Friday 25 May 2012

Descending the Zoar Ascent

Haim Ben-David at the start of the hike.
Photographer: David Kennedy. Click to enlarge.

Thursday at 4 am we left Amman on a 2.5 hour drive to the point on the northern rim of the Wadi el-Hasa. Our party of five was led by Prof. Haim Ben–David who has hiked up and down some of the more rugged parts of the escarpment overlooking the Dead Sea and Wadi Araba. Several of these tracks follow or intersect some of the more spectacular Roman roads in the Near East. The track that starts just west of Mazar is a mixture of bull-dozed track, Roman road and footpath. In places there are traces of efforts to plough up a few of the flatter bits of ground. Most of the route is steep and rugged.

The direct distance is 8 km; the actual distance zig-zagging is probably twice that. Equally important is that the hike is largely over boulder-strewn ground in which it is usually impossible to stride out – instead the hiker has to be eyes-down and carefully picking footfalls. And it is steep – a vertical drop between start and the town of Safi is about 1.3 km.
A stretch of road with parallel steps.
Photographer: David Kennedy.
Click to enlarge.

Setting off at 06.30 the start was easy and cool; by 08.15 when we stopped to breakfast in a shady place it was hot. An hour more and it was VERY hot and rising. A lot of water was drunk and I needed three coats of factor 30+ sunscreen.

Haim is a skilled guide on the track and with impressive – almost incredible energy. I was impressed to hear he had once walked UP the Ascent – then down the adjacent wadi the next day. By the time we were half way down and at 200 m asl I was incredulous at the thought of walking up this route. Walking down was demanding on the calves; walking up would be a challenge to the lungs.

The Roman road is quite clear in places. The edges are usually a double thickness of roughly square boulders about 3 m apart. In places the path between is divided up by widely-spaced steps. On sharp bends there are supporting walls. We managed to walk along quite lengthy parts of the Roman road but probably the best section is near the end where the current track is some distance away. Instead we had to view the road zig-zagging up a distant slope.
The unreachable but tempting zig-zag of the Roman road near Safi.
Photographer: David Kennedy. Click to enlarge.

We finally reached Safi (-300 m bsl) at 15.30. Not without tears and pain – the undersigned became jelly-legged soon after midday and found walking, much less picking a path between, on and down boulders without losing balance, ‘challenging’. Shade was almost non-existent but the temptation to sit down had to be resisted. Fortunately Haim, Yeshu and Ezer were fitter and kept me going to where the guide had driven round and was ready to meet us. A day to remember. I cannot imagine I would ever do that walk again but I would certainly like to tackle it from the bottom to walk the bit of Roman road we saw but could not reach.
Our track ahead and soon to pass a fortlet on a plateau.
Photographer: David Kennedy. Click to enlarge.

As Haim points out, the engineering of the road implies a government agency rather than any local authority. Yet there are no milestones on the road, no graffiti by exhausted traveller; there is an apparent fortlet and there are at least three open-air mosques. Pottery sherds crop up regularly along the road and they are abundant at a few places.

We had already photographed the fortlet from the air thanks to co-ordinates from Haim. Now we can trace the route more accurately from our GPS track and compare the landscape on the 1953 vertical aerial photos. We can return and photograph it on a future flight. More important, there is scope and a great need for some energetic archaeologist to study the road in detail – especially as parts are being destroyed.


Thursday 24 May 2012

The Eurocopter: View from inside

The lens of Don Boyer captures David Kennedy and Mat Dalton at work over the landscape of Jordan on Flight 20120520.

Publications: Pioneers above Jordan

David L. Kennedy 2012 'Pioneers above Jordan: revealing a prehistoric landscape', Antiquity 86: 474-491.

Percy Maitland (centre) in Iraq c.1925 (Maitland Family Collection).

