Glossary: Archaeological Terminology

GLOSSARY: Archaeological Terms

A

Acanthus: A common Mediterranean prickly plant whose spiny leaves inspired some Greek decorative ideas, particularly in the Corinthian capital.

Achaemenid: A Persian dynasty (c. 700 B.C.), which ruled from Cyrus the Great to Darius III. This period was marked by contacts between the classical civilisations of Europe and the east and the appearance and spread of Zoroastrianism.

`Allat: Goddess of fertility and war who was the presiding goddess for much of Arabia. Identified with Athena, Greek goddess of war, ‘Allat was not worshipped in Petra but was of major importance elsewhere in the Nabataean lands.

Al-Uzza: The presiding goddess of Petra and fertility goddess who was particularly identified with the Greek Aphrodite, goddess of love, Tyche, goddess of fortune, and Egyptian Isis.

Amarin: Bedouin tribe that occupies the northern limits of the Petra Archaeological Park, extending from the northeast of the Shera` mountains to the northwest in Wadi Araba and Wadi Feinan. Their main villages are Bi`r ad-Dabbaghat on the mountains near Shawbak, and Gregre in Wadi Araba. Their tribal territory extends between the two and includes Beidha.

Amphorae: A large Greek or Roman earthenware storage jar, with a narrow neck and mouth and two handles at the top. The body of the jar is usually oval and long, with a pointed bottom. It was used for holding or transporting liquids, especially wine or oil, and other substances such as resin. Amphorae were also made of glass, onyx, gold, stone, and brass and some had conventional jar bottoms with a flat surface.

Anta: A short wall at a right angle to the long walls of a classical temple’s cella.

Apse: Projecting part of a church that is usually semicircular and vaulted.

Aretas III: Nabataean king (86–62 B.C.) who continued expansion into Damascus and gave Petra its Greco-Roman character. The Treasury was likely built during his reign.

Aretas IV: Nabataean king (9 B.C.–40 A.D.) who visited Jerusalem and according to 2 Cor. 11:32 was the king whose governor in Damascus wanted Paul arrested. He also likely built the Theatre.

Ashlar: Large square or rectangular block of stone cut to function as a building block.

Assyria: The name of three different empires dating from about 2,000-600 B.C. and the city-state of Assur, and the people inhabiting this northeastern area of Mesopotamia. Originally Semitic nomads in northern Mesopotamia, they finally settled around Assur and accepted its tutelary gods as their own.

Atrium: The entrance courtyard to a Roman house or a Byzantine church, often with a roofed colonnade around the sides.

Ayyubid: A Muslim dynasty of Kurdish origins who ruled Syria, Egypt, Yemen between 1176 and 1250. Their founder was Salah al-Din, the exemplary knight and hero of the counter-Crusade.

B

Bdul: Bedouin tribe, who resided in Petra and protected the pilgrim caravans which crossed Wadi Araba and guided visitors to Petra from the south. Due to the abandon of the pilgrims’ caravan routes at the end of the 19th century, the Bdul turned to animal breeding and herding, retreating into the mountains of Petra. With the arrival of tourists, the Bdul came closer to the archaeological site, living in the caves and sustaining themselves by selling souvenirs and beverages to visitors. In 1985, the Bdul were relocated to the village of Um Seyhun.

Betyl/Betyloi: Greek word referring to the stone “god” blocks or house of the god; Betyls at Petra frequently are rectangular, non-representational stones carved inside a niche and are thought to have been the place home for a god or gods.

Biclinium: In Roman architecture, a banquet or dining room with two stone benches along the walls of its interior.

Bouleutereion: The building for meetings of the council (boule) of a Greek town.

Bronze Age: The second age of the Three Age system, beginning about 4,000-3,000 B.C. in the Middle East and about 2,000-1,500 B.C. in Europe. It followed the Stone Age and preceded the Iron Age and was defined by a shift from stone tools and weapons to the use of bronze. During this time civilisation based on agriculture and urban life developed. Trading to obtain tin for making bronze led to the rapid diffusion of ideas and technological improvements.

Byzantine: The eastern half of the Roman Empire, based in Byzantium (later Constantinople, now Istanbul). It was inaugurated in A.D. 330 by the Emperor Constantine I who transferred the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium. Byzantine architecture is noted for its Christian places of worship and introduced the cupola, or dome, an almost square ground plan in place of the long aisles of the Roman church, and piers instead of columns.

C

Capital: The decorated topmost element of a column.

Cartographic: Map that can be used to relate archaeological sites to basic features of the natural landscape. Topographic maps are cartographic representations of the earth's surface at a level of detail or scale between that of a plan (small area) and a chorographic (large regional) map. Topographic maps show as accurately as possible the location and shape of both natural and man-made features. They depict topographic (landform) data in combination with representations of archaeological sites.

Cella:

Chancel: Section (usually raised by a few steps) surrounding the altar of a church.

Cistern: The entrance court or hall of a Roman house with a central roof opening (compluvium) and a pool or basin (impluvium) in which to collect rainwater.

