Friday 8 December 2017

Aerial Archaeology in Saudi Arabia

Following the media surrounding David Kennedy's recent publication in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy about the stone built structures in the area of Harrat Khaybar in Saudi Arabia, Professor David Kennedy was invited to visit and conduct aerial photography in the region of al-'Ula.

You can read about his experience in an article he wrote for LiveScience: 'Aerial Images May Unlock Enigma of Ancient Stone Structures in Saudi Arabia'.

He was accompanied on one flight by journalist Aisha Fareed, and this video was produced for Arab News.

If the video is not loading properly you can view it on YouTube at:
You can read their full article on Arab News:

Thursday 19 October 2017

APAAME Research on Live Science

An article featuring our research into the mysterious stone structures, known as 'gates', has been posted on the Live Science website. Please follow this link to view the article:

"Almost 400 mysterious stone structures dating back thousands of years have been discovered in Saudi Arabia, with a few of these wall-like formations draping across old lava domes, archaeologists report."

A paper on these structures by David Kennedy is set to be published in the November issue of Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.

Thursday 21 September 2017

The UCL Institute of Archaeology Air Survey Photographs: an archaeological reference collection of Royal Air Force aerial imagery from 1918–1939

This blog was first featured on the EAMENA blog on September 4, 2017. It is replicated here by the author. The digitised collection is available for browsing through an Album on our Flickr. The collection material is accessible through contact with the UCL Institution of Archaeology Collections Manager Ian Carroll:

The UCL Institute of Archaeology Collections Air Survey photographs comprise a series of glass plate negatives, cellulose negatives, safety negatives, and prints of Royal Air Force (RAF) aerial photographs taken between 1918 and 1939. The photographs are predominantly of Iraq, the former Transjordan, Egypt, and Sudan (see distribution map). Recently, EAMENA put out a call for information regarding collections of aerial photography. One of the reasons for this is that the aerial photography conducted by the Royal Air Force in the Mandate territories was not comprehensively archived, and some of it was destroyed once it had served its immediate use. What has survived is fragmented, so we are trying to find and piece together those fragments because these images are an amazing resource for discovery, monitoring and analysis of archaeological sites. The UCL collection is one of the larger collections of RAF imagery from the Middle East, and its survival for use in archaeological research was no accident.
One of the glass plate negative boxes, and glass plates encased in RAF envelopes at the UCL Institute of Archaeology Special Collections. Photograph: Rebecca Repper.

This collection originated from a deposit made by O.G.S. Crawford to The British Museum of "obsolete" photographs collected from the RAF during a tour of Iraq, Transjordan, and Egypt in 1928, made at his own expense. In a presentation to the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) and published in The Geographical Journal in 1929, Crawford describes how he enlisted the help of the Air Ministry to photograph sites of archaeological interest, and stated that "these, and also many existing but obsolete negatives abroad, should be handed over to the Director of the British Museum, to form the nucleus of a national collection." The exact contents of this original deposit, however, are not entirely clear from the written record. Crawford stated to the RGS a number of 1,700 negatives; the British Museum Trustee Minutes of 8th June 1929 state 1,150 glass plate negatives and nine rolls of film. This original deposit is likely to be those items now in the UCL Collection, numbered AP1–1356, or possibly all the way to AP1405 (note that there are no items between AP1101–1202 due to misnumbering). As stated, these are predominantly glass plate negatives (most likely gelatin dry plate). It is important to note that many of these are re-photographs of prints or mosaics, which was possibly a mechanism used by the RAF for copying developed material. The original rolls of film have been copied to safety negative film.

