Monday, September 22, 2014

Photographs: Deir Ain Abata Project

Dr. Konstantinos Dino Politis has made available to APAAME his collection of slides and negatives taken in the course of aerial reconnaissance in Jordan over a period from the early 1990s until the early 2000s. The collection includes informal photography taken from commercial flights flying in and out of Amman as well as professional aerial photography taken by Dr. Politis and his team from a helicopter in the course of their research. A starring feature of this collection is the site of Deir Ain Abata, a site found and excavated by Dr. Politis.
Deir Ain Abata. Photographer: Bill Lyons. APAAME_19990503_BL-0014.
Deir Ain Abata was discovered during an archaeological survey in 1986 near the modern town of Safi in Jordan, located just east of the southern Dead Sea basin. Under threat from erosion from its location on a steep slope and its vicinity to the expanding town of Safi, it was decided the site would be excavated and conserved. The site consists of a large reservoir, a triple apsed basilica church with mosaics, a cave on the north aisle of the basilica, a refectory, and a 'Pilgrim's Hostel' north of the refectory. 1991 excavations exposed the church, the western front of which was at peril of continuing to collapse down the face of the mountain. Conservation work was undertaken in 1994 to stabilise the structure. An inscription revealed that the basilica had been renovated in 691AD - during the Umayyad period. The cave was presumed by the Byzantine Christians to be associated with the Old Testament story of Lot, though why this cave was chosen over the many others in its vicinity is unknown to us. Evidence in the cave showed that it had been in use since the Middle Bronze Age II.
You can read more about the site in Dr. Politis' article The Monastery of Aghios Lot at Deir 'Ain 'Abata in Jordan here:

Other Dead Sea and Jordan Valley sites feature prominently in the collection- such as Bab edh-Drah, Khirbet Qazone, Tall Numeira, Bethany on-Jordan, Wadi Kharrar and Tell es-Sa'idiyeh. The collection compliments that of AAJ's aerial reconnaissance in that it contains photographs from before AAJ began its annual program in 1997, as well as photographing sites unknown to or visited at other times by AAJ.
Khirbet Qazone. Photographer: K. D. Politis. APAAME_19990503_KDP-0139.
The scanning was undertaken on an EPSON Perfection V700 Photo flatbed scanner at 3000 dpi. Due to the age and condition of the slides, results varied - especially in colour output, but unfortunately also in the sharpness of the image. Where possible colour was corrected, and site coordinates and identification, date and photographer identified and placed in the image metadata, but this was not always possible. We have retained any written information from the slides in the image description.

You can find the collection of photographs here: The Konstantinos D Politis Collection
If you have any additional information regarding one of the photographs please do not hesitate to leave a comment on the Flickr photo page. Image requests can be made by contacting Dr. Politis. Copyright is retained by the image photographers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Research: Qasr Ain el-Beidha

In c. 1981 David Kennedy visited Qasr Ain el-Beidha as part of his investigations into the archaeological traces of the Roman frontier in North-East Jordan. The site shows clearly on the Hunting Aerial Survey imagery of 1953 - a clear perimeter wall c.20m square with a collapsed square tower in the center.
HAS 11.008 overlaid in Google Earth - Qasr Ain el-Beidha is clearly visible on the basalt bottom right. Please click to enlarge image.
Their survey of the site confirmed this:
It consists of a tower, 5.14m square, set within a walled enclosure 21 x 16.18m with, apparently, rounded corners. The tower is built of large blocks of basalt laid in regular courses, 3 of which may be seen and two others inferred. The surviving height of the 3 courses is 1.12m and the wall is 1.2m thick made up of blocks laid as headers and stretchers. Both tower and enclosure wall are much decayed and overlaid with rubble. The latter seems to have been no more than dry-stone built wall and there was only one point, on the S. side, at which evidence of the rough slabs being laid in courses was clear (Kennedy 1982 Archaeological Explorations on the Roman Frontier in North-East Jordan: 186-7).
Qasr Ain el-Beidha general view c. 1981. Image © David Kennedy. Please click to enlarge image.
In addition, Kennedy notes the lines of site from the tower to Qasr Azraq and Qazr Aseikhim, major Roman sites in the area. He concludes that the site likely acted as "an outpost to control access to a water-point" as well as a watch-tower on the route to Qasr Burqu (Kennedy 1982: 187).

