Khaznat al-Faroun at Petra, Jordan. Photo taken by Calvin College professor Bert DeVries

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Return to the PETRA homepage April 4, 2005 - August 15, 2005
Lost City of Stone

News: February 1, 2005

Petra and Middle East Archaeology

No two archaeological sites are alike, says local teacher and archaeologist Neal Bierling.

And Petra, the ancient city where the design influences of many cultures found expression, is arguably the most distinctive site of all.

"Everything," says Bierling, "comes together at Petra. You'll see architectural styles from ancient Egypt, ancient Greece and ancient Rome."

Bierling will examine those wonders and more when he teaches a course called "Petra and Middle East Archeology" this month and next at Calvin College.

Petra Revealed

The four-week course, to be held from 7-9 p.m. on February 15, February 22, March 1 and March 8, is the second educator training series designed to complement Petra: Lost City of Stone, the expansive exhibition of Petra artifacts and Nabataean culture that will visit Calvin from April 4 through August 15.

Teachers who participate in the series will be eligible for state board continuing education credit.

Bierling intends to focus each weekly session of the class on the archaeology of a specific Middle Eastern region (Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Petra), highlighting the differences archeologists discover as they unearth these civilizations.

While archaeology in Israel focuses on tells — the mounds where successive civilizations are layered — the archaeology of Egypt generally involves more visible structures.

"In the Nile Valley, before the dams were constructed, villages were inundated every spring," says Bierling. "The archeology in Egypt tends to focus on temples and tombs, because those were the structures that survived, whereas the farmers' and the workers' villages did not."

In Jordan, archeology also focuses on tells, while at Petra, the archeological record is still largely uninvestigated.

"What's obvious about Petra is the tombs and temples," says Bierling.

For years archaeologists have concentrated their scholarship on these structures, including Petra's monumental tombs which are carved out of the area's red sandstone cliffs.

More recently, he says, archeologists are unearthing Petra's residential areas.

The upcoming class at Calvin also will offer educators plenty of creative resources that connect the exhibition to the classroom.

Tools for Teaching Archaeology

For example Bierling will guide teachers through Calvin's Petra web site, which features classroom ideas tailored to both Petra: Lost City of Stone and to Michigan's curriculum standards — everything from writing Nabataean journals to making papyrus.

Bierling will also introduce educators to a PanoReality tour of Petra, a project he created with his son, Joel. This virtual tour, built from hundreds of 360-degree photographs taken by father and son at the Petra site, allows the user to tour via computer any one of 700 Petra archaeological "hotspots."

Charles Huizinga, Phil Beezhold, and Neal Bierling
Charles Huizinga, Phil Beezhold, and Neal Bierling began burying artifacts in mid-September for children to unearth when visiting the Dig Petra site.

And then there's the dig.

Bierling has simulated an actual archaeological dig site, where "Nabataean pottery," (made by his students at Ada Christian School), other artifacts and animal skeletons are concealed. He will use the dig site for the duration of Petra: Lost City of Stone to teach children the ABCs of archaeology.

"Hopefully," he says, "some of those teachers will be signing up their schools for the dig site."

Continuing Education Credit

Teachers who attend all four Tuesday sessions (plus one session of Bierling's earlier series, "Petra Revealed," held 9-10:30 a.m. on consecutive Saturdays, January 15 through February 5) will be eligible for one state board continuing education unit (CEU).

"This is an incredible way to learn about an ancient culture and find resources to bring into your classroom, and you might as well earn continuing education credit while you're at it," says Bob Meyering, Calvin's graduate program manager.

Waves of sand