Colluvial: A common feature of archaeological sites in association with defensive structures, as a means of drainage, or as a construction trench. A ditch was usually dug outside the walls of forts, fortresses and so on, as part of the defenses, and was often filled with water.

Colonnade: A row of columns set at regular intervals and usually supporting the base of a roof structure.

Cornice: The crowning and the projecting section of the entablature; it is also used for any projection on a wall, designed to direct rainwater off the face of the building.

Crenellations: Parapets with alternating openings and raised sections often used on castle walls and towers for defense purposes.

Crow-step: A pyramidal stepped design used as decoration on Nabataean tombs, either in a narrow horizontal band of multiple crow-steps or in a single monumental pair of steps over a cavetto cornice; also called “Assyrian crow-steps” from the use of this design in Assyrian architecture.

Cuneiform: The characteristic wedge-shaped writing of western Asia, used for over 3,000 years, emerging in the 4th millennium B.C. in southern Mesopotamia as a system of accounting during the Uruk period. It consisted of triangular markings pressed on a clay tablet with a split reed.

Cuirasses: Medieval body armor covering chest and back.

D

Dushara: “Lord of Shera,” whose name is often taken to associate him with the mountains east of Petra, was the main Nabataean deity. Like all Nabataean gods, Dusares was represented as a rectangular block, but as Greek and Egyptian influences grew, he became identified with Zeus, Dionysus, the sun god Helios, Osiris and Serapis whose representation was in human form.

E

Edomites: The book of Genesis tells us that the Edomites were descendants of Esau – he who sold his birthright to his twin brother Jacob for a meal of lentils. The Edomites occupied territory east of Wadi Araba, between Wadi al-Hasa and the area of present-day Wadi Rum c. 1,200-600 B.C. They mined and smelted copper in Wadi Araba both for themselves and for trade as well as taking advantage of the fertile land and abundant springs to develop agriculture and support extensive herds and flocks.

Entablature: The horizontal superstructure connecting a row of columns, or sometimes, used to complete the architectural harmony of a wall.

Epipaleolithic Period: The continuation of the Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age) after the end of the last Ice Age. Followed by the Neolithic Period, the Epipaleolithic Period lasted from c. 18,000 B.C. to 8,000 B.C. Epipaleolithic hunter-gatherers made relatively advanced tools made from small flint blades that were hafted in wooden implements and were generally nomadic.

Exedra: A semicircular stone or marble seat, or a rectangular or semicircular recess.

F

Façade: The principal face or front of a structure, often towards an open place.

Fresco: A method of painting on the plastered surface of a wall or ceiling before the plaster has dried so that the colours become incorporated in it.

Frieze: The middle part of the entablature often sculpted or richly ornamented.

H

Hellenistic: Period of widest Greek influence, the era between the death of Alexander the Great (323 B.C.) and the rise of the Roman Empire (27-20 B.C.), when a single, uniform civilisation, based on Greek traditions, prevailed all over the ancient world, from India in the east, to Spain in the west.

I

Iron Age: The period following the Stone Age and the Bronze Age during in which iron was used by early man. In the Middle East, the Iron Age began c. 900 B.C. and saw the first tools, implements, and weapons made from iron.

J

Justin II: Flavius Lustinos/Lunior Augustus/Justin The Divine (c. 520-578 A.D.) was a Byzantine emperor, member of the Justinian Dynasty, known for his unbending and invincible attitude.

K

Keep: The innermost structure of a castle, strengthened to serve as a last refuge for the defenders.

Khirbat: Ruin (Arabic)

L

Lithics: Stone tools or projectiles

Lithotype: An etched stone surface for printing, having the design in relief; also, the process of printing from such a surface, or that which is printed from it.

M

Malichus II: Nabataean king (40-70 A.D.) who helped the Romans destroy Jerusalem.

Mameluks: Slave soldiers, members of one of the armies of slaves that won political control of several Muslim states during the Middle Ages. Under the Ayyubid sultanate, Mameluk generals used their power to establish a dynasty that ruled Egypt, Syria and Yemen from 1250 to 1517. The name is derived from an Arabic word for slave.

Monolith: A single great stone often in the form of an obelisk, column or in another form of monument of sculpture. The term also refers to any object formed of a single block of stone.

N

Narthex: A church’s entrance or lobby area, located at the end of the nave, at the far end from the church’s main altar.

Natufian: An Epipaleolithic culture that existed in the Mediterranean region of the Levant between 10,500 and 8,000 B.C. Hunting and gathering were still the basis of subsistence, but some Natufian communities had adopted a settled mode of life and the period saw the development of cereal grain exploitation. They established permanent village settlements even before the introduction of agriculture.

Nave: The central and principal part of a Christian church, extending from the choir to the principal entrance.

Nazarenes: Early Jewish adherents of Christianity. The Nazarenes were followers of John the Baptist and then James the Just, brother of Jesus.

Necropolis: A cemetery of burial place often near towns of ancient civilisations.