Qasr Ain el-Beidha Area
Qasr Ain el Beidha photographed in 2011 - the perimeter wall can just be seen to the left of the road in the picture. APAAME_20111027_MND-0079.  Please click to enlarge image.
Today, the site is lost except for a section of the perimeter wall. We were able to photograph what remains of the site in 2011. A bitumen road has been built since 1978 running east from Azraq straight through the site. Historical satellite imagery in Google Earth implies the road has been in existence since at least 2003. Photographs from the 1978 survey imply that the track had previously gone around the site.
Qasr Ain el Beidha general view c. 1981. The track can be seen running around to the right of the site in the photograph. Image © David Kennedy. Please click to enlarge image.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Video: Aerial photography of Kites

If you want to see Kites from the Jordanian harra like we do - from a helicopter, check out this short YouTube video showcasing some of the Kite footage taken by Matthew Dalton during the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan Project's 2012 season.

Video taken by Matthew Dalton of the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project, edited by Rebecca Banks. All material is © APAAME.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Publications: Kites in 'Arabia' (iBook)

Apple iBooks has just published (1 September) a new book by Prof. David Kennedy with Rebecca Banks and Emergent Form's Paul Houghton on Kites in 'Arabia'.

Kites in 'Arabia'
David Kennedy with Rebecca Banks and Paul Houghton
September 1, 2014
iBooks for iPad or Mac OS X 10.9 or later
Emergent Form
225 pages
US$4.99/ AU$5.99/ £2.99

The book offers an approachable survey and analysis of the stone built structures known as Kites  found throughout Arabia - the huge arid region extending from south-eastern Turkey through Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to Yemen.  The volume examines Kites from their first discovery by the RAG pilots who were the 'Pioneers' of aerial photography in the inter-war period in Transjordan to recent research and interpretation conducted by various professionals in the field. Distribution, form and function of the Kites is discussed and extensively illustrated with references provided throughout. The volume benefits from David Kennedy's long established interest and passion for aerial photography and archaeology in the Middle East, and draws on the extensive reconnaissance performed by the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan Project and historical imagery research of the APAAME Project. The book also includes extensive appendices illustrating types and locations of Kites across 'Arabia', and historical accounts of Kites by early explorers in the Middle East.

The medium of iBook was chosen for two primary reasons: accessibility and inclusion of illustrations. We have made the iBook available for just US$4.99/ AU$5.99/ £2.99 to make the publication affordable. Images have been profusely included to illustrate the features described, something that would have astronomically increased publication costs in a printed edition. Moreover the electronic format allows for interactive features which enhance the illustrative elements and for video interviews and footage taken from the helicopter.

Heavy on content, the iBook does come out at roughly 1GB to download, but fortunately will only ever be as heavy as carrying around your laptop or iPad.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Research: The first Kites

In 2012, David Kennedy’s ‘Pioneers above Jordan’ article acknowledged the contribution to aerial archaeology by Royal Air Force pilots flying on the Cairo-Baghdad Airmail Route. The individuals who published the first photographs of a site they had termed ‘Kites’ were Percy Eric Maitland (1895-1985), Lionel Wilmont Brabazon Rees (1884-1955) and Gilbert Stuart Martin Insall (1894-1972).
Maitland 1927 The 'Works of the Old Men' in Arabia, Antiquity 1 (2): plate III.
Maitland’s article in the second issue of the new Journal Antiquity introduced the wider world to the concept of the ‘Works of the Old Men’ using aerial photographs taken by the RAF during passes of the Cairo-Baghdad air mail route. On Plate III a most striking Kite is presented as ‘Walls and Fort in Basalt Country’ – this has been located as ‘Wisad Kite 40’ at 31°52'43.54"N, 37°55'59.01"E and can be clearly seen on Bing Maps despite the encroaching sands over the low basalt walls of the Kite. From the collection of aerial photographs taken back to the UK by O.G.S. Crawford (now housed in UCL Special Collections for the Institute of Archaeology) we know this photograph is actually a mosaic of a series of vertical photographs taken over the kite.
Wisad Wall Tangle 2
Wisad Wall Tangle 2: APAAME_20091004_DLK-0045. Photographer: David Kennedy.
The other photograph on the plate, ‘Walls and Enclosures in Basalt Country’ may picture part of a kite amongst a tangle of walls – but the complex is now interrupted by a road and the El-Wisad Desert Patrol Post so we cannot quite clarify what the principle structure may once have been. We have identified the site as ‘Wisad Wall Tangle 2’: 31°53'6.82"N, 37°57'17.33"E.

