Tuesday 8 December 2015

Mapping Jordan

Quite recently John Bartlett published a marvellous survey of Mapping Jordan through Two Millennia, London (Maney for PEF, 2008). Until the First World War all mapping had been terrestrial. Much was based on compass bearings and estimates of distance derived from travel time. As such there was progress but often still very inaccurate. Some of it was linear and reminiscent of the similar routes in the Roman map known as the Tabula Peutingeriana.

Major developments came in 1867 and – in particular, 1881 when the two expeditions sponsored by the Palestine Exploration Fund saw teams drawn from Britain’s Royal Engineers at work ‘east of Jordan’. The expedition led by Lt. Conder in 1881 had previously mapped extensively in ‘Western Palestine’. Now the grid was carried to ‘Eastern Palestine’ and places in north-western Jordan were carefully located by a sophisticated triangulation survey.

The next major development in mapping techniques and in increasing precision, was a by-product of war. All the protagonists on the ‘Palestine Front’ were in desperate need of reliable maps of both the wider area and specific sections of the Front. Much of the work of aerial photography for intelligence purposes and mapping was delegated to the sole Australian Squadron amongst the British Imperial air forces. No. 1 Squadron AFC was also sent across the R. Jordan to photograph specific places and bring back vertical and overlapping aerial photos of key features such as the major roads and the Hedjaz Railway line.

The British expeditions across the Jordan to attack the Turkish administration centre at Es-Salt and to Amman to cut the railway and block Turkish forces retreating northwards from Arabia and southern Jordan  took place in March, April-May and September 1918. There is no surprise that the Royal Engineers were soon preparing maps of the region between the R. Jordan and the Hedjaz Railway.

Three editions were published of each of two sheets – one for Es-Salt and one for Amman. Copies are held at The National Archive in London and in the State Library of New South Wales in Australia – and doubtless other places.

Rubric from 'Composite Map East of Jordan (Amman) 2nd. Edition' - "...detail overprinted in purple is from photographs taken by the R.A.F. ...", the first known use of aerial photographs in mapping Jordan.

What makes these sheets significant is that for the first time for Jordan, aerial photographs were utilized. Specifically, the 2nd editions of both the Amman and Es-Salt sheets have a rubric saying that the map was originally published on 22 April at which time they had already inserted some information from ‘RAF aeroplane photographs’ onto maps based on that originally made by Conder’s survey of 1881. Both sheets then have printed in purple: “The detail overprinted in purple is from photographs taken by the R.A.F. 7th Field Survey Coy. R.E., G.H.Q. E.E.F. 26th April 1918”. (27th April in the case of the Es-Salt sheet).

This is the first known use of aerial photographs for mapping in Jordan. It seems to follow on from the second abortive ‘raid’ east of the R. Jordan and may reflect the need for improved maps before the third – successful, expedition. Both sheets represent the use of aerial photos for Jordan which predates the use by the Germans on some of their maps of the same region – the German Salt sheet of 5 August 1918 has a rubric reading: ergänzt nach eigenen Messungen und nach Luftbildern der Feldflieger Abt(eilung) (“supplemented from our own measurements and from aerial photographs of the Field Aviation Unit”).

Once begun in 1918 the use of aerial photos for mapping was soon to become the most cost-effective and accurate method for Jordan and for everywhere else.

Friday 23 October 2015

Publications: Kites in Saudi Arabia

The November 2015 Special Issue of 'Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy' Desert Kites - Old Structures, New Research contains a paper on this project's research into the Kites in Saudi Arabia conducted by David Kennedy, Rebecca Banks and Matthew DaltonThe paper specifically focuses on the case study area of Harret Khaybar.

The collection of papers is the result of a stimulating workshop on Kites organised by Dr. Ueli Brunner and held at ICAANE IX in Basel, Switzerland (See blogs: May 2, 2014, and June 23, 2014).

David Kennedy, Rebecca Banks & Matthew Dalton
Kites in Saudi Arabia
Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy Vol. 26 iss. 2
Pages 177-195
DOI: 10.1111/aae.12053

The paper can be accessed through Wiley Online Library.