Neolithic: The period of prehistory when people began to use ground stone tools, cultivate plants, and domesticate livestock but before the use of metal for tools. It is the technical name for the New Stone Age. In the Neolithic Period, villages were established, pottery and weaving appeared, and farming began. The Neolithic Period began about 8,500 – 4,500 B.C. in the Middle East.

Niche: In classical architecture, a niche is an exedra or an apse that has been reduced in size, retaining the half-dome heading usual for an apse.

O

Obodas I: Nabataean king (c. 96 – 86 B.C.) who extended Nabataean rule into southern Syria.

Obodas III: Nabataean king (c. 30 – 9 B.C.) during whose reign the Qasr al-Bint and the Petra Great Temple were built.

Odeion: A Greek or Roman concert hall with tiered seating, built on a circular plan, and covered with a roof. It is thought to have been used for concerts and speeches.

Opus Sectile: A Roman construction technique using thin pieces of marble of different colours in geometric, floral, or figured designs as part of floors or wall surfaces. Shell or mother-of-pearl was sometimes used instead of marble.

Ottoman: Turkish empire, which at the height of its power (16th – 17th centuries) spanned three continents controlling much of South-eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

P

Palaeolithic: The first period in the development of human technology of the Stone Age, which began with the introduction of the first stone tools (c. 2,500,000 years ago) and lasted until the introduction of agriculture (c. 11,000 years ago).

Papyrus: An early form of paper made from the papyrus plant that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt. Papyrus is first known to have been used in ancient Egypt, but it was also widely used throughout the Mediterranean region.

Pediment: A triangular space that forms the gable of a low-pitched roof and that is usually filled with relief sculpture in classical architecture.

Peristyle: A covered colonnade which either surrounds a temple building, or runs around an internal courtyard.

Pier: A solid rectangular masonry support, usually free-standing but sometimes engaged; like columns, carrying an entablature or arch.

Pilasters: A slender engaged pier with no structural function.

Portico: In Greek and Roman architecture, colonnaded porch, annex, or entrance of a building. It could also be a covered walkway supported by regularly spaced columns. Porticoes formed the entrances to ancient Greek temples.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic: Early phases of the Neolithic of the Near East/Levant, characterized by the practice of agriculture and permanent settlement prior to the use of pottery. Two phases of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic have been identified: the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A phase, dating to 8,500-7,600 B.C. and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, dated c. 7,600-6,000 B.C. Recent work suggests a third phase, the PPNC, dated to 6,200-5,900 B.C.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic A: Palestinian village-based culture dated to 8,500-7,600 B.C., first defined at Jericho. It is derived from the Natufian culture, making use of and developing Natufian architecture (round houses). It offers evidence of first attempts at agriculture in the Near East, though still in a hunting context.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic B: Levantine culture pre-dating the use of pottery, dated 7,600-6,000 B.C., and first defined at Jericho. It originated in Syria and is characterised by rectangular buildings with lime-coated or plastered floors, by the cultivation of cereal crops, and by the beginnings of small-animal husbandry. Toward the end, it saw the first expansion of agriculture and the spread of Neolithic culture beyond its semi-arid zone towards the temperate coastal regions of Syria and the desert oases. Pottery began to appear sporadically.

Proper: Interior area of a church excluding the apse area.

Propylaeum: The entrance gate to a classical temenos, temple, or other sacred enclosure. The Propylaeum may have columns both outside and inside the enclosure wall.

R

Rabel II: Nabataean king (70-106 A.D.) who brought peace and prosperity in the final decades of the Nabataean kingdom. With his death, Rome annexed Nabataea.

Revetment: A retaining wall that supports an earthwork structure, fortifications, or to hold the sides of a bank in place.

S

Salah al-Din: (1138-1193) Founder of the Ayyubids, a Muslim dynasty of Kurdish origins. He was the exemplary knight and hero of the counter-Crusade, having recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders.

Shaft-tombs: A type of burial structure formed from a deep and narrow shaft sunk into natural rock. Burials were then placed at the bottom.

Sherd: Any pottery fragment or piece of broken pot or other earthenware item that has archaeological significance. Often abbreviated to sherd, potsherds are an invaluable part of the archaeological record because they are well-preserved. The analysis of ceramic changes recorded in potsherds has become one of the primary techniques used by archaeologists in assigning components and phases to times and cultures.

Sounding: A very deep test pit often dug to find sterile soil.

Stibadium: A later form of the Roman Triclinium, a Stibadium is a banquet place which has the form of a horseshoe.

Stratigraphic: Excavation units corresponding to levels defined by stratigraphy, as opposed to arbitrary levels. Strata removed according to their human or geologic disposition.

Stucco: The thin lime facing applied to brick or plaster for protection.

Stylobate: The substructure on which the columns of a temple or other building stand.

T

Temenos: A sacred area.

Triclinium: In Roman architecture, a banquet or dining room with three benches along the walls of its interior.

Tyche: (Fortuna) Greek goddess of fortune, chance, and prosperity.

 
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