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 (Universit√† 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:

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:

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: or on their Twitter account @PalExFund