Ancient city of Petra was a 'celestial calendar', says new study

A new study into the ancient Jordanian city of Petra has found that was built to cast the sun’s rays onto sacred sites “like celestial spotlights.”

The Nabateans (Petra’s inhabitants) rose and fell in relative obscurity between the 3rd century BC and the 1st century AD.

Exploiting the trade between its two neighbours’, Rome and Assyria, the Nabateans built the buildings popularised in the film ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.’

Yet despite their iconic dwellings, gouged out of mountains in the south of Jordan, not much is known of their culture and habits.

Now, a new study in the ‘Nexus Network Journal' is beginning to reveal a little more about the Nabateans and how they lived.

The study shows that Petra’s buildings were hewn for more than aesthetics - they double as a celestial calendar, marking the seasons and days of religious significance.

"The facades of Petra are not only beautiful in themselves, but they also show something additional," the study leader Juan Antonio Belmonte, an archaeo-astronomer at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands told National Geographic.

Belmonte and his team measured the dimension of Petra’s tombs, temples and monuments, and compared them to celestial patterns from around the turn of the millennia.

They found that certain monuments aligned with the sun on certain days of the year, focusing their rays onto areas of religious significance “like celestial spotlights.”

This lends support to prior evidence that the Nabataeans worshipped the sun and its cycles - just as the Egyptians had.

The 3rd century BC kingdom is thought to have been planned in such a way that the light during key celestial dates, equinoxes and solstices, would shine powerfully onto religious buildings

"It's the same thing seen in Christian churches [when sunlight illuminates] special altars," Belmonte said.

The study shows that the Nabataeans possessed an ideology based upon the wanderings of the sun, and possessed a deep understanding of astronomical movements and their impact on seasons.

E. C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, told National Geographic that the “fact that it manifests only a week before and a week after the winter solstice suggests that a symbolic alignment with the winter solstice sunset is plausible.”

Belmonte plans to test his results at Al-Hijr, a similar Nabatean site in Saudi Arabia. Should the results match it will provide irrefutable proof that this 2000 year old culture understood, worshipped and planned by the sun and its seasons.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
A recent rise in net migration has been considered bad news for the Government
voicesYet when we talk about it, the national media goes into a frenzy, says Nigel Farage
Life and Style
Miracle muffin: chemicals can keep a muffin looking good at least a month after it was bought
food + drinkThe alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Sport
Jonny Evans and Papiss Cisse come together
football
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
people
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers