Thursday, October 23, 2014

Research: Gilbert Insall - Pioneer over Jordan … and Sinai and Iraq

Our recent flights over the Jordanian Panhandle have been a reminder of the RAF pioneers who discovered, photographed and published Kites in the 1920s. One of the principle trio was Gilbert Insall.

Insall had published a photograph of a Kite in 1929 (which has now been ‘rediscovered’ – Blog 'The First Kites') taken while he was commanding a squadron in Iraq. Several years later he was back in the Middle East as Station Commander of RAF Abu Sueir in Egypt, a Flying Training School. Edward Mole, the Chief Engineer at Abu Sueir in 1937-8, subsequently published a delightful autobiography of his RAF career including flights made with Insall. By then Insall was 42 and his enthusiasm for archaeology as undiminished. Mole records that Insall frequently flew out over Sinai, located sites, landed and set-to with the shovel and pick he carried with him. In case the C.O. got into trouble, Mole sometimes flew with him in another aircraft and was roped into the digging.
From above, the pattern of an old settlement could clearly be seen on the desert sand, and on sighting one, Insall would land nearby and dig for objects.

Later still, Insall and Mole flew together to Baghdad to visit RAF friends.
We set off together in two Audax aircraft to make the long trip across the featureless Arabian desert. There were no radio navigation aids in those days, but all we had to do was to find and follow the oil pipe line which ran straight as a die for hundreds of miles. We took with us all necessary desert flying equipment – emergency rations, water bottles, first aid kits – and Ghoolie Chits.

Interesting that by 1937-8, the air route across the Jordanian Panhandle had evidently shifted from the track and furrow ploughed for the RAF-pioneered Airmail Route of 12 years before along the southern fringe of the lavafield, to the much more straightforward line of the new oil pipeline further north. This was evidently the route followed by Imperial Airways when it took over the Airmail task from the RAF and explains the series of circular route-markers with numbers from (at least) 24 to 16 (as you flew east) (For an example see Flight 20141015 blog).

In Iraq, Insall had Mole fly him over Samarra so he could photograph it from the air – as he had had done when he flew Crawford there in 1928. Hopefully his aerial photos survive – his son had an RAF flying career, too, and is now a noted writer on archaeological work in Oman.

Abu Sueir, Sir P Sassoon, G Cpt Insall VC Inspecting Junior Term 1936.
On a personal note, Insall senior was the Station Commander at Abu Sueir when my father learned to fly there in 1936 and officiated at his Passing Out Parade.

- David Kennedy

Insall, G. S. M. (1929) “The aeroplane in archaeology”, Journal of the RAF College, Cranwell 9.2: 174-175.
Mole, E. (1984) Happy Landings, Shrewsbury.
Kennedy, D. L. (2012) “Pioneers Above Jordan. Revealing a prehistoric landscape”, Antiquity 86: 474-491.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Flights 20141019-20 - The Aqaba Trip

Sunday 19th
Much forethought and planning had gone into this two-day trip by David and Becc so it was doubly disappointing that Becc was stricken by a bug and couldn’t join us, and the weather had turned decidedly autumnal. However Don agreed to join us for a boy’s trip to the Red Sea. Low pressure, low clouds and poor visibility meant our first attempt to fly south was thwarted, and after 45 minutes we returned to Marka. We were told the weather would get worse, but indomitable as ever we pressed the case for getting to Al-Jafr (many miles south-east and it is always clear there). So after a delay we set off for a very successful (if long) day. David has already written up two of the highlights (see post for Flight 20141019) - the Via Nova Traina; and the ancient Aina fort overlooking the Wadi el-Hasa, with stunning views and a truly commanding position. We both wondered why we had never photographed this very well preserved and important site before?
The Gharandal Roman Fort. © APAAME_20141019_DLK-0418.
The cold was beginning to have its effect, and we were grateful for the re-fuelling stops at Jafr, but not much re-fuelling for the pilots and crew; luckily Becc had provided us some dates, chocolate biscuits, nuts and Werther’s Originals (the later being a staple on these flight over many years). The final leg of the day was very rewarding as we descended into the (warm) Wadi Araba to photograph the Roman fort at Gharandhal and then land at Aqaba. There was just time for the quickest of dips in the Red Sea before an early meal and early night.
Ayla - ancient Aqaba. © APAAME_20141020_RHB-0033.

