Saturday, October 3, 2015

Flight 20151001 - And we’re off the ground

After a very busy and engaging four days taking part in the Protecting the Past Conference at The Jordan Museum, on the first of the month we finally got air borne.

The 'Mafraq-Zerbini' formation. APAAME_20151001_RHB-0240.
There were a few “firsts” on this flight – Andrea Zerbini’s first trip in the Huey helicopter over Jordan, which he survived well and it was very useful to have his knowledge of the sites in this region. After 18 years this was the first time that we discovered (with the useful intervention of the ground crew at Mafraq) that the so-called ‘donkey seat’, which normally faces forward, could be turned through 90 degrees and join the rest of us on the bench. We’ll now refer to this as the “Mafraq-Zerbini’ formation.

The Irbid Bypass in construction. APAAME_20151001_MND-0126.
True to the theme of the Conference “Archaeology, conservation and tourism in the north of Jordan”, our first flight was to the north in the vicinity of Irbid. There is a large bypass being constructed around the west of the city, a concentration of limestone quarries to the south-west, as well as a few sites we had not seen for quite some time – so we thought we would have a look at how the archaeology of the region was faring.

The remaining half of Tell esh-Sheqaq (JADIS:2221018, MEGA-J:11494). APAAME_20151001_REB-0210.
As much as we hate to be a stick in the mud, there is evidence that this region’s archaeology and heritage is under pressure. Many of the small tell sites to the west of Irbid showed evidence of damage from quarrying or the removal of earth for what we presume is agricultural purposes. There were numerous examples of cemeteries having been found and systematically looted. Some of this damage appears to have taken place well in the past, but some was indeed fresh. Our camera also captured exposed excavations, sites in the vicinity of, or being cut by, the new bypass, and many sites precariously close to the edges of limestone quarries.

Samad (JADIS:2220050, MEGA-J:11471). Quarrying can be seen in the distance. APAAME_20151001_REB-0399.
That said, there are so many and diverse sites in this region that there was no shortage of ones that appear not to have changed in the time we have been monitoring them, and they are testimony to the depth of time and culture in this region. It was a great start to this season’s flying and we are grateful to the Royal Jordanian Air Force for their professionalism, skill and hospitality.

Rebecca Banks & Bob Bewley

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Early Archaeological ‘Discovery’ from the Air in the Middle East – 1912

Not an aeroplane this time but a dirigible … and it was an accidental discovery … and not on land … and already known … Apart from all that … it is still of interest and relevance.

The ‘Foreign News’ section of the January 1913 issue of Aircraft magazine carries a short report of a discovery made by Italian forces just after the end of the Italo–Turkish War (September 29, 1911 to October 18, 1912) which had resulted in Italy’s annexation of Libya.

After it had run aground in 1803 during a Barbary Expedition of the US Navy, and its crew been forced to surrender, the USS Philadelphia had been deliberately destroyed by other US forces to prevent it falling into the hands of Tripolitanian corsairs.

Contemporary newspapers of 1913 in the United States reported the discovery … then later published a further report that the wreck had already been discovered in 1904 by a British scholar who had even sent parts of its timber including an embedded cannonball to the US Naval Academy Museum. So, at best a re-discovery but certainly an example of spotting from the air over water. And, according to a US newspaper of the time, the Italian ‘aeronauts’, had taken photographs.

The Italo–Turkish War involved a number of ‘firsts’ for aviation - all Italian as the Turks had no aircraft: the first aerial reconnaissance, the first bombing from the air and the first aircraft shot down.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Historical Imagery: The Earliest Aerial Archaeology in the Middle East - I spoke too soon

1914? 1913

Marc Bonnier – who piloted Kofler on his initial flights in Egypt some time between 2-12 January 1914, was one of three French pilots competing to be the first to fly from Paris to Cairo. Pierre Daucourt had crashed in the Taurus Mts of southeast Turkey. A second, Jules Védrines, reached Cairo first on 28 December 1913. However, Védrines and Bonnier had reached Istanbul together on 3 December 1913, been held up there together for a fortnight then set off on 17th December and spent the night at Iznik before continuing to Konya on 18th, where they met up for the last time before Cairo.

Iznik today, as seen in Google Earth.
An Anonymous article published in the magazine L’Illustration of 10 January 1914, surveys the experience of the Bonnier and Védrines between Istanbul and Cairo. Particularly interesting is the photograph below of Iznik – dwarfed by the extensive ancient city walls of Roman Nicaea. Bonnier referred to it in his quoted correspondence with the magazine and the caption credits the photo to his passenger/ mechanic, Joseph Barnier. The photograph was evidently taken as they left Iznik on 18 December 1913 and was intended to capture the very striking archaeological remains.

Barnier is surely again the photographer during the next stages with other aerial photographs of archaeological sites in subsequent articles in L’Illustration and Lectures pour tous, of Tripoli (taken between 21-29 December 1914), Acre (31 December 1913) and Jerusalem (1 January 1914).

What became of the negatives or even the original prints is unknown (to me, at least). The published versions in the magazines are relatively high quality, not least that of Iznik (though that below is a poor scan from the digitized copy of the magazine).

