Journey to Petra: Preserving the Ad-Deir Monument


(Narrator) An abandoned stone city and a mysterious
monument perched seemingly at the top of the world…A BYU team makes the daily
trek up eight hundred steps on a mission to preserve a Jordanian treasure. “It’s
very touching to think that people actually carved that facade on the rock
two thousand years ago and it’s still there for us to see.” (Narrator) But could ancient Nabataean technologies
used here on the Adair plateau help to solve modern-day problems? I’m just
dumbfounded with what Nabataean architects and engineers were able to
accomplish. They teach us something new everyday. (Narrator) More than two thousand years ago a mysterious civilization known as the
Nabataeans, carved the beautiful sandstone city of Petra in the middle of the
Jordanian desert. “This culture is very mysterious because their origins are debated.” “They were hidden, they were hidden even in ancient times.” “The Nabataeans were incredible architects,
incredible water engineers, but also incredible caravan traders.” “It’s an
amazing culture and an amazing civilization.” (Narrator) After being annexed by the Roman Empire
in 106 A.D., and then suffering a major earthquake, this once-great city
eventually declined. Today this stone city is one of the new wonders of the
world and a Jordanian archaeological treasure. “We are proud in our history, we
are proud in our archeological remains… We are proud in our civilization… This is important for us as a Jordanian.” “Petra today is a World Heritage UNESCO site. It’s one
of the largest archaeological sites in the world.” (Narrator) The 100 square mile Petra
Archaeological Park boasts a number of large stone facades, the most famous al-Khazna or ‘The Treasury.’ And on the other side of the park the even larger Ad-Deir
monument, commonly called ‘The Monastery.’ “The Ad-Deir monument is built into the rock,
like most monuments in Petra are.” “They carved these from the top down. These are huge!” “So it’s one of the more important monuments in Petra… and beloved
throughout the world.” (Narrator) Although this is an iconic structure, very little research
has been done here for thirty years because of its location. To get to the
Adair plateau, people and equipment must be transported up hundreds of steps–
Passable only by donkeys and on foot. “Nobody likes to work here because it’s too far, far away from the surface.” “It’s 800 steps, straight up, from the center of the ancient city.” “Everything has to be loaded
onto a donkey and brought up… It takes about half an hour. And most of the students of course walk.” [greet each other] “We tried counting the stairs, but you always lose count with how hard you’re breathing!” (Narrator) For these archaeology students, the 800 step commute concludes in dramatic fashion at the base of the largest stone facade in Petra. “To be learning how to be
an archaeologist in front of such a beautiful monument, is an absolute bonus!” “You look up at the mountain every day, and you’re like… ‘Look where I am! It’s OK, this is awesome! Who gets to do this?!’ It’s an amazing thing to work here.” (Narrator) This large-scale project has
two objectives: It’s a classic archaeological study of
the plateaus role in antiquity. It’s also a conservation
effort between BYU, the Petrol Archaeological Park, and the Jordanian
Department of Antiquities to help preserve the Adair facade from wind and
water erosion. “The project is primarily a conservation project to preserve this
building. It’s under a lot of threat from water erosion, the seasonal flooding.” (Narrator) As part of a comprehensive study of this site, the BYU team is enlisting new
technologies. High-resolution scans of the facade document its current
condition and help guide the conservation effort. And for the first
time, Ad-Deir was photographed from the air using a scientific-grade unmanned
aerial vehicle. “This UAB has an on-board computer, it uses GPS technology… So it’s flying a very specific
flight pass and collecting data in a very precise way… We were lucky to work with Pix4D. Their software allows us to create these 3D models. It just provides us a way to
visualize that terrain in a way that you can’t do from a flat topographic map. We
were seeing things from that flight that we just couldn’t see from the ground. What
that did was allow us to see all of the different archaeological features in
relationship to each other. And you can see how things are interconnected. You
have water channels and cisterns and buildings all interrelated with each
other. It just brings it to life and it helps us as scientists to see how everything is interconnected.” “We’ve discovered there’s a lot more up on the Ad-Deir plateau that ever was thought.” (Narrator) The UAV
images, combined with traditional surveying, reveal more than 300 archaeological
features on the Ad-Deir plateau. The team iscurrently working on three different
excavation sites here. Clearly visible in these new images is this mysterious Great Circle, which may have been a ceremonial pool,
and also part of the water collection system. “Today we’re working on the inner
ring of the Great Circle. We discovered it’s actually a gigantic 60 meter
diameter pool. It’s probable purpose was to control the water errosion. The Nabataeans’ water systerms were
incredibly sophisticated and we hope to learn more about how they managed water.” “We’re hoping that by clearing the systems and understanding our various components… that we can resurrect them–Protecting the monument, but also everything else that’s on this plateau.” (Narrator) The Great Circle, and other structures on the plateau are all connected. If these
Nabataean systems can function again, they can be used to help channel water
away from the facade. “As you can see, the erosion is very severe.” “Up above the doorway lintel
itself..That water’s coming over the top during the rainy season. You can see how the stone looks
like it’s just melting and being eroded away.” “There is not any drainage system. As you see, it is an open plaza… If we know how to deal with the flash flood and we can protect the facade, that would be great for us.” “Some people think that if you’re in a desert, there isn’t any water.” “The wind and the rain are unforgiving, up here especially.” “We had a massive hundred-year
deluge last year when we were out here that closed down the park.” “At the time
that they have flash flooding from excess rain, they’ll have huge deluges of rain.” “When it comes, it comes all at once, which is the big problem with erosion… I mean if it was coming gradually, you can deal with that. But when it’s flash floods, you need major control systems in order to harness that water. (Narrator) Because of its unprotected location facing the storms from Wadi Araba, the Adair facade is deteriorating from wind, sand storms, and
