Monday, 7 January 2019

Enter the U2 Spyplane Aerial Photography

Even if you are not old enough to remember the shooting down of Gary Powers and the huge international crisis that followed in 1960, you may have seen the more recent movie Bridge of Spies (culminating in the exchange of Powers for a Soviet spy).

A few years ago, while at a conference, Jesse Casana told me that U2 aerial photos of 1958-1960 had now been declassified and included aerial photos – not the satellite photos of the Corona programme and its successors, of parts of the Middle East. Declassified but not catalogued and hard to actually access.

Emily Hammer and Jason Ur have created a spatial index to the declassified U2 Aerial Photos for the Middle East available in the National Archives (NARA), and this can be accessed at https://scholar.harvard.edu/jasonur/u2-aerial-photography-middle-east

At least one product of that work has now been published (Hammer and Lauricella 2017) – though not by Jesse Casana. It is plainly a laborious task still to use the material but the quality is very good and – of particular interest to me, is a flight of 1960 down the Jordanian panhandle from east to west and over and beyond Azraq. The Hunting Aerial Survey of 1953 is a little earlier in date but the quality is evidently poorer and it did not extend much east of Azraq. There will be particularly useful work to be done on that key area west of Azraq where the HAS material is very useful but poor quality combining it with the better U2 material of parts of the area. It is precisely there – with better quality soils and more precipitation, that the expansion of agriculture and removal of the basalt covering has damaged and destroyed many hundreds of sites of all kinds. As we know from our AAJ project, it is often difficult today to find traces of even the large Kites visible on the Hunting photos of 1953 and many have gone entirely.

Hammer, E. and A. Lauricella. 2017. “Historical Imagery of Desert Kites in Eastern Jordan.” NearEastern Archaeology 80.2: 74-83. Available on JSTOR.
Hammer, E. and J. Ur. In press. “Near Eastern Landscapes and Declassified U2 Aerial Imagery.” Advances in Archaeological Practice.


-DLK

68 comments:

  1. There are 11 declassified Middle Eastern missions with over 50,000 frames in NARA. Our index will appear this year as part of our OA article in Advances in Archaeological Practice. Emily and I have been using the U2 imagery in our own work for a few years now but this is our first systematic presentation of the full dataset and its characteristics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for sharing your research. I hope it stimulates further discussion and use of this resource. We'll keep an eye out for the article.

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  2. Would anyone know if declassified U2 AP coverage of Cyprus exists - and if so, how to access it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We do not know, though it might be useful to contact Jason Ur direct and ask. As Cyprus was part of the British Commonwealth there was probably little reason for the US to fly reconnaissance there. The UK's reconnaissance of the island can be accessed through NCAP https://ncap.org.uk/browse/countries/cyprus

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