The photograph of Iznik published in Anonymous (1914) “Paris - le Caire en aéroplane”, L'Illustration, nr 3698 (10 Janvier): pp. 28-29.
These may well be the earliest photographs of archaeological sites taken from an aeroplane anywhere and almost certainly the earliest in the Middle East – as much as two weeks before those taken by Kofler in Egypt.

The end of the search? Maybe not … Had Bonnier/ Barnier already taken aerial photographs of places seen during their flight through the Balkans? And – more particularly, of Constantinople, where he was held up for two weeks with his aeroplane at San Stefano (site of the current Ataturk Airport)?

And then there is Oswald Watt, the commander of the Australian Flying Corps Squadron 1 in Egypt and Palestine in the latter part of the First World War, who had been in Egypt 2-3 years before. Coming from a wealthy Australian family and already holding one of the earliest pilot’s licences, he had been granted a messy and scandalous divorce in June 1913 and immediately afterwards travelled to Egypt to take over an aeroplane he had bought. He then remained there through much of 1914 till volunteering his services and his aeroplane to the French government at the outbreak of war in August. Rich enough to own an aeroplane … and a camera? He survived the war but died in a silly accident a few years later.

And what of the Spanish Air Force? In October or November 1913 one of their officers photographed from the air his ‘campo de aviación’ at Tetúan in what was then a sliver of Spanish territory in present-day Morocco. Not archaeological but just 4 km to the south lay the ruins of the Phoenician and Roman city of Tamuda …

Anonymous (1913) “Aviateurs espagnols blessés en guerre”, L’Illustration No. 3696, (27 Décembre).
Anonymous (1914) “Paris - le Caire en aéroplane”, L'Illustration, nr 3698 (10 Janvier): pp. 28-29.
Bonnier, M. (1914a) “Impressions d’aviateur en Orient. D’Adana au Caire par les Lieux Saints”, L’Illustration 3701 (31 Janvier): 76-7.
Bonnier, M. (1914b) “Quand je volais au dessus des Pyramides”, Lectures pour tous, 15 (1 May): 1270-1280.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Historical Imagery: The Earliest Aerial Archaeology in the Middle East - 1914?

Standard accounts of the origins of aerial photography of archaeological sites report photographs taken from balloon (Stonehenge in 1906) and kite (Wellcome’s excavations in the Sudan in 1913). However, the significant development only seems to have come in 1916 when Theodor Wiegand persuaded the German air force in Syria to take hundreds of aerial photographs of archaeological sites in Palestine and Transjordan (100 of which were published in 1925). Further aerial views of archaeological sites in the wider Middle East were taken during the First World War (albeit often for principally military objectives).

Now we have this astonishing discovery – an album of aerial photographs of archaeological sites in Egypt by a man who never figures in any accounts of the beginnings of Aerial Archaeology. Theodor Kofler (1877-1957) was born in Innsbruck a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but lived much of his adult life in Egypt then in East Africa and South Africa. In Egypt he operated as a professional photographer and in early 1914 when several successive aircraft arrived for brief visits, he joined Marc Bonnier, a French pilot, between 2 and 12 January on one or more flights to photograph pyramids and other ancient sites. He probably flew again in April that year but with the outbreak of war in August, he was interned in Malta as an enemy alien. Later that same year aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) arrived in Egypt for the first time and with a year or two were taking aerial photos of archaeological.

Some of Kofler’s archaeological aerial photos – all usually labelled with his name and the year (1914) were included in the publications of others in the 1920s but his own album was forgotten until a near-complete set turned up in a sale in 2000. Thanks to Patrizia Piacentini (Università degli studi di Milano)  and colleagues, we now have this delightful bilingual (Italian and English) exhibition catalogue with a series of useful essays on Kofler, the flights and the photographs and reproduction of 21 aerial photos of sites ranging from Giza to Thebes.
Piacentini, P. (2015) Egitto dal cielo 1914. La riscoperta del fotografo pioniere prigioniero professionista (Egypt from the Sky 1914. The Rediscovery of the Photographer Pioneer Prisoner Professional), Firenze (Phasar Edizione).

 - DLK

Monday, July 27, 2015

Historical Imagery - Dumeir: IWM German First World War Official Exchange Collection

The Imperial War Museum in London includes a group of photographs obtained by exchange from Germany after the First World War of places photographed by their personnel in the Palestine Front region: the GERMAN FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL EXCHANGE COLLECTION.

This one (Q 86279) is labelled as ‘The Old Temple near Amman”. That is plainly incorrect and the environment suggests somewhere with modern use of mud-brick. Thanks to Rebecca Banks’ sharp eye, the correct identification is a temple - still well-preserved (till recently at least), at Dmeir/Dumeir northeast of Damascus.

