, along with fragments of elaborate floral friezes and acanthus-laden limestone capitals. 379 lamp fragments complete Nabataean bowls, small cups, juglets, unguentaria, and figurines are among the 149,640 pottery, glass, bone, and metal artifacts classified in our site database.

As specialist study is integrated to our research, J. J. Basile is studying the sculpted pilaster blocks from the Lower Temenos; C. Augé will be analyzing the coins, D. G. Barrett has researched the lamps, S. G. Karz the glass, the stylistic analysis and dating of the pottery already has been undertaken by Y. Gerber, and L. D. Bestock will be publishing the ceramics from the 'cistern' area.

Found in the pool-cistern in the courtyard of the Petra Church excavations was one of our elephant head fragments (no. 661 1998), as well as the hibiscus petal part of a capital (no. 662 1998). Simon S. Sullivan drew these two fragments, and Patricia M. Bikai catalogued them. It is clear that the Byzantine Church builders "borrowed" architectural elements they found lying around the site.

1998-1999 Consolidation and Restoration

The fundamental philosophy of the Petra Great Temple excavations from the beginning has been that the site is a fragile and non-renewable resource that would require protection. One of our concerns, before excavation was undertaken, was that we would do everything possible for the consolidation of the site while the excavations were in progress. It should be made clear that we have not undertaken architectural restoration, in its true sense restoration awaits further excavation and the expertise of an architectural historian. The measures we have taken are geared only to the reversible preservation of the structural integrity of the precinct. Exposure of the architectural features has been of serious concern, for the site is susceptible to the havoc created by heavy rains and earth tremors. This has been acknowledged and instituted by the incorporation of several additional consolidation procedures that have become part of our research design.

One of the crucial by-products of excavation is the state the archaeological site is left in after excavation. Because archaeology is a destructive science, how does the site live on after it has been excavated? Conservation and consolidation are expensive, and are a tedious, labor-intensive job that requires specialists and skilled technicians. At the Great Temple at Petra, consolidation takes place during the excavation process at the same time as excavation, with funds and personnel specifically allocated for that purpose. Site consolidation and protection systems are also undertaken at the end of the excavation season and before the winter rains in preparation for continued excavation.

Conservation involves the analysis, treatment, and preservation of the Great Temple. It is hoped that we have helped to preserve this monument and its precinct, for we have routinely maintained records of both the condition and treatment of the various sectors of this site that we have participated in recovering. Whenever possible, an experienced architect and an experienced conservator, also supervised the consolidation of the Temple architecture. In 1996, we envisioned a more extensive, organized plan for the consolidation of the Great Temple architecture, which has been on-going under the expert guidance of Dakhilallah Qublan and some 20 local workmen. Their work has been fully supported by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities.

Approval to carry out conservation was vigorously supported by the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Aware of the threats caused by winter rains and earthquakes, Dr. Ghazi Bisheh, Director of the Department of Antiquities, was anxious to have consolidation carried out during the excavation or as soon as possible after the close of the excavation season. During our annual excavations, consolidation plans have been undertaken, and those measures that interfered with the excavation process were postponed until the excavations had concluded. Annual measures were put forward to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and all procedures were discussed, problems were addressed, and most of the time, solutions were found.

We have also made several studies of consolidants for the conservation and restoration of standing structures. Whether or not these mortar consolidants have limitations is a complex question. Stone, particularly sandstone deterioration is appreciable in the Temple's erosion. The long term efforts of the mortar on the sandstone is difficult to predict. It is a matter of judgment of the conservator. For each stone there are differing porosities, differing salt, water and acid absorption rates and difference in how they react to sunlight. Here is a very complex question, for each individual stone has its own problems. We have diagnosed a wide variety of sensitivities, for example, in order to slow this process of sandstone and limestone deterioration. We have employed certain conservation measures either simultaneously with the excavation or during the post-excavation season. With this in mind, yearly conservation surveys of the excavated portions of the Temple have been carried out with a view to preserving and restoring various architectural features.

Now that all the temple columns have been located, their reversible re-erection has been undertaken. No mortar has been used between the drums unless the specific drum elements are known , as was the case with the entry columns of the West Exedra. Only the columns in the opening of the West Exedra have been restored with mortar, because they were in situ or collapsed in an order that could be restored. Using a tested mortar, which in composition is similar to the original Nabataean mortar, we have consolidated architectural elements the aforementioned columns and walls that have been imperiled both from 2000 years of erosion as well as by recent excavations.

Applications have been made to the World Monuments Fund, which has granted us two awards (1996 and 1998) expressly for site preservation, conservation and consolidation. Thus the Great Temple consolidation projects have been made possible in part by a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation through an American Express Award through World Monuments Watch, a program of the World Monuments Fund. These funds were matched several times over by special subventions through Brown University. Briefly stated, budget constraints have forced us to be selective of what we could undertake.

Among the completed projects involving the consolidation and conservation of the structure was the anastylosis and re-erection of 11 courses of the heart-shaped southeastern column of the Temple rear. The East and West Stairways leading from the Lower Temenos to the Temple Forecourt was also restored and also completed was the anastylosis of the West Corridor east Inter-columnar wall along with its arches and windows. Beginning with the Temple precinct north, the following list of projects has been scheduled for consolidation.

The Propylaeum's arch springers are in a state of collapse and require consolidation. Completed.

In the Lower Temenos, one to three columns are being restored in the East Colonnade to a minimum 4 m height (their original height we assume was 8 m). One of the elephant-headed capitals will be placed on top of the column so those visitors will have an understanding of the layout and sculptural canon of these features. The East Exedra urgently requires stabilization and the replacement of deteriorating blocks for the missing ashlars have weakened the structure and its integrity is in danger of collapse. Completed.

In the Upper Temenos, the 'cistern' requires its walls to be pointed and reinforced; its two free standing arches also require re-pointing (these arches were first stabilized in 1997). The steps leading to the west walkway have to be replaced for some of these are broken and slumped out of position, while others have been robbed out. Completed.

In the Temple itself, the Central Arch exhibits complex needs, for it requires collapse prevention to support the arch, which if left unattended with time will fall. Thus, a wall must be constructed from the interior door to the bottom of the arch surface for stabilization. Another project entails the southwest heart-shaped column's upper drum elements that should be restored to their original positions. The southeast east-west stairway has some 23-24 steps, but all but the lowest seven steps were robbed out in antiquity. For passage into the structure some 18 or 19 steps also have to be replaced with new treads. As for the southwest east-west stairway, where the condition is similar, and steps have to be replaced. In the West Corridor a series of frescos were recovered; these were temporarily treated during the field season. These require further cleaning and support to prevent their disintegration they also have to be stabilized and be protected from the elements with a covering. The fallen ashlars that were originally part of the West Corridor wall should be replaced to their original positions so that this wall is reinforced. Completed.

Additionally, the protective fencing surrounding the site again has been increased for the surround of the excavated areas, but also to protect our "Sculpture Garden" where pilaster blocks and decorative capital elements are stored.

 
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