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Professor Rocío Da Riva studies a 120-meter Neo-Babylonian relief in the archaeological site of Sela, in Jordan

A moment during the work in the monument of the king Nabonidus. Photo: Sela Archaeological Project 2018.

A moment during the work in the monument of the king Nabonidus. Photo: Sela Archaeological Project 2018.

05/11/2018

Recerca

A team formed by Spanish, Jordan and German elite archaeologists and climbers, led by UB professor Rocío Da Riva, studied the archaeological site of Sela during a campaign. This is a relief of the Babylonian king Nabonidus (6th century BCE), in a 120-meter high headland. The objective is to know this site in detail, known as the Little Petra, due its similarity to the famous archaeological enclave. To access this 90-meter high place, they needed to learn rappel dropping techniques.

The archaeological site of as-Sila, in southern Jordan, has remains from the year 500 BC to year 0, from the reigns of Babylonian kings to the Roman period, although it also has important archaeological levels of the Mamluk and Ottoman periods. Located in the historical region of Edom, Sela was identified as the place where the Bible sets several battles carried out by the Kings of Judah (a kingdom created out of the death of Salomon). Later on, Edom, and Sela in particular, were conquered by the Babylonian king Nabonidus (556-539 BC) in a campaign going from Babylonia to Arabia.

As a result of this conquest, Nabonidus wanted a great relief sculpted in the rocks of the headlands where the former population of Sela was set. These inscriptions and drawings are in an area that is hard to access, at 120 meters high. The relief, of about six square meters, has a human figure –the king Nabonidus– with the three divine symbols of a moon, a star and the sun in front of him. On the right side there are fragments of an inscription in a cuneiform writing, specifically in Neo-Babylonian Akkadian language, from which there are about thirty lines and only the first part is readable. During the campaign, photographic and photogrammetric techniques were applied to improve the study of the relief as well as to understand the techniques that were used when sculpting it. The presence of several perforations in the mountain wall suggests the monument was built with light structures, probably wooden ones.

Professor Rocío Da Riva, who carries out this campaign in Jordan –funded by the Acaedmia ICREA award from the Ministry of Education and a subsidy from PALARQ Foundation (apart from the support of the Department of Jordan Antiquities and the UB), says the preserved fragments refer to Nabonidus’ military campaigns in the area. This relief shows the importance of the archaeological site in the studied period and it makes this place a key area to understand the expansion dynamics of Babylonian kings in the 1st millennium BC and the trade in the area. Also, the region of Transjordan, where the site is, lacks a lot of written documents in cuneiform writings, compared to its neighbouring region, Israel.

The archaeological site in Sela is outstanding, with remains from a monumental door at the entrance and a great tower. There are also graves, structures with religious functions, houses with some color remaining and stucco. However, systematic archaeological studies had not been carried out in this area in the past. The first archaeological visit in Sela was in 1937, but scholars’ interest in Petra went to the detriment of discovering Sela.

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