Friday 16 October 2015

FL20151014 - A fond farewell above Amman

Today was the final day’s flying of the 2015 season; we had hoped to fly at least one more trip but the weather intervened earlier in the week and the option of flying on the 15th was removed when the government announced that the Al Hijri New Year holiday would be on the Thursday, giving the Jordanians a long week-end.
Rebecca Banks and Jane Taylor getting ready for our last flight.
However there was a highlight, in that we were joined by Jane Taylor, author of the High Above Jordan and renowned photographer. It was Jane’s work which gave David Kennedy the inspiration to attempt to start an archaeological flying campaign; she blazed the trail which opened up access to the Royal Jordanian Air Force and she has been a great friend ever since, and supporter of our work.
The excavated site of Al-Kanisah Monastery west of Madaba.
The plan for the day was the greater Amman area, initially heading south for reconnaissance in the Madaba area – such old favourites as Rumeil, still looking in good condition but the terracing along its slopes becoming much more pronounced since we first photographed it in 1998 (see Ancient Jordan from the Air, pages 106-7).
The site of Rumeil.
Then on to Khirbat al-Mudayna, in the Wadi ath-Thamad, a substantial, defended hilltop enclosure, much changed since we were there in 1998 (ibid:112-113). It is an Early Iron age site, with its defences being started in the 9th century BC. The excavations have revealed the first ever excavation of a Moabite temple, and complexity of buildings which could only have been guessed at from its seemingly smooth surface. It may have been the site of Jahaz, the place name in the Bible of the battle between Sihon of Heshbon and the Israelites (Numbers 21, 21-4).
The excavations at Khirbet al-Mudayna.
We returned north to the now metropolitan landscape and were spoilt to a fly past the citadel of ancient Amman, a rare treat as air traffic is so restricted in the city centre.
Amman Citadel.
We refuelled at Marka and said our farewells to Jane, who we hope to see again in the skies above Jordan next year.
Quweismeh Tomb hidden amongst the modern urban fabric of Amman.
We returned to the air, this time just the two of us (Becc and Bob), to an intense 90 minutes of photography of targets, often crammed between roads, houses or hidden in trees. This may be the last chance to photograph some of these sites as the pressure for building land intensifies in Amman. The influx of refugees and others seeking work has made this city one of the fastest growing places in the Middle East.
Qasr Khilda, now sandwiched between urban apartment buildings.
Flying and photographing over cities is the most challenging of all aerial photographic missions; communication between pilot and photographer is key, as the targets are both difficult to spot and are so close together. Add to the mix the noise from “air traffic control” from the airport; continuously managing other traffic and then telling us that we can’t stay there and have to move away. Safety first, thankfully, given the proximity of some large buildings; at one point I was asking the pilot to orbit right – as I was looking out of the side of the helicopter; he replied “but doctor there is a large building in the way....” He is in charge so we went round the building.
"but doctor there is a large building in the way..." - photographing in Amman.
As this was our last flight of the season it is right to commend and thank all the pilots and staff of the RJAF for their professionalism and skill in taking us on these archaeological hunts, and bringing us back safely. We have covered the length and breadth of the country in almost 30 hours flying, and photographed many sites which we have not been seen before; sites under great threat and others which we hope will remain untouched for a long time to come.

Thursday 15 October 2015

FL20151013 - From Wadi Feinan to Wadi Mujib

We were joined on this trip by Isabelle Reuben, archaeologist and resident of Jordan for many years. We started as early as possible as we had a long transit flight down to the Wadi Feinan, some 80 nm south. The pilot treated us to a low-level fly past of Kerak castle, bathed in the orange glow of the rising sun.
A haze layer had settled over the Wadi Feinan but the light was still good enough for our photography. This is an area which has been well surveyed, by many overseas teams and a number of sites have been excavated too. In this instance, our photography was at the request of the University of California, San Diego Edom Lowlands Regional Archaeology Project.
The site of Feinan through the morning haze.
Sites we hadn’t seen before were also photographed, as was even more evidence of looting.
Looting in the Dead Sea valley east of Mazra'a.
Once again our re-fuelling air base was Al-Jafr and flying from the western fertile plateau it was striking just how quickly the agriculturally successful plains give way to almost completely barren basalt-strewn limestone as we fly east.

