Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Wishing for a Backward Time Machine

As we toured the ruins of Avdat, a 1500-year-old Nabatean town, I couldn’t help wondering what it would have been like to live there. The Nabateans were a mysterious group of people who made their mark by trafficking perfume on The Spice Road. They existed for some 1500 years, ultimately converting to Christianity and assimilating into the neighboring societies in around 500 CE.

I am amazed at their ability to construct Byzantine arches of fitted stones that needed no cement and are still standing today. They had a complicated system of public baths that included three temperatures of water. This was most remarkable because the baths were heated by wood that had to be brought from countries as far away as Egypt. They used sophisticated cisterns to collect water through a series of aqueducts since rainfall in the desert is minimal. They had a marble surface for smashing grapes into wine that was collected in a basin. They managed to cultivate wheat and grapes in an environment that doesn’t naturally support agriculture.

I would love to be transported back in time so that I could see first-hand what it was like to live in Avdat 1500 years ago. It would be so much more meaningful with real people. I want to see water being drawn from the cistern. I want to hear children complaining about carrying firewood. I want to smell food being cooked to serve the 2,000 residents of Avdat who no longer live there.

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