AMMAN • A monumental structure hidden beneath the sands of Petra has been discovered by archaeologists using satellite imagery to scan the ancient city.
The satellite scans have revealed a massive platform measuring about 56m by 49m, with an interior platform paved with flagstones, lined with columns on one side and a gigantic staircase descending to the east, reported The Guardian.
A smaller structure measuring 8.5m by 8.5m topped the interior platform and opened to the staircase. The archaeological find could be more than 2,150 years old, going by pottery found near the structure.
Researchers said the structure was near the centre of the ancient city built by the Nabateans, but hidden and hard to reach, with no parallels with other structures in the area.
"To my knowledge, we don't have anything quite like this at Petra," said Dr Christopher Tuttle, an archaeologist who has worked at Petra for about 15 years and the co-author of a paper on the find.
He collaborated with Dr Sarah Parcak, a self-described "space archaeologist" from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who used satellites to survey the site, according to The Guardian.
"Petra is a massive site, and we chose the name for our article ('Hiding in plain sight') precisely because even though this is less than a kilometre south of the main city, previous surveys had missed it," said Dr Parcak.
The paper was published in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. The researchers do not plan to conduct an excavation at the site at this time, but have indicated that they hope to have the chance to work there in the future.
Petra is located in what is now southern Jordan. It was built while the Nabatean civilisation was amassing great wealth through trading with its Greek and Persian contemporaries around 150BC.
The city was eventually subsumed by the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. However, its ruins remain famous for their spectacular facades carved into cliffs and canyons.
The city was abandoned around the 7th century and it was not rediscovered till 1812, by Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt, reported The Guardian.