water erosion. “We’re standing in front of one of the major side channels that brought water
erosion over the top of the facade… These are now blocked and they need to be
cleaned out and restored so that the water doesn’t pool here… Water coming over the
front is creating this crystallization that you’re seeing on the wall… this is salt crystallization… And this is pushing and sluffing off the
patina, or that outer rock at the facade along the columns. This is being further
enhanced by the dust storms that swirl in this corner because there’s no longer a protective Nabataean wall to keep that wind off the facade. The sand blasts and further opens up the patina on the columns
and the facade itself. So the standing water combined with that
is causing increasing damage on the Ad-Deir monument. So here at the central doorway you can see the massiveness of
this monument by me just standing next to the doorway. The sediment from the wind that’s deposited on the second story above is thus pushing water coming from on the top of the Ad-Deir in a pattern over the
doorway on either side that’s causing worse erosion on either side of
this entrance. (Narrator) Inside this 26 foot tall doorway is a single empty
chamber. “We are now inside the chamber room of the Ad-Deir monument. We can see how massive it is. In thesekinds of buildings for memorials to…if this was for a Nabataean king, there may have been a cult statue here of him. So we just have no evidence for what decoration may have been. Now we have a
little bit of salt crystallization on the ceiling over here you can see it. So
it’s very plain it’s very simple except for the beautiful banded
sandstone which the Nabataeans ended up probably covering up with plaster so we’re missing a lot of ornamentation that used to be here.” (Narrator) Over two thousand years, this stone facade has endured
earthquakes, flash floods, and wind erosion it also has a water source of
unknown origin that is damaging the patina. “In this case the seep is coming out from behind the wall and it chemically reacts with the minerals in the stone itself to create
these natural salts.” (Narrator) All water sources here are damaging to the fragile sandstone facade.
So one of the first steps in this conservation effort was to clean out the
second story monument alcoves that were filled with dirt and debris.
Geologists from BYU and from Charles University in the Czech Republic, rappelled
down to complete the dangerous task. “As far as we know, it has not been cleared and maybe two thousand years… As the debris piles up, it then shifts the water erosion over the front so we’re getting a lot of damage
that’s being done on the lower facade.” (Narrator) The three active excavation sites here: the Cistern, the Great Circle, and the Temenos Slot were all important parts
of the original Nabataean systems that controlled water on the plateau. Before
the main courtyard can be excavated, these areas need to be restored. “Because all of the erosion from this side of the plateau comes to this point, is has made this Slot Temenos entrance one of the richest archaeological find sites for the project. So everything has been washed down here from all time periods of occupation on the plateau itself. They have over 90 coins at this point. They’ve also found bits of gold jewelry that have washed down.” “We find a lot of coins and pottery and other small items at this
site because it’s the erosional wash area.” “I’m starting up the staircase that was
discovered last year underneath is two thousand years of
erosion you can see it’s a beautifully prepped limestone floor from the bedrock.
The mystery is how deep this really goes and what’s underneath the present erosion fill in the courtyard itself. One of the theories were testing is that not
only was the Ad-Deir plateau a major cult site, but it may have been the site of a Nabataean summer
palace. So what we’re finding, particularly in this slot entrance, is
opening up new questions and new perspectives about how the Ad-Deir plateau may have been used in antiquity. (Narrator) Even by modern standards, the Nabataeans were expert water engineers. They used the natural landscape to divert every
drop of water into storage tanks and away from structures. “Everywhere you look on the rock faces, on the cliff faces, there are channels, there are mechanisms for controlling the water.” “And all the channels that you see they lead to a cistern or to a dam.” “And you can see how deeply cisterns are. There is a series of six or seven of these.” “So part of our project is to restore these cisterns that will catch all the water that would otherwise go down
erode the Adair monument.” (Narrator) One of the goals of this archaeological project is
to restore these structures and remarkably use these two thousand year
old systems to channel and store water to benefit modern populations. “Not only is it interesting from an ancient perspective, but it’s also important for the local people have access to water resources, which are still as scarse today as they were then.” The Nabataeans, of two thousand years ago, created a water engineering system as a gift that can be maximized for Jordan today.” “These people were very in tune
with their environment in ways that we need to re-capture. They teach us
something new everyday.” (Narrator) From learning about ancient
civilizations in the shadow of an archaeological treasure, to interacting everyday with modern-day
Jordanians, for BYU students the Ad-Deir monument
project provides valuable experience and perspective. “This isn’t a museum where things just go to sit…This is a living, breathing site.” “It’s a great intercultural
experience for the students because it’s total cultural immersion. We’re living in
the village. We have the duel crewmen with us all day long. We have our jordanian colleagues at work
with us.” “I just feel really fortunate that I’m allowed to work here among these people are so great to us.” “We need missions like this. We don’t a need mission that’s gonna be isolated
from the local people. The students–they are lucky there. And, at the same time, the Department here…we are lucky.” “It’s an incredible opportunity to be able to help preserve this monument for Jordan. And probably most importantly it’s a great opportunity to help the local community.” “I feel something when I’m here, I love it here, and I want my children to see it. That’s one of my greatest dreams, is bringing my family up those stairs, much slower [chuckles], and having them go around the corner and see it, and know that that’s important to me and have it be important to them. But it can’t be that way if it doesn’t survive. We need to protect it.”