Aerial photography is so fundamental an instrument of modern archaeology that we often take it for granted. But its methods are surprisingly specific and its most important experimental theatre was probably the territory of the Levant—and especially the rocky terrain of Jordan. The author, a prominent aerial archaeologist of our own day, takes time off to review the achievements of the pioneers, serving officers who established routes over the desert to deliver mail between Egypt and Iraq. The fabulous ancient landscape they discovered could only be appreciated through the lowlevel window provided by these slow-moving rickety machines and their intrepid pilots. In these days of jet travel, the precious basalt landscape is in danger of slipping off the agenda again—both for researchers and conservers.

Full text:

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Flight 20120522 Taster- Pendant and Wheel

APAAME_20120522_DLK-0095. Photographer: David L. Kennedy. Click to enlarge.
Fantastic example of a Bullseye Pendant, with a tail constructed of small cairns, and a Wheel, with spokes radiating from a central 'hub'.

Monday 21 May 2012

Flight 20120520 - Eurocopter Kite Hunting

Our first flight got off to an early start (take-off at 06.10). With no Huey available we were squeezed into an EC 635 (Eurocopter). It is much more comfortable, easier to move around in, quieter and the headsets all work and are much clearer. On the other hand ... too small for our team, a narrow door with just room enough for two, seats set at right angles so we had to climb down and sit on the floor with our legs dangling out the door.

Mat sizes up the Eurocopter. Photographer: David L. Kennedy

Otherwise it was a very successful flight and the pilot - new to the job, soon picked up on our needs and was very skillful. After 4 hours he had had enough twisting and turning however - neither he nor the co-pilot had had breakfast, he had a headache and it was a safety issue. Hard to argue with. We will ensure we all have breakfast with us next time ... and Panadol.

The 20120520 team. Photographer: David. L. Kennedy.
It was a day for Kites (again). Quite a contrast between the simple Kites west of Azraq in the first stretch and the amazingly complex one later to the east. Time now to download, catalogue and prepare for the second flight on Tuesday.

Ausaji Kites 53 (left) and 54 (right). APAAME_20120520-DLK-0285. Photographer: David L. Kennedy.

Friday 18 May 2012

Digitising our Collection - Slides

The Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project has been in action since 1997, but before that David Kennedy was visiting sites in the Near East for his own enjoyment and research. Most of the images he took on the ground were processed into slides.

Slides are a thing of the past, and not the best way to store your negatives, and it is now one of our projects to digitise this collection and add it to our online archive.

The slides I have been starting on are photographs from Syria, taken in the 1970s, and have not been stored in optimal conditions. The 35mm negatives are mounted between thin glass within a slide frame, and then stored in slide sheets in a filing cabinet. Most slides have developed a sticky, oily residue from the interaction with non-archival plastic slide sheets, small spots of mildew have started to appear on the slides, and the colour of the slides has started to degrade, developing a magenta tinge. In some cases, the glass mounting has shattered, scratching the negative.
Slide scan of rock cut tombs in Dawa, North West Syria. c.1978. The remains of the oily residue can be see along the edges of the frame. Photography: David Kennedy. Click to enlarge image.

Slide scan of Qatoura, North West Syria, c.1978. Mildew spots and scratches to the negative can be seen in the blue of the sky above the town. Photograph: David Kennedy. Click to enlarge image.

A preliminary cleaning of the slides to remove what we could of the oily residue could not clean the frame well enough to remove all traces of the residue, and this did not tackle the minor mildew problems. With advice from the State Library of WA Conservator, we will be using a 50:50 solution of Ethanol Absolute and Deionised Distilled Water to clean the slide frames and glass mounting. This same solution can be applied carefully to those negatives that have been effected by mildew - but we must be careful not to let the solution interact with the emulsion side which could cause permanent damage to the slide. The ethanol solution will evaporate quickly and leaves no residue.

Once the slides have been cleaned and scanned - we hope that we will be able to edit the images individually to correct any permanent scars such as scratches, or any traces of dust that may have come through during the scanning process. Colour correction will be used to minimise the effects of the magenta tinge.

We shall let you know of our progress. Any advice is most welcome.