We had our first experience of a Jordanian wind farm, and on the return from our pit-stop the pilots decided to fly through middle of the them, rather than divert around, so we were able to capture some close ups of the turbines.
A windfarm.
The day was one of contrasts from long transits to intense photography of sites on the summits of dramatic wadis, and a descent into the margins of the Dead Sea and then up to the relative greenery of the fertile Kerak plateau.
The dramatic location of Gosa/Qosa al Hamra.
It is always good to have another, new, pair of eyes in the helicopter; Isabelle was no exception as she knows the landscape of Jordan so well and sees so much more, including the swarm of butterflies at the bottom of the palm tree outside the squadron building at Al-Jafr.
Butterflies at Al-Jafr.

FL20151011 - Into the east

The longest day so far in this season’s reconnaissance flights.

We had a very ambitious trip planned to circumnavigate the Badia region, the Panhandle, or what I like to refer to as the “black basalt desert’. The furthest point of our flight is the air base at Ruweishid, some 116 nm from Amman; a place we have come to grudgingly love over the years.

The trip involved three re-fuellings and well over the 70 sites scheduled were photographed; the pilots were two of the best in that we flew higher than is normal (as most helicopter pilot like to fly low) and responded perfectly to our needs, orbiting the sites as directed.

We started the day photographing a site that we had been informed was targeted in what can only be described as a mindless act - a huge scoop taken out of the side of Qasr Mushash by heavy machinery. This is a site we have photographed many times, and seeing it so altered after surviving so many years at the mercy of the elements (it is directly alongside a wadi) is such a shame. We are informed that the Department of Antiquities has been informed of the damage and we hope the site is successfully stabilised.
Qasr Mushash, with the offending gouge clearly evident.
We have done many trips in this region but today we targeted areas in the northern sector as we had not flown so often here (but we had to stay at least 10 nm from the borders). What struck me was that there were a number of small rectangular features and collapsed stone piles in this area; there is of course a plethora of wheels and circular enclosures as well as our favourite “kite” sites, draping the basalt landscape. These rectangular and other structures, which we are told should be referred to as ghurra huts, are most likely to date from the Early Bronze Age.
A cluster of 'Ghurra Huts' in the landscape.
There were places which were particularly important or notable. One was what we loosely referred to as a hillfort; it looks to be fortified – there are clear double faced walls, and it is clearly in a defensible location on a hill top or ridge of basalt. But what is its history, or prehistory? We were accompanied on the flight by Bernd Müller-Neuhof, (of the DAI) who had supplied most of the targets for the day. He plans to visit this site next April and discover more about it.
The fortified 'hill fort'.
The other striking place was what looked to me like a remnant of a small volcano, with 70% of its caldera still intact, or possibly the edge of a basalt flow masquerading as such. Two kites use the outer edges of the caldera slopes at the point where the tails merge to form a narrow neck before the head. The sites obviously made the most of the hill and slope (presumably for hunting). Again this is not a place that has been explored but I am beginning to think a field trip out there next year would be very useful and rewarding.
Two kites flanking and using the geology of the basalt landscape.
The logistics of these longer trips means re-fuelling at numerous different places, the furthest away being Ruweishid; this always adds spice to our day with a variety of cups or glasses of tea or coffee with the local squadrons, and we have learnt to bring our own supply of food too. Starting at seven in the morning and finishing the flying at around two o’clock in the afternoon is a severe test of stamina if there isn’t some nourishment and liquid intake.

Even though our day was long, we had intended to photograph further sites in the south of the Panhandle for the Jebel Qurma Project, but sadly this could not be achieved. There is always next season, إن شاء الله (Insha'Allah).
The flight team for FL20151011.
Although tired after such a long day it is also very stimulating (and rewarding) to have seen such interesting and often unrecorded archaeological landscapes. We hope that future research can enlighten us as to the nature and origins of these sites in this most dramatic, and now barren, place.

Saturday 10 October 2015

FL20151007 - Grounded due to weather

Our optimistic preflight preparations before the weather set in. Photograph: Mat Dalton.
The warm spell had gone, and the weather the morning of our scheduled Amman region flight (Wednesday 7 October) was decidedly poor but we sat in the helicopter with the engine turning in hope. Rather than a clearance, however, the rain started in earnest and we decided to post-pone. We had hoped to take an ex-student of David’s flying, who was having a short break in Jordan, but sadly all she experienced was the noise and anticipation of take-off.

