Thursday, February 9, 2017

View Counts for APAAME on Flickr

Thanks to Andrew Wilson for this graph illustrating the steady and accelerating usage of the APAAME archive. As of 9 February it stands at 7,534,945 … a rise of over half a million in four months.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Peake Pasha Takes to the Air

From 1921 to 1939, the principal British military officer in Transjordan was Colonel C. F. Peake - Peake Pasha. Peake had founded the Arab Legion and been responsible for establishing small detachments throughout the country. In a land in which roads were only just beginning to be constructed for the growing number of motor vehicles, travel on land could be slow and visits of inspection slower still given that so many Arab Legion posts were in remote places.

Peake was normally based in Amman – his house now the art gallery called Darat al-Funun and his garden the restored remains of the ruined Church of St George. Not far off – though rather more than the ‘short mile’ his biographer claims (actually 2.5 miles straight line) was the ‘big RAF aerodrome at Amman’, now Marka, Amman’s domestic airport, home of the Royal Jordanian Air Force and the base from which our Aerial Archaeology in Jordan operates.

In 1930, Peake – who had seen some service with the RFC at Salonika during the war, decided to learn to fly. Then aged 47, he bought a Tiger Moth and arranged for the 26 year-old Roger Atcherley, one of the pilots at RAF Amman, to teach him. It very nearly ended in tragedy, twice in the same afternoon.
On the second day of his instruction the dual-control machine in which they were flying plunged suddenly earthward, hit the ground obliquely with a resounding bump and careered across the aerodrome in a series of enormous bounds, like a gazelle in full stride. When the plane had finally come to rest well outside the boundary of the landing-ground, Atcherley turned to Peake in the seat behind him.
“What do you think you're playing at?" he said peevishly. “It's no earthly use your going on learning if you can't do better than that!"
"Better than what?" asked the astonished Peake. "I wasn't doing anything. You were in control. You never told me to take over and land the thing."
It transpired the communication tube was defective, Peake had not heard Atcherley tell him to take the controls.

Undeterred they had tea in the mess and set off again:
"I'll take her up for you,"' said Atcherley, "and get her in position for landing. Then you take over and bring her down."
When they had climbed to about forty feet, Atcherley turned round and waved a stick at his pupil, who, thinking this was merely a cheery gesture of "All's right with the world," was about to wave back when the plane disconcertingly dipped its nose, and next instant crashed into the ground, shearing off its under-carriage and smashing one wing, whilst an ominous plume of black smoke ascended from the engine.
Atcherley jumped out immediately, but Peake, who was badly winded  remained in his seat.
"What on earth have you done now ?" he gasped.
"I think you'd better get out before we discuss that,” said Atcherley, "the plane's on fire !"
Peake had just got clear when the whole machine burst into flames and in a short time was utterly destroyed. The explanation of the was that this joy-stick had become detached from its fittings, leaving Atcherley helpless to control the machine, whereupon, being debarred verbal communication owing to the defective tube, he had waved the stick in Peake's face to show him what had happened and warn him to take over. Peake, however, in his innocence, had failed to recognize the stick as an integral part of the machine (he thought it was a cane which Atcherley habitually carried), and had taken no action.
Despite four broken ribs, Peake bought a replacement aircraft, learned to fly and henceforth dropped in regularly on his outposts – to the discomfort of the legionaries who did not like such short notice of an inspection or that his elevated view as he arrived enabled him to see things not tidied away properly.
RAF Amman in late 1930s (APAAME_1936-39_RAF_JWHodson-0001)

Peake remained in Jordan till 1939, retiring as a Major-General of the Amir’s army, and lived to 1970 (aged 83). Atcherley was to die aged 66 just 3 weeks later but by that time he had been knighted and risen to the rank of Air Marshal.

C. S. Jarvis, Arab Command. The Biography of Lieutenant Colonel F. G. Peake Pasha, CMG, CBE, London, 1942: 135-6

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Masuh – An Endangered Roman and Umayyad Village

Masuh is a rarity – a large Roman village in the hinterland of Philadelphia (Amman) which was not overlain 50-100 years ago by one of the scores of modern villages that grew up on the ruins of the past. One of the earliest aerial photographs of the site – taken by the German Air Force in 1918, shows the buried remains in isolation except for dozens of beduin tents nearby. A vertical photograph of 1953 still shows no buildings at the site. By 1998 there were several houses and gardens eating into the ruins and chance finds had resulted in the excavation of two churches with splendid mosaics.