Crawford arranged with the Air Ministry for further photography of archaeological sites to be contributed, and the collection continued to grow from these subsequent deposits. The British Museum Trustee Minutes note at least two deposits of this nature: one in 1931 (Trustee Minutes 12th December 1931) and another in 1938 (Trustee Minutes 14th May 1938). These are predominantly 5 x 5 inch cellulose negatives, and some rolls of film (that have been copied to safety negatives). The UCL collection also includes photographs taken as part of Sir Aurel Stein's aerial survey of Iraq with the help of the RAF in 1938 and 1939, so at least one further deposit must have been made, but whether this came from the Air Ministry or from Stein himself has not yet been confirmed. Prints of the majority of this Stein survey material are at The British Academy Archive, though there is some variation in annotation (ASA/3 - see our previous blog, and the Flickr photoset by APAAME). This collection of aerial photographs was originally going to be transferred from the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum to the Ordnance Survey, where a plan for an aerial photographic library was underway (Trustee's Minutes 12th October 1940, 11th October 1941), but this never came to pass. Instead it was agreed that the collection should be transferred to the Library of the Institute of Archaeology (The National Archives, OS1/384, letter marked '58A', dated 31 May 1949) at Crawford's suggestion (Trustee's Minutes 9 July 1949) to continue as a collection for archaeological reference and something that would be of interest to students. It is now part of the UCL Institute of Archaeology Collections.
Aerial photographs AP816-920, 922-950 of the site of Ur. Background imagery: Google Earth.
The photographs are vertical, oblique, and photo-mosaics. Many of the vertical images comprise series of overlapping photographs. These include such major sites as Ur (AP702–726, 742–886, 888–896, 908–915, 951, 953–955), Mosul (AP451–477), Sulaymaniya (AP678–699), Tell Afar (AP13–27), Erbil (AP319–356), Ctesiphon/Seleukia (AP108–173), Azraq (AP972–1021), Abydos (AP1241–1283), and Giza (AP1615–1622, 1623a).

Photo-mosaics produced from the aerial photography taken by 14 Squadron are particularly common for former Transjordan, including a continuous photo mosaic over four frames of the River Jordan (AP1086–1089), and for the area of Petra and Beidha (AP1286–1289). In only a few instances are the individual frames and the photo mosaic both included in the collection, for example, for Qasr Uweinid (AP1036–1038 and AP1040). This is useful because the creation of a photo-mosaic introduced further distortions into the imagery.

Qasr Uweinid individual frames AP1036-1038 (above), and their mosaic AP1040 (below). Background imagery: Google Earth.

The collection captures some sites in the process of excavation, such as Ur and Khorsobad, and also includes a small number of ground photographs of these two sites (AP645–665 and AP1806–1812, respectively), as well as a single ground shot of Nineveh (AP1805).

The majority of sites captured in Egypt and Sudan follow the Nile, including an extensive collection of photographs of the well-known site of Giza, as well as other pyramids further south. An exception is a small series capturing archaeological sites in the vicinity of the northern section of the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula (AP1591–1614).
The distribution of sites featured in the UCL Institute of Archaeology Air Survey photograph collection negatives. Background imagery: Google Earth.
This collection was digitised by the APAAME project in 2016 in agreement with the UCL Institute of Archaeology, and in co-operation with the EAMENA project. Where known, images have been geo-located, and this process is on-going. Interestingly, one image, AP357, seems, due to the architectural style visible in the photo, to not be of a site located in the Middle East or North Africa region at all and remains a mystery. Geo-location is assisted by the annotations on the (deteriorating) photograph envelopes; where this type of information was available, this has been included in the image caption on the APAAME Flickr page. These annotations are particularly rich for the original deposit by Crawford, where the majority of glass plates are enclosed in RAF aerial photograph annotated envelopes (or replacement 'Antiquity' or 'Ordnance Survey' stationery), and are secured in wooden glass plate cases.

Only the negatives were digitized. Some interruptions in the sequence of photographs suggest some items are missing, while others have been broken (where possible the latter have been included in the scanning process). There are also prints in the collection, but these have not yet been fully investigated. All enquiries regarding access to the collection and reproduction of the images must be directed to the Collections Manager, Ian Carroll: We thank Ian Carroll and UCL Institute of Archaeology for their co-operation and assistance during the lengthy digitisation process. Thanks also go to Francesca Hillier (The British Museum Archive), Patricia Usick (The British Museum Egyptian Department), and Angela Grimshaw (The British Museum Middle East Department), who have assisted in our enquiries regarding the provenance of this collection.