The drive back from Marka to the British Institute (in the rain initially) was one of the worst we have ever had to do; climbing the final hills up from Sports City round-about was through low cloud with visibility down to a few metres. But we made it, unlike a few other motorists that day- at least 3 died as a result of the poor conditions across Jordan.

We planned to reschedule the trip to the 8th October but a combination of factors conspired to thwart this happening; the pilot had an exam at 0900 hrs, and the weather forecast continued to not look good. So this trip has now been scheduled for our last of the season on October 14th.

Today the weather is indeed better and we are anticipating taking off for our next flight to the east as scheduled tomorrow morning (11 October).
- Robert Bewley

FL20151005-06 - Migrating south for the archaeology

One of the purposes of our aerial reconnaissance in Jordan is to cover places we haven’t flown before as well as to monitor sites we may have photographed a few years ago. We also respond to requests for targets to be photographed. With all this in mind we organised a two-day trip to stay overnight in Aqaba on the Red Sea, flying from the air base in Marka (Amman).
An example of one of the impressive landscapes we were treated to. APAAME_20151005_REB-0152.
We flew down to the Tafilah-Kerak area, recording many stone-built sites and villages, and of course the odd Roman road, and crossing the very impressive Wadi al-Hasa and Wadi ad-Dana. However the light was not great, until about 8 o’clock, as the weather was on the change. The landscape did its best to distract us from the archaeology- except where the two went hand in hand such as the Iron Age site of Shag Rish dramatically perched above the Dana Nature Reserve to the south.
The Iron Age site of Shag Rish. APAAME_20151005_REB-0134.
We had to refuel at the desert oasis of Al-Jafr and en route spotted an archaeological excavation (in the middle of nowhere), which we presume to be part of the Japanese expedition exploring neolithic sites (Directed by Dr. Sumio Fuji). Arrival at Al-Jafr was a first for our co-pilot, who, despite having been in the RJAF for 6 years had never tasted the delights of Al-Jafr. Courtesy of a small convenience store the pilots indulged us with some Chocolate Milk before we headed south-east to record sites on the high plateau before dropping down into the Wadi Araba.
Excavations north-west of Al-Jafr. APAAME_20151005_DLK-0085.
We had the unexpected bonus of a reasonably high-level flight over Petra (gone are the days when we could descend in the helicopter to take close-ups of the tombs, but look at the photos from 1998 (Flickr album Flight 19980520)).
Petra. APAAME_20151005_DLK-0426.
Jordan was having a warm spell and Aqaba was 37 degrees, and as we were informed as we arrived at the hotel, the sea temperature was 26 degrees. Water has to be that warm to entice me in and very refreshing it was. Drying off on the beach I was joined by our crew-man, who spoke good English and asked why we always photograph the same sites (as he has been on many trips with us). I explained that we didn’t but that we fly very similar areas as there are so many sites, often very close together. He then asked if the sea was "perfidious". I struggled for an answer, but said that if he meant treacherous then yes, but we wouldn’t necessarily use “perfidious” for the sea.
The landscape of Wadi Rum. APAAME_20151006_REB-0013.
The next day was one of the rare days when not only is the archaeology stunning, so was the scenery and the flying. We literally climbed the hills out of Aqaba to the east (and slightly north), and emerged (having dodged a few clouds) into the Wadi Rum. It doesn’t matter which way we looked, into the hazy sun, or with the sun behind us, the scenery was quite enthralling.

