Friday 13 September 2013

Research: Harrat Khaybar

For quite some time now I have been working on a large group of kites we found in a high resolution window in Google Earth around the ancient oasis and site of Khaybar. The huge concentration of kites fascinated us, so we have been conducting a comprehensive study and gathering data on the kites. This has included taking measurements, mapping, drawing and creating typologies.

While I have been working away I have constantly been struck by the ‘grass is always greener’ mentality, and wondered what lay behind the fuzzy pixels of the lower resolution imagery around my high resolution window in Google Earth. Well, that was answered for me today by Bing maps. My window has been completely blown open, and though for brevity and time’s sake I shall no doubt have to limit my study to the original window in Google Earth, the additional information provided by the larger context is incredibly helpful.

Firstly, I can confirm my suspicions of patterns:– the amazing series of kites that almost appear strung together by their tails that are located to the east of Khaybar have sister strings to the south of the high resolution window.
A string of Kites from east of Khaybar (drawn: Rebecca Banks).
Secondly, a report with accompanying photography by M. John Roobol and Victor E. Camp in their ‘Explanatory Notes to the Geologic Map of the Cenozoic Lava Fields of Harrats Khaybar, Ithnayn, and Kura, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’ (1991) that showed what appeared to be a Kite stratified underneath a tongue of Pahoehoe lava of the Habir flow could be identified in the satellite imagery. The area reveals at least one Kite partly overlain by the lava flow – and several other stone structures as well. The Habir flow is ‘historic’ but the exact date is unknown – the eruption date could be anything between the 1st century AD and 1800 (Roobol & Camp: 23).

Thursday 12 September 2013

Archive: Ground photographs

If you follow our Flickr archive you will have noticed we have been uploading a large amount of ground photographs over the last couple of days. What, you may ask, is an AERIAL photographic archive doing uploading so many ground photographs?

Well, in short, you cannot make sound conclusions from the aerial photographs unless you go and have a look on the ground – and this is why we have conducted so many ground visits. Additional information can easily be gathered without the need to conduct any formal excavation – such as if stone is worked or not, if there are large amounts of pottery scattered over the site, and whether there are any associated structures not easily visible from the air such as wine presses, cisterns etc.

This means that on our Flickr photostream you may compare the impression you get from a site as seen from the air with how that site appears on the ground. Ground photographs reference numbers are prefixed by APAAMEG (Or you can find them all in the collection here).

Something you may have noticed is that we are continually returning to sites. We revisit sites that are at particular risk or are constantly changing – such as Yajuz and the risks associated with the urban development of Amman, or the ongoing excavation, conservation and restoration projects at Jerash. A good excuse to visit sites again is when the team has a new member.

Something new to our Flickr archive and still being trialled with this most recent upload of ground images is the inclusion of ‘Pleiades’ tags. Pleiades ( is an open source project developed by the Ancient World Mapping Centre, the Stoa Consortium and the Institute of the Ancient World. The database of sites is developed to act as a continually updated referenced atlas of the ancient world. They list 34,690 places and counting.

Each site has a unique identifier which you use to complete a ‘machine tag’: “Pleiades:depicts=******” if the site is depicted in the photograph, or “Pleaides:atteststo=*****” if the object photographed attests to the existence or location of the site- such as an inscription. There are other combinations too which you can read about on Sean Gillies blog.

By using these tags the Pleiades database recognises that we have photographs of their documented sites, and therefore people accessing their database of sites can easily access our photographs that relate to that site. Everyone ends up a winner! If you have feedback, please don’t forget to let us know.

If you are interested in the Pleiades project, or wish to become a contributor, please visit their website for more info.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Research: More on the Bekes (Beeks)

Emily and Charles Beke were early travellers in what is now Jordan. Emily was a particularly notable traveller simply as that rarity amongst western travellers up to that point – a woman. But even in 1862 she was not the first known western women to travel in Jordan – Charlotte Rowley had visited Petra with her husband and a friend in 1836 and Mary Ann Roberton Blaine was in northewestern Jordan with her husband in 1849.

The Beke family had also had a member in the region before Charles and Emily. In 1839 Charles’ younger brother, William Beek (he kept the old spelling of the family name), an engineer in The East India Company had worked with the Irishman, George Moore around the Dead Sea ('On the Dead Sea and Some Positions in Syria', JRGS 7 (1837): 456). Various hints point to William having also been to Petra and Jarash at least. William is an interesting character in his own right. A few years earlier he had apparently served as an adventurer in the army of the Persian Crown Prince, Abbas Mirza. It was reported that ‘he led a siege and an escapade against a Turkoman fortress in Khorasan’, in what is now Turkmenistan.

William later appears in Sicily and Italy apparently managing mining operations. An infant son died there as a gravestone from the English Cemetery at Messina in Sicily records:
“William James Beek born 1st December and died 25th June 1840, the son of Ann and William George Beek”.

Another son – Charley, survived to work alongside his father until the 1870s at least and a further son – Reginald Maitland Beek, married a girl in Queensland in September 1888.

A fascinating family and deserving of further investigation, not least for their activities ‘east of Jordan’.