Monday 20th
Threatening clouds to the west, including some rain, greeted us at take-off (despite the cold) – even this far south – but our first targets were of ancient Aqaba, the original city being called Ayla, and now a heritage park, well watered and surprisingly green.

Transfixing landscapes east of Aqaba. © APAAME_20141020_RHB-0094.
We were then transfixed by the landscapes we were flying over; a geological tour de force and a wonder to behold; impossible to capture the scale and enormity of this wind-sand-blown desert with teeth-like pillars of rock randomly placed.
Landscape west of Mudawwarra. © APAAME_20141020_RHB-0119.
As we flew on the landscape changed to a darker basalt rock where the formations were like fingers spreading out into the desert. All testament to millennia of erosion and change.

The ghost line of the Hedjaz Railway. © APAAME_20141020_RHB-0170.
From there we approached the Hedjaz railway, and some stunning ancient hill-top enclosures, forts of as yet unknown date, but very well preserved. At this point the railway there is only a ghost of the track and sleepers – the station and platforms deserted and almost covered over with sand. Then a huge loop in the system as climbs up a steep gradient, and new track, and a real railway; presumably in use by a mining company to shift huge quantities of minerals. On the summit another stunning defended hill-top enclosure- Fassu'ah Ridge Fort; the pilots commented that it looked like looters “were looking for gold”, but we have been informed that the collapsed trenches are from former fieldwork by the Great Arab Revolt Project.
Fassu'ah Ridge Fort above Mahattat Hitiya. © APAAME_20141020_RHB-0236.
Detail of Fassu'ah Ridge Fort. © APAAME_20141020_RHB-0249.
By now the strong westerly wind was affecting our schedule, and the longer time taken to return to Jafr for refuel meant fewer targets were photographed than we hoped; let’s hope for more flying time next year. Even at Jafr the cool wind meant we had to find a wind break, and a snack lunch in the helicopter, before a final foray to look for a group of sites in a landscape never visited before in the far east of the country. We knew that locating them (in the midday sun) would be difficult but only on arrival did we discover just how ephemeral these particular “kites” would be. We saw all but two of the sites, but only just.
Huey lunch with Don Boyer and David Kennedy. © APAAME_20141020_RHB-0325.
A final re-fuel and the long slog back to Marka and (my) farewells to the crew and squadron commanders “until the next time” – there is one more flight planned for this season for David and the team in Amman.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Flight 20141019 - The Via Nova Traiana in Central Jordan

The great Roman highway ran from Syria down the length of the Emperor Trajan’s new province of Arabia to Aila (Aqaba) on the Red Sea. Nineteenth century western travellers and explorers ‘east of Jordan’ regularly reported following it for mile after mile and noting many of the hundreds of milestones still to be seen. In the twentieth century it suffered badly with great stretches disappearing beneath modern roads or ploughed away by farmers and developers; milestones have been smashed or bulldozed aside. Happily there are still places one can see stretches surviving, usually in the more remote parts of modern Jordan.
Bulldozing damage to Rujm el-Faridiyyeh. © APAAME_20141019_DLK-0180
Our flight yesterday (Sunday) included Rujm el-Faridiyyeh, a Roman road-station on the Via Nova just south of the Wadi el-Hasa. It was the subject of a striking RAF aerial photograph of 1937 and was drawn in the course of Burton MacDonald’s Wadi el-Hasa Survey (1988) 30 years ago (Kennedy and Riley, Rome’s Desert Frontier, 1990: 86-9). Sadly we found that even on this fairly isolated stretch of the plateau, a bulldozer has (again) been at work – for no apparent reason as there is no development at that point.
Milestation along the VNT. © APAAME_20141019_DLK-0203.
On the other hand, the road appears today almost intact and showing far more strikingly as a classic Roman road than even the old RAF photo had suggested. Our experience in Jordan over the course of several attempts since we began in 1997, is that Roman roads are often quite difficult to re-discover from the air unless well-preserved. Not so this time. From the air we could clearly trace the road running for at least 5 kilometres (about 3 Roman miles) and with intermittent stretches thereafter. As MacDonald could describe from his ground visit in the 1980s, you can still see the side kerbs and the central spine of the substructure (which is what survives). Particularly interesting was the cluster of milestones at one Milestation, some still standing after some 1800 years.
VNT and Tower. © APAAME_20141019_DLK-0189.
There is a need to re-visit on the ground this superb stretch of road which is coming under increased threat from agriculture and some building nearby. Even more important is to trace it beyond the remains of the bridge across the stream of the Wadi el-Hasa and up the steep slope to the northern plateau. Hints of the line reported over a century ago are still visible from the air. More striking are the collapsed towers in its vicinity and – best of all, an apparently newly discovered fort. As it lies on a promontory overlong the Roman road it may be Nabataean and/ or Roman.

