Jan 5 2013, 6:25am CST | by Luigi Lugmayr
Washington, Jan 5 — Researchers have unearthed innovative terrace farming techniques in the ancient desert city of Petra, now in Jordan, which was made famous by Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones" and "The Last Crusade".
The successful terrace farming of wheat, grapes and possibly olives, resulted in the development of a vast, green, agricultural "suburb" of Petra in an otherwise inhospitable and arid landscape, say archaeologists associated with the discovery.
This development led to an explosive growth of agricultural activity, increasing the city's strategic importance as a military prize for the Roman Empire, according to a team of archaeologists led by Susan Alcock of Brown University Petra Archaeological Project (BUPAP).
Christian Cloke, doctoral student of classics at University of Cincinnati, and Cecelia Feldman, classics lecturer at University of Masschussetts-Amherst (part of BUPAP), used a variety of tools and techniques, including high-resolution satellite imagery and optically-stimulated luminescence (OSL) for dating of soils.
On the large stretches of land north of Petra, inhabitants built complex and extensive systems to dam wadis (river beds) and redirect winter rainwater to hillside terraces used for farming, according to a BUPAP statement.
Rainfall in the region occurs only between October and March, often in brief, torrential downpours, so it was important for Petra's inhabitants to capture and store all available water for later use during the dry season. Over the centuries, the Nabataeans of Petra became experts at doing so.
Cloke and Feldman have suggested that extensive terrace farming and dam construction in the region north of the city began around the first century, some 2,000 years ago, not during the Iron Age (1200-300 BC) as had been previously hypothesized.
This terrace farming remained extensive and robust through the third century. Cloke and Feldman presented their findings at the Archaeological Institute of America Annual Meeting in Seattle, US.
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