Damage has continued ever since and can be traced through successive Google Earth Images (from 2004) and APAAME’s own frequent aerial photographs (from 2009). The results are alarming.

As the two Google Earth images show, between 2004 (Fig. 1) and 2016 (Fig. 2) most of the houses visible at the earlier date (blue on Fig. 2) had been extended and many new houses added. The most recent aerial photograph (taken on 28th September 2016) shows (Fig. 3) that even the clearance that had already taken place on the northern edge between the church (top left) and the beginning of the village itself (red circle) has had the further attention of a bulldozer which is eating into the area of buried housing.

Beyond the area of the village itself, our monitoring has revealed similar destruction of cemeteries – discovered and looted and being destroyed, and external structures damaged.

It is not too fanciful to say that this important survivor may be largely gone in a further decade as population pressure in the vicinity of Amman continues to grow.

The APAAME web site hosts 835 (mainly aerial) photographs of Masuh:

Fig. 1. Google Earth image of Masuh on 25 January 2004. Compare the location, number and extent of houses with the most recent image.
Fig. 2. Google Earth image of Masuh on 25 March 2016.  

Fig. 3. Aerial photograph taken on 28th September 2016 (APAAME_20160928_RHB-0082)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

‘View Counts’ on APAAME’s Flickr Site

Since its establishment in 2009, what Flickr calls ‘View Counts’ have reached 7.153 million. After a slow start the number now rises by about a million every few months and the site has 452 ‘Followers’.

A sign of the times is that the all-time most viewed photograph is one of Aleppo, seen 3850 times. Not one taken by our team but the work of No 1 Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps on 23 October 1918 from 7000 feet. It is labelled ‘Aleppo from SW’. The original print is held in The National Archives at Kew in the UK.

The flight – just two and half weeks before the Armistice in Europe, was in the period after the collapse of Ottoman forces in Palestine, Transjordan and southern Syria and 23 days after the Australian Light Horse entered Damascus on 1 October. The photograph is one of several taken by the AFC at that time over Lebanon and Syria (including Damascus on 17 October).

APAAME_19181023_TNA_RAFAINN_CN5-2 part2 (193)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jerash Mausoleum 3D view

David Connolly’s excellent 3D view of one of the large - and seriously endangered, monumental tombs beyond the walls of Roman Gerasa. Photographs are a mixture of his ground photographs and others taken from the air as part of the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project.

Click here to view the Jerash Mausoleum 3D model

He has also made a 3D model of Kh. el-Beddiyeh - an excavated settlement site in the Ajlun Highlands.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Publications - 'Kites in Arabia' iBook now free to download

Back in 2014 we launched an iBook that brought together a lot of our research on Kites (see our blog

The iBook is now FREE TO DOWNLOAD!

You may also be interested in the following:
The Global Kites Project:
Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy Special Issue Desert Kites - Old Structures, New Research: (Pay Wall)

You can browse thousands of photographs of Kites from Jordan in our archive.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

FL201609 - September’s season so far. The Unexpected.