Aina Fort 1. © APAAME_20141019_DDB-0137.
- David Kennedy

Friday, October 17, 2014

Flight 20141015 - The Longest Day?

Flight track log from 20141015 - the survey of the basalt near Uweinid we conducted is particularly prominent.
A day’s flying always starts with the rigmarole of having to get through the security gate at Marka airbase. This year we were waved through on the first day as I was being asked if I wanted ‘Eight Squadron” and I said yes; not really knowing the exact details of what had just happened (as my Arabic is non-existent). The second day I blew it but today, having learnt what the question would be, and having memorized the Arabic for 8 Squadron, we sailed through. It has taken 16 years for this refined level of communication to be achieved – just as it has taken all these years to train a generation of young Huey pilots to understand what on earth these crazy archaeologists are doing orbiting sites hour after hour. Our pilots are now even taking their own pictures as they are becoming interested in what we see. All our orbits are to the right (as we sit on the right) but today was a “first” in that the pilot did a orbit to the left, especially for the co-pilot (seated on the left) to see what we had been looking at.

Qasr el-Uweinid. © `APAAME_20141015_RHB-0050.

So, what did we see? With over 2,000 images taken by the three of us (Bob, Becc and Mat) in 7.5 hours (see flight trace of today’s excursions) the highlights are particularly difficult to select. Our aim was to survey parts of the black basalt desert in the eastern part of Jordan, starting at Azraq and heading as far east as Ruweishid. Predominantly our targets in this region are prehistoric sites, but Qasr Uweinid always stands out as such a wonderfully situated Roman fort, on a promontory.
A Pendant with a close shave. © APAAME_20141015_RHB-0123.
Mainly we are photographing “Pendant”, “Kite” and “Wheel” sites – all named according to their shape; their date and function are less well known. The most striking Pendant (almost certainly a burial site) was this one – so nearly completely obliterated by a competing road bulldozed through since we last photographed.
A kite with wheel enclosure built over it. © APAAME_20141015_RHB-0463.

There were many Kites but the light this time of year highlights them so well – and rare to have both a Wheel and a Kite so entwined.

YAMOUK written in basalt across a mud pan landing ground. © APAAME_20141015_RHB-0303.
However it was the twentieth century remains which really took our breath away. In preparing for the flight Becc had marked two former RAF installations, visible on Google Earth but we had no idea what would survive. They are remnants from the time when Jordan was under a British mandate (then known as Transjordan), and the creation of the Cairo to Baghdad Airmail Routes. The first to be photographed was a landing ground with name "YARMOUK" created in stone, inlaid in the sand, to one side of the “runway”. The runway consisted of a very long stone-defined landing strip on the hard surface of the mudflat. To our amazement there seems to be almost no recent disturbance, a faint trace of the odd 4x4 wheel track, so prevalent elsewhere, but no sign of a bulldozer, thankfully.
The 'KENSINGTON' landing ground. © APAAME_20141015_RHB-0441.
The second site was one of the circular markers for the Cairo to Baghdad Airmail Route (one of the routes is described in R. Hill’s book on the subject from 1929) – number 17, but curiously this site also has inscribed in the sand the name "KENSINGTON". Both the number and the name are clearly visible on Google Earth. Our flight confirmed there has been little recent disturbance and we could also see what we interpret to be the remains of what must have been a camp, rectilinear stone-built platforms for tents. It is very unlikely any of the pilots from this period (1920s-1940s) are still alive but it would be fascinating to find out if any diaries exist of life at “Kensington”.

Remains of a camp near "Kensington". © APAAME_20141015_RHB-0443.