The digitised collection can be browsed on the APAAME Flickr page.

Information regarding the UCL Institute of Archaeology and their Collections and Archive can be found at the following links:

Wednesday 14 June 2017

A new use for the Blackhawks.

HRH Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II during an aerial tour in Jordan’s skies over the Dead Sea.

Monday 27 March 2017

An Unexpected Commemoration of the Tapline

A regular sight while flying over the Harret al-Shaam in Jordan is the ruler-straight line of the road running alongside the long-defunct Trans-Arabian Pipeline which carried fuel from Saudi Arabia to Sidon in Lebanon from 1950 till – for its section into Jordan, 1990.

As the photo shows, the Tapline road and pipe often cut through ancient structures - in this case it is Ausaji Kite 31.

An unexpected reminder can be found in New York where the High Line Walkway/ Park – a 1.45 mile disused elevated section of an old railway line in west-central Manhattan, includes open-air art.

In this case it is a series of engraved rings welded to the old rail lines, each commemorating a section of the Tapline.

Monday 6 March 2017

1937 Aerial Photos of ‘Pre-State Israel’

The 5th March 2017 edition of Haaretz carries a feature about the publisher Zalman Schocken and the unusual gift he had put together for some friends –  albums of 40 aerial views of places in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. Previously almost all such photography was the preserve of the military – beginning with those taken for Gustav Dalman by the German air force in Palestine and adjacent areas during the First World War. Several copies now reside in the National Library of Israel.
Atlit Castle

Sunday 5 March 2017

Winged Crusaders and RAF's 14 Squadron in Jordan

I corresponded with the author several years ago and he kindly sent drafts of a couple of chapters covering 1915 to 1945 but I then missed that he had published the book. Now available in hard copy or as Kindle download. No 14 was the sole RAF squadron in Transjordan between the wars and carried out several programmes of aerial photography.

Napier, M. (2013) Winged Crusaders: The Exploits of 14 Squadron RFC & RAF 1915-45, London (Pen & Sword Books Ltd)

Friday 3 March 2017

Motion Picture Aerial Archaeology

An earlier blog looked at the flights and photography of archaeological sites in Transjordan and Iraq of Robert Alexander MacLean in Summer 1922. Three years later (1925) MacLean joined a Franco-American expedition excavating at Carthage. One of the Co-Directors was a man with the memorable name of Count Byron Khun de Prorok. Thanks to 35 years of research by Michael Tarabulski, it is possible to trace the life and career … and transformation of Francis Victor Kuhn (= Cohen) (1896-1954) from his birth in Mexico City to prosperous Central European immigrants through the adoption of a name from his favourite romantic poet, the more Hungarian-sounding spelling of his surname to Khun and the doubtful claim to a title. After education in France, Britain and Switzerland, he had worked on excavations in Italy, visited Carthage in 1920 and then in 1922 (still just 26) began the first of three seasons of excavation there. He soon also made a reputation as a galvanizing public lecturer and toured widely, but was eyed with suspicion by professional archaeologists who regarded him as a “showman, dabbler, and dilettante” and ultimately his conduct led to academic scandal and discredit as a tomb robber and to his conviction Atlantis lay beneath the Sahara. There may have been some further personal scandal as his first father-in-law (he married four times) succeeded in ensuring that when his daughter - after just 4 years, separated from then divorced him, de Prorok gave up not just care of the two children but never saw them again; indeed the children even had their personal names changed when adopted by their grandfather (all this from the research of Michael Tarabulski).

De Prorok’s reputation as a public speaker was founded in part on his use of motion pictures taken on his fieldtrips and excavations, a technique then in its infancy. More than that, however, he was a pioneer not just in taking aerial photographs for recording and discovery at and around Carthage, but using a movie camera in the air as well. Whether he was the first to do so in the Middle East and North Africa region is unclear. Some of his film was broadcast from time to time by Pathe as part of its popular cinema News programmes. For example, Pathe Review No. 46 of 1926 included “The Lost Empire of Africa: A camera chronicle of the American excavations at ancient Carthage led by the Count de Prorok”.