Rees published photographs and images of a few Kites in his article ‘The Transjordan Desert’, also in Antiquity, but later in 1929. In ‘Circles Etc. in the Basalt Country South-West of Azrak’ on Plate III you can see the kite located at 31°47'54.56"N, 36°43'15.56"E, which we have photographed as ‘Amra Kite 4’.
Rees 1929 The Transjordan Desert, Antiquity 3 (12): plate IV.
On Plate IV he shows a photograph of ‘Kites south of Kasr Azrak’ which is a well defined chain of Kites at 31°51'51.57"N, 36°48'46.89"E with Azraq Kite 46 the most prominent in the photograph, but today the Kites are almost destroyed beneath increased farming and development around Azraq.
Azraq Kite 46 (Rees A)
Azraq Kite 46 in 2012 with a newly planted olive grove across the site. APAAME_20120522_DLK-0607. Photographer: David Kennedy.
In Plate VI he identifies a ‘Large Round Enclosure’ and two Kites on the photograph ‘Kazr Azrak and Surroundings’ but the ‘Large Round Enclosure’ is now entirely buried beneath the modern town (see Kennedy’s Big Circles article for information regarding this kind of feature), and one Kite, approximately 31°53'29.01"N, 36°50'5.39"E, is buried beneath the modern road, but the other is visible still at 31°53'39.43"N, 36°49'46.18"E. The photograph of ‘“Tell A”, near Landing-ground E’ on plate IX identifies several kites in the vicinity of the basalt mesa which can still be clearly seen from the air at 31°48'18.46"N, 37°25'59.97"E, and have been photographed and visited by the project several times.
Original RAF image from Insall (1929 The Aeroplane in Archaeology, Journal of the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell 9.2: between pages 174-175) juxtaposed with the modern imagery from Google Earth. Composed by Travis Hearn.
Also published in 1929 but less well known was Insall’s ‘The Aeroplane in Archaeology’ in the Journal of the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell (9.2: 174-175). The well defined kite with three tails he published eluded us for quite some time, but a review of the basalt region recently conducted identified the Kite at 31°47'51.06"N, 37°33'46.61"E alongside another Kite. Crossing the tails in the background can be seen the old bulldozed track laid out through the desert by the ground parties creating the new airmail route that acted as a guide for the pilots. More prominent now in the satellite imagery is a track bulldozed through the head.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Research: Remote Sensing, Kites and Agriculture

This blog was originally posted as part of the 'Day of Archaeology' 2014 (11 July 2014). You can find all posts, and information, on their website:

Safawi Kite 99, Safawi Kite 100
The well defined walls of kites on the Jordanian harra - Safawi Kites 99 & 100. APAAME_20081102_KHNQ-0386.
As you may have gathered from the many photographs we have taken in the Jordanian harra (see our Flickr archive), Kites in Jordan are found predominantly on the basalt lavafield. Due to the sharp contrast between the black rock and yellow sands these are often easily discernible in good resolution satellite imagery and even more so in the course of aerial photography conducted each year by the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project (AAJ). Due to improved availability of good resolution satellite imagery over the Jordanian harra I recently embarked on a review of known features over the landscape in preparation for our upcoming field season in October. Due to the reasons mentioned, the majority of the harra was scrolled over relatively easily on my desktop, but it was not all a walk in the park.

The north western section of the harra was altogether more difficult to review. Our knowledge of site distribution in this area began with those traced on the 1:50,000 K737 maps. This was improved upon through an analysis of the Hunting Aerial Survey photographs undertaken by Prof. David Kennedy in the RSAME project where the information gathered from the aerial survey photographs were transcribed onto acetate copies of the 1:50,000 map sheets. Many of these sites were reviewed through ground survey conducted in the Southern Hauran Survey Project (SHS) in the late 80s and into the 90s, and included a few Kites, and AAJ, beginning in 1997, has also flown over and documented many sites in the region.