The archaeological site of Wadi Rum. APAAME_20151006_REB-0026.
We then aimed for the Hejaz railway to continue where we had left off the previous year, helping the Great Arab Revolt Project (GARP) with its surveys; many Ottoman installations and tent circles are clearly visible. The isolated Hajj Fort of Qal'at Fassu'ah was also a highlight.
Qal'at Fassu'ah. APAAME_20151006_DLK-0097.
An extended break between sites along the Hijaz saw our pilots give us an example of their idea of flying. The pilots decided that the helicopter was a train and they flew at low-level above the tracks making “chuff-chuff” noises. Bored with this, and seeing that the main road to Saudi Arabia adjacent to the railway they decided to pretend to be a lorry, on the wrong side of the road; all the while reassuring us that the oncoming lorry drivers were laughing and waving, thinking how much fun this was for them. We do now have some very “low-level obliques” of vehicles not many feet away.
A lorry driver waving as we flew by. APAAME_20151006_RHB-0137.
We were glad of a pit-stop at Al-Jafr to regain some composure after such 'interesting' flying, and refuel for the helicopter and ourselves, consisting of dates and digestive biscuits sitting in the shade of the Huey.
Qasr Mesheish. The damage, probably done for the building stone, is clearly evident. APAAME_20151006_DLK-0347.
The final leg heading north back to Amman took us to a site Sir Aurel Stein had photographed in the 1930s, Qasr Mesheish – the site was visited by both Musil and Glueck, but has not been researched since to our knowledge. Their opinion was it may have Nabatean origins, perhaps a caravanserai. There are clearly other features nearby, a structure or enclosure with tower, as well as cisterns, and a later(?) cemetery. Unfortunately, the site is clearly suffering extreme damage. Our final target for the day was over the caravanserai of Khan es-Zabib.

The secondary structure at Qasr Mesheish - a tower within a larger enclosure. APAAME_20151006_DLK-0350.
Tired but invigorated after a very special and privileged two-day reconnaissance over southern Jordan, we drank tea (or coffee) with the flight commander to plan the next day’s flight, over the Greater Amman area.

- Robert Bewley and Rebecca Banks

Saturday 3 October 2015

Flight 20151001 - And we’re off the ground

After a very busy and engaging four days taking part in the Protecting the Past Conference at The Jordan Museum, on the first of the month we finally got air borne.

The 'Mafraq-Zerbini' formation. APAAME_20151001_RHB-0240.
There were a few “firsts” on this flight – Andrea Zerbini’s first trip in the Huey helicopter over Jordan, which he survived well and it was very useful to have his knowledge of the sites in this region. After 18 years this was the first time that we discovered (with the useful intervention of the ground crew at Mafraq) that the so-called ‘donkey seat’, which normally faces forward, could be turned through 90 degrees and join the rest of us on the bench. We’ll now refer to this as the “Mafraq-Zerbini’ formation.

The Irbid Bypass in construction. APAAME_20151001_MND-0126.
True to the theme of the Conference “Archaeology, conservation and tourism in the north of Jordan”, our first flight was to the north in the vicinity of Irbid. There is a large bypass being constructed around the west of the city, a concentration of limestone quarries to the south-west, as well as a few sites we had not seen for quite some time – so we thought we would have a look at how the archaeology of the region was faring.

The remaining half of Tell esh-Sheqaq (JADIS:2221018, MEGA-J:11494). APAAME_20151001_REB-0210.
As much as we hate to be a stick in the mud, there is evidence that this region’s archaeology and heritage is under pressure. Many of the small tell sites to the west of Irbid showed evidence of damage from quarrying or the removal of earth for what we presume is agricultural purposes. There were numerous examples of cemeteries having been found and systematically looted. Some of this damage appears to have taken place well in the past, but some was indeed fresh. Our camera also captured exposed excavations, sites in the vicinity of, or being cut by, the new bypass, and many sites precariously close to the edges of limestone quarries.

Samad (JADIS:2220050, MEGA-J:11471). Quarrying can be seen in the distance. APAAME_20151001_REB-0399.
That said, there are so many and diverse sites in this region that there was no shortage of ones that appear not to have changed in the time we have been monitoring them, and they are testimony to the depth of time and culture in this region. It was a great start to this season’s flying and we are grateful to the Royal Jordanian Air Force for their professionalism, skill and hospitality.

Rebecca Banks & Bob Bewley

Thursday 13 August 2015

Early Archaeological ‘Discovery’ from the Air in the Middle East – 1912

Not an aeroplane this time but a dirigible … and it was an accidental discovery … and not on land … and already known … Apart from all that … it is still of interest and relevance.

The ‘Foreign News’ section of the January 1913 issue of Aircraft magazine carries a short report of a discovery made by Italian forces just after the end of the Italo–Turkish War (September 29, 1911 to October 18, 1912) which had resulted in Italy’s annexation of Libya.

After it had run aground in 1803 during a Barbary Expedition of the US Navy, and its crew been forced to surrender, the USS Philadelphia had been deliberately destroyed by other US forces to prevent it falling into the hands of Tripolitanian corsairs.

