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Distributed March 5, 2004
Contact Mary Jo Curtis

Petra: Lost City of Stone
Archaeologists’ work on exhibit at American Museum of Natural History

The work of a team of Brown archaeologists led by Martha Sharp Joukowsky, director of the Center for Old World Archaeology and Art, is being displayed in Petra: Lost City of Stone, a traveling exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City through July 6, 2004. On Sunday, March 14, 2004, at the museum, Joukowsky will present a slide-illustrated lecture on her work at the Great Temple of Petra.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. —Martha Sharp Joukowsky, director of the Center for Old World Archaeology and Art at Brown University, will speak about her excavation work at the Great Temple of Petra on Sunday, March 14, 2004, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Joukowsky will give a slide-illustrated lecture in conjunction with a special traveling exhibition, Petra: Lost City of Stone, on display at the American Museum of Natural History through July 6, 2004. In July the exhibit will travel to the Cincinnati Art Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio.


City of Stone
Archaeologists and students from Brown University have been working at the Great Temple of Petra since 1993.

Since 1993, Joukowsky has led a team of Brown University archaeologists and students in excavating the Great Temple of Petra, racing against time and the ravages of the desert to uncover the architecture and artifacts of the ancient site in Jordan. The Brown group is one of five archaeological teams working at Petra, including representatives from the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) and the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Located about 50 miles south of the Dead Sea in Jordan, Petra (from the Greek, meaning “rock”) was the principal city of ancient Nabataea. It achieved prominence in the first century B.C. because of its success in the spice trade and its hydraulic engineering systems. During the 11 years Joukowsky and her colleagues have spent at the site, they have unearthed more than 10,000 architectural fragments and more than 325,000 cultural objects, including pottery, bone, faience earthenware, glass and shell. Some 40 tons of sculpture and other artifacts have been transported from Jordan for the Petra: Lost City of Stone exhibition, shedding light on this unique and extraordinary desert city.

“This exhibit marks the first time all of these Nabataean things have been brought together, from Petra as well as other sites,” said Joukowsky.


Limestone elephants
Columns of the Great Temple are adorned with elephant heads carved from limestone, a feature not known to exist anywhere else.

The focus of the Brown team, the Great Temple, is “one of the largest free-standing structures in Petra,” according to Joukowsky. The limestone elephants that adorn the columns of the temple are among the most striking items in the exhibit. “There is nothing like them anywhere else in the world,” she said.

In addition to sharing the historic finds from Petra with the public through this exhibit, Joukowsky and colleagues at Brown have taken innovative steps to preserve the site, using technology to capture and restore aspects of the Great Temple for future generations in an interdisciplinary project that bridges the physical sciences and humanities. Supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Joukowsky has collaborated with a group of scientists and artists to digitally represent and manipulate two- and three-dimensional shapes from data recorded in Petra by laser range scanners and digital and video cameras. That extensive digital data provides a new and flexible tool for archaeological site analysis.

One dramatic result of that multidisciplinary collaboration was the development of ARCHAVE (ARCHAeology in Virtual Environments), an immersive virtual reality rendering of the Great Temple, developed in Brown’s Technology Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Visualization. The team is currently developing a prototype for a desktop version of ARCHAVE that will be less expensive and more readily available to students and researchers. It is also developing technological tools to aid archaeologists in the reconstruction of artifacts from the thousands of shards they have found – a time-consuming and sometimes impossible task – by using various mathematical models and applying shape theories to automatically reassemble 3-D objects from fragments and represent how the original items are likely to have looked, even when only a few pieces are available to analyze.

For more information on Brown’s project at Petra, see

For more information on the exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, visit


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