So, why the longest day? We left the Institute in Amman at 0630, and started flying at about 0715 and didn’t get back to Marka, after a long transit flight from Ruweishid, until almost 5 pm. Normally we do 4 to 6 hours flying (2 or 3 sorties) but today it was 4 separate flights, 3 re-fuellings for the aircraft but very little “fuel” for the pilots or ourselves and a total of 7.5 hours flying.
- Robert Bewley

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Flight 20141013 - Flying South

Qasr Mshatta under cloud - © APAAME_20141013_REB-0028
The second day of the season started with good weather and permission to go south and be allowed access to Qasr Mshatta (an Islamic hunting lodge) now situated on the north edge of the runway at Queen Alia International airport. Unfortunately on arrival the site was cloud-covered but we were welcomed by a wonderful waft of bread being baked in the nearby factory. We moved on south to Machaerus – famous (or infamous) for being the location where John the Baptist lost his head, thanks to Salome’s nefarious activities. It was the subject of a siege by the Romans, trying to recapture it after the Jewish Revolt (AD 66-70), and now undergoing excavations by a Hungarian team.  The siege works are still visible with approximately 10 Roman camps on the surrounding hills.
Machaerus - © APAAME_20141013_RHB-0063
Further south, near the southern edge of the Dead Sea we photographed looting, on a massive scale, of the cemeteries around Fifi, Safi and al-Mazraa (Kh. Qazone).  Our spirits were lifted by some photography of Umm-er Resas (a superb Roman fort and later Islamic town and early seat of learning); then by a return to visit to Qasr Mshatta, this time bathed in sunshine and the smell of bread,  even more appealing as lunch-time approached.
Extensive looting near Safi - the site of Maqbarat Al-Nage'a - © APAAME_20141013_REB-0307
Umm er-Resas - APAAME_20141013_REB-0224
On our third and final trip, and looking for the last site of the day we were having difficultly locating it, not least because of having to keep away from approaching air traffic into Marka (our base) but also because the whole area had been eaten away by massive stone quarries.  We spotted a possible location and as we orbited we realised that we had stumbled across an abandoned Roman (?) quarry with stone columns and sections of unfinished stone,  still visible in the limestone outcrop.  Once again a hugely important site, within a few metres of large destructive modern quarries.  Our pilot (who was having to work on his birthday) took us down to a few feet above the site so we could record it in detail.

Roman (?) Column Quarry east of Marka APAAME_20141013_MND-0768
 - Robert Bewley

Monday, October 13, 2014

Flight 20141012 - Flying again

October 12th and the first flight of the 2014 season. Bob, Becc and Mat had the usual early start to try to catch the best light, especially as we were hoping for some stunning views of Machaerus, south-west of Amman. However, despite the dawn being very clear and calm there was fog and very poor visibility in that region. The RJAF is brilliant at providing cups to tea and coffee and by 0830 we decided we should change our plans and head north.

Jarash. © APAAME_20141012_RHB-0154.
We photographed some of the more well known sites – Pella in the north, and of course Jerash, both the main city but also looking for some of the smaller features (concerning water management) for Don Boyer (working on his PhD). By chance we also managed to photograph him in the field too.
Olive harvest. © APAAME_20141012_MND-0369.
It is also the olive harvest and we saw many sheets (of various colours) underneath olive trees to collect the harvest.

Hayyan al-Mashrif surrounded by quarrying. © APAAME_20141012_RHB-0258.
We photographed over 45 sites, many of which have not been recorded before and may seem to be safe for a few more years. Then as the helicopter orbits a large quarry comes into view and whole hillsides are disappearing for house-building stone. We hope our photographs will be important and useful documents to help understand and preserve many of these archaeological sites in the future.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Publications: Cairn of Hani- Significance, Present Condition and Context

The latest edition (2012) of the Annual of the Department of Antiquities, Jordan has been published with a contribution by David Kennedy with Karen Henderson.

David L. Kennedy (with Karen Henderson) 2012 (2014) 'The Cairn of Hānī: significance, present condition and context', Annual of the Department of Antiquities, Jordan 56: 483-505.

Cairn of Hani. Photographer: Michael Neville. APAAME_20090928_MJN-540.
Abstract: The Ḥarrat ash-Shām, the Basalt Desert of north-eastern Jordan, is strewn with thousands of stone structures; cairns are the most common but few have ever been systematically investigated. The Cairn of Hānī, identified some 60 years ago, is a rare example of a 'Safaitic' cairn with an intact burial which was then systematically excavated and published. Very few other cairns have been excavated since then and the Cairn of Hānī remains by far the most important and informative. Sadly it is now being damaged and may soon be destroyed. The aims of this article are to review the significance of this important cairn, to report on its parlous present condition and to place it in the context of both the handful of other excavated cairns in the region and of the numerous other ancient stone-built structures visible from the air within its immediate orbit.

The article can be accessed on Prof. David Kennedy's page: