Monday 11 May 2015

Sir Alexander Kennedy (17 March 1847 – 1 November 1928)

Sir Alexander Kennedy
At the time of his first visit to Petra in 1922, Sir Alexander Kennedy was 75 years. The visit certainly made an impression on him as he arranged to return the following year to spend a month there in studying its history and antiquities.   Although he was not an archaeologist by trade (he was senior partner of an engineering firm) – he was one of those early pioneers quick to recognise the importance of aerial photography to archaeologists in attempting to understand the landscape setting, as well as the distribution and range of sites (Bewley & Kennedy 2013: 231). Kennedy lamented the lack of a thorough scientific study of the area around Petra. Of the early visitors who came after Burckhardt in 1812, many of whom were unable to remain for much more than two or three nights, he observed that “…although many published their experiences, practically nothing of scientific value resulted from their visits” (Kennedy 1924: 273).

In a talk he later gave to the Royal Geographical Society, Kennedy gives an insight into what may have driven him to devote his energy to further study of Petra – he considered Musil’s second volume of Arabia Petræa to contain the “first map which possessed any value”, and then Brünnow and Domaszewski’s maps made from their visits in 1897 and 1898 to be the most accurate. He praised their work, however, he observed omissions and guesswork - “the irregularity and roughness of the ground make it extremely difficult to cover every square yard of some 6 or 8 miles; but nothing less would be for any investigation to be entirely exhaustive” (Kennedy 1924: 274).

During his second visit to Petra in 1923, Kennedy, despite his advanced age was busily engaged in mapping and photographing the area in detail. Towards the end of the season Kennedy suffered a stroke, from which he is reported to have recovered rather quickly. Despite the physical strain of the work, he again ventured to continue his study of Petra in 1924, “having at his own expense arranged with the Air Force for a complete aerial photographic survey of the whole area”
Philby (1948: 216) recalls;
“I worked with him on the ground again, and the result was a splendid, profusely illustrated volume called Petra, to which I wrote a foreword, descriptive of the country and its people. It was a remarkable feat for a man, who had never been in the East before, to perform between his seventy-sixth and seventy-eighth years.”

Kennedy’s securing of the services of the RAF squadron at Amman enabled a vertical survey of a wide area around the city centre to be taken - an area covering c.85km2
For an audience familiar with ground views, but unable to visualise the context and landscape, this would have been revelatory. But it was more than a novel view or general photomap; Kennedy evidently examined closely those frames that covered the central area of the city.” (Bewley & Kennedy 2013: 231)
The air-plane view shows also very distinctly the lines of the Roman streets and the outlines of some of some of the principal buildings or places, and many other points quite unrecognizable on the ground. (Kennedy 1924: 278-9). 

Oblique view of Wadi Musa, Petra - Kennedy (1925) Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Bewley, R. & Kennedy, D. (2013). Historical Aerial Imagery in Jordan and the Wider Middle East, in: W. S. Hanson & I. A. Oltean (eds) Archaeology from Historical Aerial and Satellite Archives. London: Springer: 221-242.
Kennedy, A. B. W. (1924). The rocks and monuments of Petra. The Geographical Journal, 63.4: 273-295.
Kennedy, A. B. W. (1925). Petra. Its history and monuments. London: Country Life.
Philby, H. StJ. B. (1948). Arabian Days. An autobiography. London: Robert Hale Limited.