The first time I came to Petra, it was as a wide-eyed tourist; I walked through the Siq and followed the winding path to the Treasury, marveling at the banded colors in the rock and the intricate carvings that made this place so special. The second time I came to Petra, it was through the lens of an archaeologist, with the goal of helping other people experience the beauty of the place just as I did.
This second visit came as part of my work with ACOR over the past two months, where I volunteered to help organize and inventory photographs from the American Expedition to Petra (AEP) and the TWLCRM Initiative. As an American student studying abroad in Jordan for the spring semester, I was looking for an opportunity to experience the country in a unique way while also giving back to the place that I found so welcoming and hospitable. I’m a journalism major and hope to work as a foreign correspondent in the future, but I’ve always been fascinated by archaeology and hope to write about new discoveries in the field in publications that can help make the subject accessible to the general public. ACOR offered me the perfect opportunity to see the work that was being done in Jordan today, and to contribute my part while also learning about how things worked behind the scenes.
My ACOR-sponsored visit to Petra came at the culmination of my semester-long project, which involved combing through the archival photos from the American Expedition to Petra and the TWLCRM Initiative and picking the best ones to present to the public in a digital collection. By doing this work, I was able to see how the temple was excavated from start to finish; taken from year to year, the photos peeled back the layers of an archaeological expedition and showed just how much work went in to not only revealing, but also preserving important historical sites. I saw how many people contributed to the work and noted the faces that returned year after year; I also took note of the various artifacts that were discovered there over the years, and the ways in which they were documented, preserved, and displayed.
When I came to Petra at the end of April, I was able to connect everything that I had observed in the archival photographs with the present-day character of the Temple of the Winged Lions, which dates back to the first century AD – the peak of Nabataean civilization. The site that had seemed so ordinary to me the first time I visited Petra – somewhat off the main path, and with freestanding columns rather than the dramatic carvings I had come to expect from seeing the Treasury and the Monastery – suddenly came alive with layers of history. As Jack Green, who directed my work throughout the semester, walked me around the site and explained the nature and function of each separate part of the temple, I was able to imagine what it had looked like in its heyday, when it was a grand place of worship in the larger fabric of the city.
This feeling of understanding is what ACOR is working to achieve for visitors in Petra – an aspect that I also got to experience, as the purpose of the visit was largely to examine the layout of the site and evaluate how it would impact the visitor experience. The new explanatory signs that ACOR had put up helped tourists to learn about the temple and what it meant to the people who lived here so long ago, and in checking each one to make sure it was readable and easily visible, I got to see the other side of archaeology – the side that’s not just about excavation and academia, but about helping the public connect with the history of the places that they’re visiting. I was able to gain a deeper appreciation for all of the effort that went into presenting places like the Temple of the Winged Lions to people who come to Petra to try to learn more about our shared world heritage.
I saw, too, how modern-day archaeological projects are able to bring in members of the surrounding community as stewards of sites like Petra, which provides a motivation to preserve the place as well as a valuable livelihood. By talking to the local Bedouin who had worked with ACOR to preserve the Temple of the Winged Lions for visitors to experience, I learned how much the site meant for them as well, and how archaeology can actually benefit people living near such historically rich areas rather than simply furthering academic interests. I may have come to Petra for the first time, like so many others, just hoping to see the place that had been immortalized as one of the wonders of the ancient world; thanks to ACOR, I came a second time to see the work that goes into crafting that experience in the first place.
By Diana Kruzman
Diana Kruzman is a double major student in Print and Digital Journalism and Middle East Studies at the University of Southern California. She is interested in history, archaeology, and paleontology, and joined ACOR as an intern in Spring 2018 in support of the Temple of the Winged Lions Cultural Resource Management (TWLCRM) Initiative.