16 Responses

  1. Verisa Tai

    July 26, 2016 8:36 am

    Very interesting and beautiful documentary… however, you maybe heard about the CARE FOR PETRA campaign ( This campaign is run under the umbrella of the Petra Authorities (PDTRA) with the cooperation of national and international stakeholders. Its aim is to promote responsible behaviors during the visit of Petra in front of three issues: the preservation of the heritage, the elimination of child labour and the improvement of the animals welfare. The campaigns recommends the following(between others):

    – don't touch the monuments
    – don't stand on the monuments .
    – don't use donkeys in the stairs. Using the animals up and downstairs accelerate the erosion of the stairs which date back to Nabatean time. Moreover, it induces suffering for the animals.
    (

    Unfortunately, the video exposes without any notice behaviors that must be nowadays absolutely avoided. Even if we can understand that, it case of archaeological excavations or other heavy works, the use of the donkeys is necessary to transport the material to the Deir, the insistence on this detail and on the difficulties of climbing those stairs isn't convenient in a time where we must involve big efforts to bring the visitors of Petra to a more responsible behavior towards the animals and towards the heritage.
    We shouldn't see anymore people walking on the top of the Deir, (moreover it is prohibited further to a fatal accident). All the pictures suggesting that should be avoided and removed (I know that some are still published in travel magazines, but we are working for awareness for that also).
    Touching monuments with hands for giving explanation encourages gestures that others will follow without to be conscious that the contacts of the hands on the monuments accelerates their erosion.

    I wanted to share this video of the FB page of the campaign for its archaeological interest (especially regarding the erosion) but unfortunately I have to waive.

    Hoping that in the future, the recommendations of the CARE FOR PETRA campaign will be taken in consideration by the professionals too,

    With Best Regards

    Care For Petra campaign's Coordinator

  2. Melissa Bitter

    December 9, 2016 12:24 am

    Would love to see a follow-up video of the progress that has been made in the past year, and other discoveries that have been found on how the cisterns function and link together with the water control systems.

  3. Jessie L.A.

    November 7, 2017 11:33 am

    This is way older. I think it was robert schock that said it was built before the flood. Also the step design on the top is the exact same designs that are carved in Peru. They are related.

  4. Omar Mirza

    November 8, 2017 1:04 pm

    Fascinating! Does anyone know what was discovered in the underground chambers they were excavating,where they found stairways going down?

  5. Steve Corry

    June 14, 2018 5:12 am

    Great clip. I was there last week and ran into this team working at the cistern (June 2018).

  6. Ahmad Hibatullah Habibi Al Asari

    October 25, 2018 6:07 am

    Petra sangat luar biasa! Membayangkan pada jaman dahulu membuat monument seperti ini sangat mengagumkan! . konservasi yang terus dikembangkan diharapkan bisa menemukan tempat baru dikawasan Petra karena memang begitu menariknya lokasinya untuk dikaji. Pengunaan teknologi semakin menambah pengetahuan tentang Petra bahkan lebih masive daripada penanganan situs di Indonesia. Sayangnya memang harusnya pemerintah bisa menangani soal banjir,erosi,badai,dll sehingga situs yang ada tidak mengalami kerusakan. UNESCO sudah melakukan yang terbaik untuk Petra dan pemerintah Jordania juga harusnya melakukan hal yang sama. Salam dari Indonesia!


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