Contemporary newspapers of 1913 in the United States reported the discovery … then later published a further report that the wreck had already been discovered in 1904 by a British scholar who had even sent parts of its timber including an embedded cannonball to the US Naval Academy Museum. So, at best a re-discovery but certainly an example of spotting from the air over water. And, according to a US newspaper of the time, the Italian ‘aeronauts’, had taken photographs.

The Italo–Turkish War involved a number of ‘firsts’ for aviation - all Italian as the Turks had no aircraft: the first aerial reconnaissance, the first bombing from the air and the first aircraft shot down.


Wednesday 12 August 2015

Historical Imagery: The Earliest Aerial Archaeology in the Middle East - I spoke too soon

1914? 1913

Marc Bonnier – who piloted Kofler on his initial flights in Egypt some time between 2-12 January 1914, was one of three French pilots competing to be the first to fly from Paris to Cairo. Pierre Daucourt had crashed in the Taurus Mts of southeast Turkey. A second, Jules Védrines, reached Cairo first on 28 December 1913. However, Védrines and Bonnier had reached Istanbul together on 3 December 1913, been held up there together for a fortnight then set off on 17th December and spent the night at Iznik before continuing to Konya on 18th, where they met up for the last time before Cairo.

Iznik today, as seen in Google Earth.
An Anonymous article published in the magazine L’Illustration of 10 January 1914, surveys the experience of the Bonnier and Védrines between Istanbul and Cairo. Particularly interesting is the photograph below of Iznik – dwarfed by the extensive ancient city walls of Roman Nicaea. Bonnier referred to it in his quoted correspondence with the magazine and the caption credits the photo to his passenger/ mechanic, Joseph Barnier. The photograph was evidently taken as they left Iznik on 18 December 1913 and was intended to capture the very striking archaeological remains.

Barnier is surely again the photographer during the next stages with other aerial photographs of archaeological sites in subsequent articles in L’Illustration and Lectures pour tous, of Tripoli (taken between 21-29 December 1914), Acre (31 December 1913) and Jerusalem (1 January 1914).

What became of the negatives or even the original prints is unknown (to me, at least). The published versions in the magazines are relatively high quality, not least that of Iznik (though that below is a poor scan from the digitized copy of the magazine).

The photograph of Iznik published in Anonymous (1914) “Paris - le Caire en aéroplane”, L'Illustration, nr 3698 (10 Janvier): pp. 28-29.
These may well be the earliest photographs of archaeological sites taken from an aeroplane anywhere and almost certainly the earliest in the Middle East – as much as two weeks before those taken by Kofler in Egypt.

The end of the search? Maybe not … Had Bonnier/ Barnier already taken aerial photographs of places seen during their flight through the Balkans? And – more particularly, of Constantinople, where he was held up for two weeks with his aeroplane at San Stefano (site of the current Ataturk Airport)?

And then there is Oswald Watt, the commander of the Australian Flying Corps Squadron 1 in Egypt and Palestine in the latter part of the First World War, who had been in Egypt 2-3 years before. Coming from a wealthy Australian family and already holding one of the earliest pilot’s licences, he had been granted a messy and scandalous divorce in June 1913 and immediately afterwards travelled to Egypt to take over an aeroplane he had bought. He then remained there through much of 1914 till volunteering his services and his aeroplane to the French government at the outbreak of war in August. Rich enough to own an aeroplane … and a camera? He survived the war but died in a silly accident a few years later.

And what of the Spanish Air Force? In October or November 1913 one of their officers photographed from the air his ‘campo de aviación’ at Tetúan in what was then a sliver of Spanish territory in present-day Morocco. Not archaeological but just 4 km to the south lay the ruins of the Phoenician and Roman city of Tamuda …

Anonymous (1913) “Aviateurs espagnols blessés en guerre”, L’Illustration No. 3696, (27 Décembre).
Anonymous (1914) “Paris - le Caire en aéroplane”, L'Illustration, nr 3698 (10 Janvier): pp. 28-29.
Bonnier, M. (1914a) “Impressions d’aviateur en Orient. D’Adana au Caire par les Lieux Saints”, L’Illustration 3701 (31 Janvier): 76-7.
Bonnier, M. (1914b) “Quand je volais au dessus des Pyramides”, Lectures pour tous, 15 (1 May): 1270-1280.