There is no question that the word “unexpected” is the theme of this year’s season, which has been very successful so far.  Unexpected length of annual holidays and holidays for parliamentary elections, and unexpected (and sometimes inexplicable) restrictions on when and where we can fly. None of this is a surprise; after 20 years of working in Jordan the plans we make before we arrive are always changed, but to the eternal credit of the Air Force, pilots and crews, we always achieve the vast majority of what we plan.
Landscape of the Wadi Araba, north of Aqaba. David Kennedy, APAAME_20160918_DLK-0399.
Our opening expedition (18-19 September) was south to Aqaba, but with the unexpected delay following the return to work after the Eid al-Adha, a stronger than expected headwind, and a sick crew man. However despite this we succeeded in flying for over 5 and a half hours, and still had just enough time at the end of the day for a therapeutic swim in the Red Sea, before flying a full four hours back to Amman the following day.
Wadi an Nasifah. Robert Bewley, APAAME_20160919_RHB-0117. 
Expected, but always surprising, is the number and nature of landscapes and sites we photograph. The trip home from Aqaba took us through narrow steep-sided gorges, with strategically located Roman military installations though to dramatic and contrasting geological formations with a variety of prehistoric, Roman and early Islamic sites.
A village on the southern edge of the Ras en-Naqb. Robert Bewley, APAAME_20160919_RHB-0161.
After a brief respite we had two excellent days in the black basalt desert (the Badia) photographing a wide range of sites. The one site that stood out for me - the “Bulls-eye” Cairn. I don’t remember seeing them as clearly defined as those we surveyed this year. The “Bulls-eye” Cairn is another example of just how little we know about the date, distribution or function of many of these sites. However the information we have accumulated means we can start to analyse them, and answer research questions.
A large 'Bulls-eye' cairn with tail, known also as a 'Pendant'. Robert Bewley, APAAME_20160922_RHB-0538.
As with the work of the National Mapping Programme in England, the contribution of aerial survey and interpretation has been to expand our understanding of the size and nature of the past human populations. Seeing the density of stone structures of all types, representing settlements, hunting sites, and burials, has to mean that in the majority of prehistory there were a sizeable human population in the badia desert region of Jordan. An area, until recently, which has been ignored by archaeologists, looking for richer pickings in the so-called Fertile Crescent; thankfully this is changing and there a number of expeditions working in this region to discover the nature of the sites, their date and function. You can see an example of the contribution of aerial survey in the Badia in this article about Bernd Müller-Neuhof's research: 6,000-year-old Fortresses Found in Jordan Show Surprisingly Advanced Early Society.
Concentration of features on the summit of 'Tell el-Ghusein'. Robert Bewley, APAAME_20160922_RHB-0604. 
It is always an exciting event to be flying in the rift valley along the shores of the Dead Sea, where our fifth flight was located. I don’t usually have the time or inclination to check the altimeter on the GPS but for some reason I clicked on it as we descended from 5,000 ft amsl (above mean sea level) to minus 500 ft, below it.
Our GPS reading -194 feet below mean sea level.
Most fittingly, we were flying over the Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth. This, of course, should be impossible without going under water, but as it is a “mean sea level” which gives us our height, there has to be exceptions. The Dead Sea area as the lowest point on earth (not under water) is one such exception, so we had the unexpected pleasure of flying along at minus 500ft, with the door open and a wonderful (warm) view of this part of the great rift valley.
View of the Rift Valley. Rebecca Banks, APAAME_20160927_REB-0072.
We were also, unexpectedly, approached by a journalist from Associated Press (AP), based in Amman. He has interviewed both David Kennedy and I, and I took him flying for a short trip to show the preparation and process of aerial survey. We look forward to seeing his short film in due course. On this short flight we also had (pre take-off) the unexpected pleasure of a flat battery in the helicopter; external power was wheeled in and we were on our way without much delay.

We are now using a different helicopter, no longer the Huey, but now the Eurocopter or ‘EC’. This has meant getting to know a new squadron, and new pilots. Each day it is a new crew. Sitting having tea after one sortie, high up in the control tower of one of airbases the Captain unexpectedly asked me, slightly reluctantly, “Why are you doing this work?” Behind the question (given a certain lack of interest up to that point) was the inference “it seems to be a complete waste of time.” I explained our reasons, - discovering sites, monitoring change and damage, and making a photographic record. On the next sortie he was able to the see sites in a new light and his orbiting was much more precise. Unfortunately we had another 4 hours of flying and by the end of it the crew were exhausted (as were we) and any positive feelings to archaeology were forgotten for the day.

We have had enthusiastic crew members taking pictures out of the window of archaeological sites and the beautiful Jordanian landscape (and maybe their home villages), but also unexpectedly many, many photographs on the ground, including “selfies.” I am not an enthusiast of the “selfie” phenomenon. I have been surprised by the sophistication of the “selfie world” with extending selfie sticks, the use of sun and shade, and location: a selfie with the helicopter in the background must clearly carry some weight in the purpose for which these photographs are taken (if indeed there is one). Who knows, one day we might even have a selfie album on APAAME, but I hope not.
The dreaded 'selfie stick'.
Unexpectedly our own health came into play to a greater degree than ever before. Aerial reconnaissance requires strength of both body and mind. The weaker either one of those is the stronger the other has to be. It is rare, here, to have full strength in both, either through lack of sleep (dogs barking in the night, the 0400 call to prayer all contributing to short nights) or the after effect of something we’ve eaten, having a devastating effect on one’s digestion. Each member of the team has succumbed, one way or another, to a bug. This has never happened before and we hope for all our sakes it doesn’t happen again.  Fortunately, so far, it has not affected the performance of our well planned (with unexpected changes) flying and making new discoveries.

Less than a week to go, so let us hope for less of the unexpected.

Bob Bewley
28th September 2016