Neither the Pathe material nor de Prorok’s own copies - perhaps sold-off or discarded in his last years when he was in serious financial difficulties, seems to have survived.

What he did and was trying to achieve is explained in some detail by de Prorok in his 1926 book, Digging for Lost African Gods (40-41) where he differentiates between films (moving pictures) and photographs (still shots) and introduces he nearly as enigmatic colleague:
We took films of what we were doing. It was the first time that archaeological research had been filmed, and the idea did not meet with very great favour at first. Since then, however, the value of the step has been recognised, and it is a common practise in many universities to-day, to use films for instruction. Our photographer was the young Prince Edgard de Waldeck, who had spent a fortnight of intensive training in Paris, preparatory to this task. 

Later (71-2):
These are the things we talked about on the voyage, because we were all  keyed up by the prospect of a great advance. We talked about what we had done, and what we were going to do. Of all our future plans, perhaps two stood out most vividly
The first was the use of the Aeroplane in archaeology. That venture, as an experiment, materialized three years ago [1922], and since then we have continued, year by year, our prospecting from the air.
In 1922, we took our first films and photographs from different heights, which resulted in our being able to trace the great submerged walls of ancient Carthage. Flying above the Gulf of Tunis, we were able to film clearly six miles of submerged wall, showing constructions a hundred and fifty yards from the present shore. I can still remember the interest with which the news was received by the Royal Geographical Society, when I lectured to them on the subject in London.
… Our use of the aeroplane this year is to be more varied. At the moment we are using it to film the whole coast line, especially at a spot where we have located a sunken galley a stupendous find, of which I shall say more later and at the legendary island of Djerba, where we have located a city under the sea

And later still (181):
            The sea has also made a great deal of change on all this peninsula, but it is very difficult to ascertain at what period it encroached on the land. From the splendid film taken from the air by the late Prince deWaldeck, who was killed on his way back from Carthage this June, it is possible to perceive constructions as much as 100 yards out to sea.
This film is a unique documentation in archaeology, it being the first attempt to film submarine ruins and record their position. The film and photographs were taken at a height of 1500 feet and again at 400 feet, and are superior to any record we could have made on the sea surface. One can trace not only the ancient sea-wall, which in parts is at a depth of 30 feet, but one can study the topography of the peninsula to an extraordinary extent. The bed of the Mejerda is clearly outlined, the wall of Theodosius can be followed approximately, and even the Roman allotments are defined. Soundings off Carthage were undertaken in 1898 by M. de Roquefeuil, but only in that portion of the coast where Roman Carthage was built, that is between La Goulette and Cap Carthage.
That there was a port at La Marsa is certain from the film (“el Mersa” means a port). The constructions we perceived underwater are of vast dimensions, and stretch from Cap Carthage north-east to Cap Kamart; but those at Cap Kamart have not been marked on any map. There appears to have been a great port here, recalling that of Alexandria, with an opening, and breakwater at right angles to the present village of La Marsa. There was a port here in Arab days, but the jetty was certainly earlier, either Roman or Punic. We have followed these walls in a small boat as far as Cap Kamart in continuous zigzag lines. From the aeroplane we could distinguish another line farther out at sea at a depth of about 30 feet, but it is difficult to ascertain, until our final soundings are completed, whether this was a part of the first constructions. The authorities of the French Oceanographic Museum at Carthage will charter a special ship to make soundings along the coast to verify the measurements of these constructions for future investigation.
Cicero mentions a fact that historians of Carthage seem entirely to neglect, that the city “which Scipio destroyed was surrounded with ports.” From the air one can easily get an idea where ports may have been, in the Sebkha of Sukhra (Salina of the Ancients), at La Marsa, and lastly in the Lake of Tunis (Stagnum of the Ancients). We also photographed from the air the sunken galley found in 1908 by sponge divers, from which a rich spoil of marbles and bronzes has been recovered for the Museum of Bardo. We hope to examine the Gulf of Tunis this winter on the chance of finding traces of other ancient ships, five hundred of which were known to have perished during the Punic wars.