Google Earth (GE) has allowed us to utilise an affordable platform through which to easily review sites identified and photographed by the project, as well as investigate new sites for future research and documentation. In its early years the remote areas of Jordan were not a particularly high priority for high resolution imagery however, and many site locations were transferred into GE based on what was originally mapped in the earlier surveys mentioned, or locations estimated from the flight track log of AAJ aerial reconnaissance. These sites were therefore in need of the review I was conducting in order to increase the accuracy of the site location we had recorded, but also to verify whether the site first identified from earlier surveys was indeed correct.

The four map squares in question - Quttein, Hibabiya, Hallabat and Jimal are now in high resolution in GE - a victory you would think that would make life easier, but no. Here the basalt is no longer a deep dark black that contrasts easily for identification, but its age has bleached it and in some cases developed a patina over the surface so that it resembles the colour of the landscape around it. Take satellite imagery in the middle of the day and what you have is a bleached out landscape where you are lucky to identify anything at all. Moreover - this area is increasingly being utilised for agriculture and many sites identified from imagery taken in 1953 are now underneath fields of green. My standard approach of panning back and forth in GE and verifying against our aerial imagery and contrasting to Bing Maps was just not going to cut it today.
Hibabiya Kite 18
The faint trace of Hibabiya Kite 18 on an oblique aerial photograph. APAAME_20090917_DLK-0749.
Thanks to the laborious work of Research Assistants before me, we have created an overlay in GE of the distribution of all of the Hunting Aerial Survey (HAS) photographs. Using this overlay I was able to go from site to site we had identified and pinned in Google Earth and contrast it to what I could see in the HAS imagery and had been noted on the K737 acetates. Kites were by far the most numerous feature in this landscape on the fertile edge of the harra.

An important lesson was the fact that often some Kites visible on the satellite imagery were in no way or barely visible on the older HAS imagery, and some were visible on neither but clearly visible on the low oblique imagery of the AAJ project. As much as satellite imagery is an easy and resourceful tool, it definitely can not stand alone. Interestingly - and not something we come across often in Jordan, some of the historical GE satellite imagery showed up Kites easily identifiable on the HAS imagery as crop marks in the now fielded landscape. These would not have been so readily identified without the HAS imagery showing us where to look, but it is an important reminder that remote sensing techniques such as identifying crop marks that are applied in more lush landscapes may also be applied in Jordan at the right time of year, especially in agricultural landscapes like the Southern Hauran.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Conferences: ICAANE IX - round-up

This is a regular International Conference on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, held in Warsaw in 2011, due to be in Vienna next time, but this year in Basel, Switzerland.

After Registration at Universität Basel on afternoon of Sunday 8th June, we were off to a fast start the next day with plenary lectures followed by four and half days of several simultaneous lectures on various parts and periods of the ANE. Sometimes hard to get from one place to another in time.

As the name implies, ICAANE is mainly devoted to pre-Classical archaeology, though there were several interesting lectures on Petra and the Nabataeans. Also of interest was a (disturbing) 3-hour session on Syria. Don Boyer gave a very informative and superbly professional (as you would expect) talk on his research on the water supply of Roman Gerasa which got a good reception and useful questions and comments.

I would not normally have gone to ICAANE which seldom gives much attention to the Roman Near East. This year, however, Dr. Ueli Brunner (Department of Geography, University of Zurich) – who gave a lecture in UWA about 18 months ago on his work in Yemen, had organised a Workshop on Kites. So I gave a lecture on Kites in the Harret Khaybar of west-central Saudi Arabia. The plan is to publish all these Kites papers as a book – a quick and high-profile publication will stimulate new research.

As always, a good reason for attending is for those conversations and contacts that grease the academic research engine. People you seldom see are right there for days and there is the opportunity to talk at length.

The University and Half-Canton of Basel each laid on a very pleasant reception and Dr Brunner took the Kites group for dinner in a delightful restaurant-pub in the back streets of Kleinbasel.

The weather was HOT – c. 35 every day. But Basel is delightful – 200 years of peace and neutrality is obviously a Good Thing. A little sight-seeing took us all at times to the Rhine where a recreation was to get into the river stream with clothes in an inflated backpack and let the current drift you downstream.

The Boyers and Kennedys joined up one afternoon to take the (free) public transport 12 km east to visit the superb ruins of the Roman city of Augusta Raurica, just outside modern August. You may remember a lecture to the Roman Archaeology Group of Perth on this town by Martina Müller a few years ago. More on this site later.