Friday 31 July 2015

Historical Imagery: The Earliest Aerial Archaeology in the Middle East - 1914?

Standard accounts of the origins of aerial photography of archaeological sites report photographs taken from balloon (Stonehenge in 1906) and kite (Wellcome’s excavations in the Sudan in 1913). However, the significant development only seems to have come in 1916 when Theodor Wiegand persuaded the German air force in Syria to take hundreds of aerial photographs of archaeological sites in Palestine and Transjordan (100 of which were published in 1925). Further aerial views of archaeological sites in the wider Middle East were taken during the First World War (albeit often for principally military objectives).

Now we have this astonishing discovery – an album of aerial photographs of archaeological sites in Egypt by a man who never figures in any accounts of the beginnings of Aerial Archaeology. Theodor Kofler (1877-1957) was born in Innsbruck a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but lived much of his adult life in Egypt then in East Africa and South Africa. In Egypt he operated as a professional photographer and in early 1914 when several successive aircraft arrived for brief visits, he joined Marc Bonnier, a French pilot, between 2 and 12 January on one or more flights to photograph pyramids and other ancient sites. He probably flew again in April that year but with the outbreak of war in August, he was interned in Malta as an enemy alien. Later that same year aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) arrived in Egypt for the first time and with a year or two were taking aerial photos of archaeological.

Some of Kofler’s archaeological aerial photos – all usually labelled with his name and the year (1914) were included in the publications of others in the 1920s but his own album was forgotten until a near-complete set turned up in a sale in 2000. Thanks to Patrizia Piacentini (Università degli studi di Milano)  and colleagues, we now have this delightful bilingual (Italian and English) exhibition catalogue with a series of useful essays on Kofler, the flights and the photographs and reproduction of 21 aerial photos of sites ranging from Giza to Thebes.
Piacentini, P. (2015) Egitto dal cielo 1914. La riscoperta del fotografo pioniere prigioniero professionista (Egypt from the Sky 1914. The Rediscovery of the Photographer Pioneer Prisoner Professional), Firenze (Phasar Edizione).

 - DLK

Monday 27 July 2015

Historical Imagery - Dumeir: IWM German First World War Official Exchange Collection

The Imperial War Museum in London includes a group of photographs obtained by exchange from Germany after the First World War of places photographed by their personnel in the Palestine Front region: the GERMAN FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL EXCHANGE COLLECTION.

This one (Q 86279) is labelled as ‘The Old Temple near Amman”. That is plainly incorrect and the environment suggests somewhere with modern use of mud-brick. Thanks to Rebecca Banks’ sharp eye, the correct identification is a temple - still well-preserved (till recently at least), at Dmeir/Dumeir northeast of Damascus.


Ross Burns describes the monument in the following passage from 'Monuments of Syria':
"It was dedicated as a temple to Zeus Hypsistos in 245 during the reign of the Emperor Philip the Arab (Emperor 244-9) who was born in the Hauran region of Syria (*Shahba)... There may thus have been some changes of plan during the long construction period. An earlier altar dedicated to the Semitic deity, Baal-Shamin, in AD 94 (now in the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris) indicates that a Nabataean religious building previously stood on the site.
The genesis and original purpose of the building are not clear. The shape is highly unusual. Construction may have commenced as a public fountain or as a staging post on the intersection of two important caravan routes (hence the quadrilateral plan and four entrances). Perhaps it was even an elaborate triumphal arch... The argument for seeing it as a temple, at least in its final form, is underlined by the use of corner towers and staircases giving access to the roof for ritual purposes in the Syro-Phoenician tradition... It was fortified in the Arab period; the arch on the rear wall [seen in this photograph] remains completely filled in with stones and defensive devices." 
Ross Burns (1999) Monuments of Syria: an historical guide (Rev. ed.), I. B. Tauris Publishers: London, New York: 115-116.
You can see more recent photographs of the site on the Ross Burns' website of the same name.

Photographs of the condition of the site after a period of bombardment in the current civil war can be seen on the website of the Association for the Protection of Syrian Archaeology.