Ross Burns describes the monument in the following passage from 'Monuments of Syria':
"It was dedicated as a temple to Zeus Hypsistos in 245 during the reign of the Emperor Philip the Arab (Emperor 244-9) who was born in the Hauran region of Syria (*Shahba)... There may thus have been some changes of plan during the long construction period. An earlier altar dedicated to the Semitic deity, Baal-Shamin, in AD 94 (now in the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris) indicates that a Nabataean religious building previously stood on the site.
The genesis and original purpose of the building are not clear. The shape is highly unusual. Construction may have commenced as a public fountain or as a staging post on the intersection of two important caravan routes (hence the quadrilateral plan and four entrances). Perhaps it was even an elaborate triumphal arch... The argument for seeing it as a temple, at least in its final form, is underlined by the use of corner towers and staircases giving access to the roof for ritual purposes in the Syro-Phoenician tradition... It was fortified in the Arab period; the arch on the rear wall [seen in this photograph] remains completely filled in with stones and defensive devices." 
Ross Burns (1999) Monuments of Syria: an historical guide (Rev. ed.), I. B. Tauris Publishers: London, New York: 115-116.
You can see more recent photographs of the site on the Ross Burns' website of the same name.

Photographs of the condition of the site after a period of bombardment in the current civil war can be seen on the website of the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Conference: ASTENE 11th Biennial Conference 17-20 July 2015, Exeter

The Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East (ASTENE) will be holding its 11th Biennial Conference this month.

David Kennedy will be presenting in the first session 'Archive Discoveries-journeys and records' on Friday 17th July on the topic of 'Travellers to Petra in 1857'.

The available catalogues of known visitors to Petra for 1857 list just one party – consisting of a single person – J. R. Roth. Murray’s Handbook, however – published for the first time in 1858, reports that many western travellers had gone there in 1857 but been faced with violence and robbery. The author of ‘Murray’ – J. L. Porter who was resident in Damascus for a decade (1849-59), provides no further detail. Research has revealed further published accounts of travellers, several major unpublished ones and references to yet more otherwise unknown travellers. It is clear several parties visited Petra in 1857 - including one of the largest ever; a total of at least 57 westerners including three women and several notable characters. We now have quite detailed evidence of their experiences: one was shot and his cook killed, one died at Aqaba en route and another died soon after leaving Petra. All complained of the violent reception they met at Petra, and almost all were effectively driven away after just a night or two. It had not always been like that and the apparent decline in visitors after 1857 would have been a serious loss of income for escorts and guides. Closer examination suggests possible explanations.

Don Boyer will also be presenting a paper, 'Guilty or innocent? The Buckingham v. Bankes libel trial of 1826' on Sunday July 19th in Session 8: Archive discoveries – personalities and experiences part 2.

For the full programme and more information on ASTENE, please see their website:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Conference: The Palestine Exploration Fund is 150 Years Old

The Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) was one of those marvellous 19th century initiatives designed to support and promote exploration in a world being shrunk by hugely increased means of travel. Its publications continue still in the form of the Palestine Exploration Quarterly (PEQ) but the spate of publications in the 19th century can all still be read freely and provide marvellous insights into what was being tackled.

Central to PEF research were its expeditions to survey Jerusalem, Western Palestine and later Eastern Palestine. The last of these was undertaken by two men seconded from the Royal Engineers in 1867 (Lt. Warren) and 1881 (Capt. Conder) respectively. Both published extensive reports, including photographs and numerous drawings and a map made by careful triangulation survey. The area surveyed was essentially the hinterland of what was once the Roman city of Philadelphia (modern Amman).

The landscapes seen by the PEF surveyors included hundreds of archaeological sites. Most have been damaged extensively and many totally destroyed. The reason is the steep and rapid rise in population. Like its neighbours, Jordan’s population has grown under the influence of modern medicine lowering infant mortality and extending life expectancy. Like its neighbours it has received waves of refugees but unlike its neighbours, the numbers in Jordan are far higher. The result is an increase of c. 2400% between the 1940s and today. The impact on Jordan’s archaeological heritage has been especially catastrophic in the region in which most of the population lives – the northwest and precisely Amman and its hinterland.

Last Friday (3 July 2015) the PEF organised a one-day conference in conjunction with the British Museum on “Crisis through the Ages” to celebrate its anniversary. About 250 people met in the BM to hear 6 lectures on various periods from early Prehistory to the end of the Ottoman rule in 1918. The entire programme can still be seen on the PEF web site.

My own contribution - “Losing the Rural Landscape of Roman Philadelphia”, relied extensively on the ways in which a range of sources – published and unpublished, may help define and record what was once there and may yet be salvaged. Especially useful are aerial photographs, the earliest of which for the Philadelphia region are those taken by German, Australian and British pilots in 1918. And now we are flying again in a programme of Aerial Archaeology which began in 1997- the photos from which are part of the c. 90,000 on our APAAME site:

Prof. David Kennedy's presentation 'Losing the Rural Landscape of Roman Philadelphia' for the Palestine Exploration Fund 150 Anniversary Conference 'Crisis through the Ages' at the British Museum, 3 July 2015. Photograph: Andrea Zerbini
PEF plans to publish written versions of the lectures from the conference. My contribution is part of wider research for a book in preparation – The Hinterland of Roman Philadelphia.

Oxford, 9 July 2015

You can follow the Palestine Exploration Fund through their Blog: or on their Twitter account @PalExFund