A New High Place

Circular High Place 30 20 03.27N
35 26 55.32E
If you zoom in close you can just make out the remains of a wall running SW from the circle.
Great High Place 30 19 19.55N
35 26 49.31E
For something so distinctive on the ground, the High Place is remarkably elusive from the air. The coordinates can only be regarded as approximate.
The New Platform 30 19 12.56N
35 26 20.05E
I believe that I have finally identified the site, even though the Google Earth picture does not look like the picture released by the discoverers.

The first time we went to Petra, in 1958, we were determined to do the thing thoroughly. We spent the best part of three days there, sleeping for two nights in a tomb - for in those days there was very little tourism in Jordan and the idea that Petra might become a mass tourist destination was laughable. We were guided into the city and more or less told to take our pick.

(We also had an armed guard, imposed upon us by the police, whose rust-clogged blunderbuss inspired no confidence whatsoever until we realised that his employment was neither more nor less than protection money paid to the local tribesmen, who would otherwise have robbed us blind and cheerfully cut our throats into the bargain. The same local tribesmen still rob tourists, though these days they give them a cheap t-shirt or a bottle filled with sand in exchange.)

We walked for miles, clambering up rock slopes, trudging through burning sand, exploring blind ravines, because we were sure that we would never come back all the way to Petra ever again and this would be our last opportunity to see the wonders of the place. I don't even think we had a guide book - and the "guard" was certainly no use as a guide - but we did have a Jordanian student from Amman who offered to accompany us, mainly because he, too, was sure that he would never have another opportunity to visit such a remote spot!

Despite these disadvantages, however, we managed to see most things. We gaped at el-Khazneh, we were duly awed by ed-Deir, we marvelled at the Roman(!) triumphal arch and temple of Jupiter, and then we went in search of the high places. The first one, the Rectangular High Place with its nearby Crusader castle, was not too hard to find - climbing up to it was a different matter and we felt a real sense of achievement when we finally stood on the height and gazed down on the scene below.

The second, the Circular High Place, was more difficult and that was when we did most of our trudging through hot sand. My youngest sister wailed, "Mummy, I've got shoes in my sand!" and we knew just what she meant!

Eventually found a circular structure which stood on a little eminence higher than the surrounding land but by no means what I would have called "high". Nevertheless we were satisfied that it was the only thing that was both high and circular for miles around and duly enriched Mr Kodak by shooting two or three pictures of it. (Do you remember those days when every time you pressed the shutter button it cost you real money?) Our identification was confirmed in subsequent visits when there was even a sign erected by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities identifying the structure as the Circular High Place.

In 1975 I once again hiked up to this structure but this time I had a little more experience of the world and was less inclined to believe every word written in guide books, even official ones. Not only was the structure too small for the proposed public religious ceremonials, but there were clear signs of walls on both sides of it. I am satisfied that it is part of a defensive wall built to protect Petra against attack from the north.

Contrary to popular myth, the narrow Siq is not the only way into Petra; it just happens to be the shortest and most convenient route from the east, the direction from which all tourists come. In fact Petra sits in a wide valley running SW-NE and there is literally no obstacle to any invading army to simply walk round the ridge the Siq cuts through and stroll into Petra. There is actually a paved road running most of the way into Petra from the Beduin village which has been built at the top end of this valley; the people who work in Petra come in via this road, as to trucks bearing crates of Coca-Cola and Fanta, tourists, for the refreshment of, to say nothing of all the "hand-made-in-Japan" souvenirs foisted on the afore-mentioned tourists.

The newly discovered platform in Petra.
The newly discovered platform in Petra. Unfortunately there is not enough background to enable the location to be identified.

Nevertheless, it would appear that there is another high place lurking beneath the sands somewhere in this area. Sarah Parcak and Christopher Tuttle have recently been poring over Google Earth and they must have sharper eyes than I have - or possibly they are using the paid-for version of that excellent program - because they have spotted an enormous platform 184' x 160' on which stands a smaller, 28' x 28' structure that could be an altar.

To clarify their finding they also used WorldView-1 and WorldView-2 images and then, still hardly daring to believe what they found, they got someone to fly a drone over the area they had identified - and it was still there! All too often "discoveries" from satellite photographs turn out, on closer examination, to be entirely natural lines on the ground. Surface pottery picked up on the site is from the mid-second century BC, the time when the Nabateans were really settling into their new location and starting to build things. This probably makes it older than the Great High Place on top of the Attuf Ridge.

It probably helped that Mr Tuttle has worked in Petra for twenty years - and more than that, suspected that there was something on this spot. However just as satellite photographs can be deceptive, so can appearances on the ground and it took a combination of his instinct, satellite photography and aerial photography to confirm the finding. "I've worked in Petra for 20 years, and I knew that something was there, but itís certainly legitimate to call this a discovery," Tuttle says.

We congratulate him on his sharp eyes and his persistent searching for what his instinct told him was there.

Roman(!) Petra, as is well known, is carved out of the solid rock. At the time these two structures were the only "built" buildings and people naturally assumed that they were Roman - the Romans were also credited with the stone-paved road leading to them. Today a more detailed study of the architecture makes it clear that the buildings are not Roman and the discovery of other buildings constructed out of blocks of stone has proven that the Nabateans were not limited to cutting caves into the cliffs. Return

Crusader castle See above for the comments regarding "Roman". The stone wall is neither Crusader nor a castle, but the remains of a Nabatean temple platform. Return

© Kendall K. Down 2016