Monday 13 July 2015

Conference: ASTENE 11th Biennial Conference 17-20 July 2015, Exeter

The Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East (ASTENE) will be holding its 11th Biennial Conference this month.

David Kennedy will be presenting in the first session 'Archive Discoveries-journeys and records' on Friday 17th July on the topic of 'Travellers to Petra in 1857'.

The available catalogues of known visitors to Petra for 1857 list just one party – consisting of a single person – J. R. Roth. Murray’s Handbook, however – published for the first time in 1858, reports that many western travellers had gone there in 1857 but been faced with violence and robbery. The author of ‘Murray’ – J. L. Porter who was resident in Damascus for a decade (1849-59), provides no further detail. Research has revealed further published accounts of travellers, several major unpublished ones and references to yet more otherwise unknown travellers. It is clear several parties visited Petra in 1857 - including one of the largest ever; a total of at least 57 westerners including three women and several notable characters. We now have quite detailed evidence of their experiences: one was shot and his cook killed, one died at Aqaba en route and another died soon after leaving Petra. All complained of the violent reception they met at Petra, and almost all were effectively driven away after just a night or two. It had not always been like that and the apparent decline in visitors after 1857 would have been a serious loss of income for escorts and guides. Closer examination suggests possible explanations.

Don Boyer will also be presenting a paper, 'Guilty or innocent? The Buckingham v. Bankes libel trial of 1826' on Sunday July 19th in Session 8: Archive discoveries – personalities and experiences part 2.

For the full programme and more information on ASTENE, please see their website: http://www.astene.org.uk/2015-conference/

Thursday 9 July 2015

Conference: The Palestine Exploration Fund is 150 Years Old

The Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) was one of those marvellous 19th century initiatives designed to support and promote exploration in a world being shrunk by hugely increased means of travel. Its publications continue still in the form of the Palestine Exploration Quarterly (PEQ) but the spate of publications in the 19th century can all still be read freely and provide marvellous insights into what was being tackled.

Central to PEF research were its expeditions to survey Jerusalem, Western Palestine and later Eastern Palestine. The last of these was undertaken by two men seconded from the Royal Engineers in 1867 (Lt. Warren) and 1881 (Capt. Conder) respectively. Both published extensive reports, including photographs and numerous drawings and a map made by careful triangulation survey. The area surveyed was essentially the hinterland of what was once the Roman city of Philadelphia (modern Amman).

The landscapes seen by the PEF surveyors included hundreds of archaeological sites. Most have been damaged extensively and many totally destroyed. The reason is the steep and rapid rise in population. Like its neighbours, Jordan’s population has grown under the influence of modern medicine lowering infant mortality and extending life expectancy. Like its neighbours it has received waves of refugees but unlike its neighbours, the numbers in Jordan are far higher. The result is an increase of c. 2400% between the 1940s and today. The impact on Jordan’s archaeological heritage has been especially catastrophic in the region in which most of the population lives – the northwest and precisely Amman and its hinterland.

Last Friday (3 July 2015) the PEF organised a one-day conference in conjunction with the British Museum on “Crisis through the Ages” to celebrate its anniversary. About 250 people met in the BM to hear 6 lectures on various periods from early Prehistory to the end of the Ottoman rule in 1918. The entire programme can still be seen on the PEF web site.

My own contribution - “Losing the Rural Landscape of Roman Philadelphia”, relied extensively on the ways in which a range of sources – published and unpublished, may help define and record what was once there and may yet be salvaged. Especially useful are aerial photographs, the earliest of which for the Philadelphia region are those taken by German, Australian and British pilots in 1918. And now we are flying again in a programme of Aerial Archaeology which began in 1997- the photos from which are part of the c. 90,000 on our APAAME site:https://www.flickr.com/APAAME/collections

Prof. David Kennedy's presentation 'Losing the Rural Landscape of Roman Philadelphia' for the Palestine Exploration Fund 150 Anniversary Conference 'Crisis through the Ages' at the British Museum, 3 July 2015. Photograph: Andrea Zerbini
PEF plans to publish written versions of the lectures from the conference. My contribution is part of wider research for a book in preparation – The Hinterland of Roman Philadelphia.

Oxford, 9 July 2015

You can follow the Palestine Exploration Fund through their Blog: http://www.pef.org.uk/blog/ or on their Twitter account @PalExFund