Long before the publication of this book – re-issued in 2004 with a lengthy biographical essay on de Prorok by Michael Tarabulski, de Prorok had published several articles, gone on an extensive lecture tour (including in 1923 as Norton Memorial Lecturer of the Archaeological Institute of America) and a lecture to The Royal Geographical Society in London on 27 November 1923 on his excavations (published in The Geographical Journal 63.3 (March): 177-187). The last is important, providing further references to his flying and filming and the statement that the lecture was “illustrated with kinematograph films taken by the late Prince de Waldeck” and one photograph of “The exacavation of Thuburbo Majus” captioned as “Enlarged from kinematograph film by the Prince de Waldeck”.
Michael Tarabulski has generously shared his 3+ decades in pursuit of de Prorok including his aerial photographs and aerial movie films. Despite the role of digitization in revealing the contents of old archives, nothing has so far emerged from this flying in Tunisia. No further success has attended a Spanish researcher whose articles have appeared just recently (Garcia Sanchez 2014 and 2016). Nevertheless it seems unlikely all copies of all of these early aerial movie films are lost.

‘Count’ Byron Khun de Proprok is a fascinating character. Even some of those who were most critical of his conduct found him personally charming. Plainly audiences were enchanted – perhaps in part because the tall, handsome and self-confident young man sometimes chose to present himself in pith helmet and fieldwork jodhpurs. His lectures regularly merited reports in The New York Times. Whatever his standing as an archaeologist – mere self-publicising tomb-raider, given to grand-standing perhaps, he was swift not only to apply the very new technique of aerial reconnaissance and photography (at least 3 years before Poidebard commenced his pioneering aerial reconnaissance in Syria) but to take it further with motion pictures which could exploit a growing public taste for cinema and raise awareness of archaeological research.

Many thanks to Michael Tarabulski for generously sharing so much of his research and a detailed correspondence.

Garciá Sánchez, J. (2014) “Las excavaciones del conde Byron Khun de Prorok en Cartago (1920-1925): la colina de Juno y la difusión cinematográfica de la arqueología cartaginesa/ The Excavations of Count Byron Khun de Prorok in Carthage (1920-1925): The Hill of Juno and the Cinematographic Dissemination of Carthaginian Archaeology”, Boletín del Seminario de Estudios de Arte y Arqueología 80: 129-163
Garciá Sánchez, J. (2016) “Regreso a la tumba de Tin Hinan: nuevas fuentes en torno a las excavaciones de Byron Khun de Prorok en Abalessa (Ahaggar, Argelia)/ Tin Hinan’s Tomb revisited: new sources relating to the Byron Khun de Prorok’s excavation in Abalessa (Ahaggar, Algeria)”, Cuadernos de Prehistoria y Arqueología Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (CuPAUAM) 42: 187-208
Khun de Prorok, Comte Byron (1924) “Recent researches on the Peninsula of Carthage”, The Geographical Journal 63.3 (March): 177-187
Khun de Prorok, Comte Byron (1926) Digging for Lost African Gods. The Record of Five Years Archaeological Excavation in North Africa, New York and London (Putnam)
Tarabulski, M. (1989) “Recording the past: capturing the history of archaeology on videotape”, in A. L. Christenson (ed.) Tracing Archaeology's Past: The Historiography of Archaeology, Carbondale (Southern Illinois University Press): 179-186
Tarabulski, M. (2004) “The life and death of Byron Khun de Prorok”, in B. Khun de Prorok, Digging for Lost African Gods. Five Years Archaeological Excavation in North Africa, Santa Barbara (The Narrative Press) 251-267.

Of interest are the recent fictionalised account of de Prorok:
Turmel. W. (2015) The Count of the Sahara, London (The Book Folks)
… and an nterview with the author on 18 November 2015

Thursday 9 February 2017

View Counts for APAAME on Flickr

Thanks to Andrew Wilson for this graph illustrating the steady and accelerating usage of the APAAME archive. As of 9 February it stands at 7,534,945 … a rise of over half a million view counts in four months.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Peake Pasha Takes to the Air

From 1921 to 1939, the principal British military officer in Transjordan was Colonel C. F. Peake - Peake Pasha. Peake had founded the Arab Legion and been responsible for establishing small detachments throughout the country. In a land in which roads were only just beginning to be constructed for the growing number of motor vehicles, travel on land could be slow and visits of inspection slower still given that so many Arab Legion posts were in remote places.

Peake was normally based in Amman – his house now the art gallery called Darat al-Funun and his garden the restored remains of the ruined Church of St George. Not far off – though rather more than the ‘short mile’ his biographer claims (actually 2.5 miles straight line) was the ‘big RAF aerodrome at Amman’, now Marka, Amman’s domestic airport, home of the Royal Jordanian Air Force and the base from which our Aerial Archaeology in Jordan operates.

In 1930, Peake – who had seen some service with the RFC at Salonika during the war, decided to learn to fly. Then aged 47, he bought a Tiger Moth and arranged for the 26 year-old Roger Atcherley, one of the pilots at RAF Amman, to teach him. It very nearly ended in tragedy, twice in the same afternoon.
On the second day of his instruction the dual-control machine in which they were flying plunged suddenly earthward, hit the ground obliquely with a resounding bump and careered across the aerodrome in a series of enormous bounds, like a gazelle in full stride. When the plane had finally come to rest well outside the boundary of the landing-ground, Atcherley turned to Peake in the seat behind him.
“What do you think you're playing at?" he said peevishly. “It's no earthly use your going on learning if you can't do better than that!"
"Better than what?" asked the astonished Peake. "I wasn't doing anything. You were in control. You never told me to take over and land the thing."
It transpired the communication tube was defective, Peake had not heard Atcherley tell him to take the controls.

Undeterred they had tea in the mess and set off again:
"I'll take her up for you,"' said Atcherley, "and get her in position for landing. Then you take over and bring her down."
When they had climbed to about forty feet, Atcherley turned round and waved a stick at his pupil, who, thinking this was merely a cheery gesture of "All's right with the world," was about to wave back when the plane disconcertingly dipped its nose, and next instant crashed into the ground, shearing off its under-carriage and smashing one wing, whilst an ominous plume of black smoke ascended from the engine.
Atcherley jumped out immediately, but Peake, who was badly winded  remained in his seat.
"What on earth have you done now ?" he gasped.
"I think you'd better get out before we discuss that,” said Atcherley, "the plane's on fire !"
Peake had just got clear when the whole machine burst into flames and in a short time was utterly destroyed. The explanation of the was that this joy-stick had become detached from its fittings, leaving Atcherley helpless to control the machine, whereupon, being debarred verbal communication owing to the defective tube, he had waved the stick in Peake's face to show him what had happened and warn him to take over. Peake, however, in his innocence, had failed to recognize the stick as an integral part of the machine (he thought it was a cane which Atcherley habitually carried), and had taken no action.
Despite four broken ribs, Peake bought a replacement aircraft, learned to fly and henceforth dropped in regularly on his outposts – to the discomfort of the legionaries who did not like such short notice of an inspection or that his elevated view as he arrived enabled him to see things not tidied away properly.
RAF Amman in late 1930s (APAAME_1936-39_RAF_JWHodson-0001)

Peake remained in Jordan till 1939, retiring as a Major-General of the Amir’s army, and lived to 1970 (aged 83). Atcherley was to die aged 66 just 3 weeks later but by that time he had been knighted and risen to the rank of Air Marshal.

C. S. Jarvis, Arab Command. The Biography of Lieutenant Colonel F. G. Peake Pasha, CMG, CBE, London, 1942: 135-6