Aerial Archaeology

Remote Sensing and Kites in Jordan

A contrast between Kites on the 1:50,000 map square of Umm el-Jimal on Hunting Aerial Survey imagery and in a screen capture on Google Earth.

A contrast between Kites on the 1:50,000 map square of Umm el-Jimal on Hunting Aerial Survey imagery and in a screen capture on Google Earth.

As you may have gathered from the many photographs we have taken in the Jordanian harra – lavafield (you can see some here), Kites in Jordan are found predominantly on the basalt lavafield. Due to the sharp contrast between the black rock and yellow sands these are often easily discernible in good resolution satellite imagery and even more so in the course of aerial photography conducted each year by the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan project (AAJ). Due to improved availability of good resolution satellite imagery over the Jordanian harra I recently embarked on a review of known features over the landscape in preparation for our upcoming field season in October. Due to the reasons mentioned, the majority of the harra was scrolled over relatively easily on my desktop, but it was not all a walk in the park.

The north western section of the harra was altogether more difficult to review. Our knowledge of site distribution in this area began with those traced on the 1:50,000 K737 maps. This was improved upon through an analysis of the Hunting Aerial Survey (HAS) photographs undertaken by Prof. David Kennedy in the RSAME project where the information gathered from the aerial survey photographs were transcribed onto acetate copies of the 1:50,000 map sheets. Many of these sites were reviewed through ground survey conducted in the Southern Hauran Survey Project (SHS) in the late 80s and into the 90s, and included a few Kites, and the AAJ project, beginning in 1997, has also flown over and documented many sites in the region.

Google Earth (GE) has allowed us to utilise an affordable platform through which to easily review sites identified and photographed by the project, as well as investigate new sites for future research and documentation. In its early years the remote areas of Jordan were not a particularly high priority for high resolution imagery however, and many site locations were transferred into GE based on what was originally mapped in the earlier surveys mentioned, or locations estimated from the flight track log of AAJ aerial reconnaissance. These sites were therefore in need of the review I was conducting in order to increase the accuracy of the site location we had recorded, but also to verify whether the site first identified from earlier surveys was indeed correct.

The four map squares in question – Quttein, Hibabiya, Hallabat and Jimal are now in high resolution in GE – a victory you would think that would make life easier, but no. Here the basalt is no longer a deep dark black that contrasts easily for identification, but its age has bleached it and in some cases developed a patina over the surface so that it resembles the colour of the landscape around it. Take satellite imagery in the middle of the day and what you have is a bleached out landscape where you are lucky to identify anything at all. Moreover – this area is increasingly being utilised for agriculture and many sites identified from imagery taken in 1953 are now underneath fields of green. My standard approach of panning back and forth in GE and verifying against our aerial imagery and contrasting to Bing Maps was just not going to cut it today.

Thanks to the laborious work of Research Assistants before me, we have created an overlay in GE of the distribution of all of the HAS photographs. Using this overlay I was able to go from site to site we had identified and pinned in GE and contrast it to what I could see in the HAS imagery and had been noted on the K737 acetates. Kites were by far the most numerous feature in this landscape on the fertile edge of the harra.

An important lesson was the fact that often some Kites visible on the satellite imagery were in no way or barely visible on the older HAS imagery, and some were visible on neither but clearly visible on the low oblique imagery of the AAJ project. As much as satellite imagery is an easy and resourceful tool, it definitely can not stand alone. Interestingly – and not something we come across often in Jordan, some of the historical GE satellite imagery showed up Kites easily identifiable on the HAS imagery as crop marks in the now fielded landscape. These would not have been so readily identified without the HAS imagery showing us where to look, but it is an important reminder that remote sensing techniques such as identifying crop marks that are applied in more lush landscapes may also be applied in Jordan at the right time of year, especially in agricultural landscapes like the Southern Hauran.

Rebecca Banks
for the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East

ArchaeoLandscapes Europe

Increasing Public Appreciation, Understanding and Conservation of the Landscape and the Archaeological Heritage of Europe

Archaeology can be so fascinating – digs in nice and exotic places, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, teaching students and learning from students, telling stories about the past to the public.

But I am sitting in my office in Frankfurt/Main (Germany) today and trying to cope with our new website. The old one was hacked a while ago to be used for DoS attacks on another server so we had to take it offline. We used that opportunity to refresh the old page so now I am working on tinkering the new site a bit, adding content here and there, trying to find mistakes and replacing some placeholder images with pictures from the project before the site will go live again as soon as the provider has managed the domain transfer.

Sounds all rather boring but in the end it’s exactly part of the things I like so much in archaeology: teaching and telling stories! And the background of the webpage of course is the project ArchaeoLandscapes Europe (ArcLand), funded by the EU culture programme for 5 years (sept 2010 – sept 2015) to foster all kinds of remote sensing and surveying techniques, to spread the knowledge all over Europe within the archaeological community and of course also to the broader public. It’s about telling the public that archaeology is more than a dig in a temple in the jungle or an investigation of a pyramid. It’s also – and mainly (?) – about understanding the history of a landscape and the people that lived in it, it’s about trying to find out how people could cope with their environs and which traces they left – and it’s about finding these traces. From the air (aerial archaeology, LiDAR, satellite imagery) and from the ground (geophysics, field walking) and in all cases non-invasive.

From left to right: near infrared aerial image - rob aerial image - LiDAR scan - geomagnetic survey

From left to right: near infrared aerial image – rob aerial image – LiDAR scan – geomagnetic survey

And yes, this is absolutely fascinating – and it brings me to many nice (though not always exotic) places where I meet new people and old friends, where I experience new and well known cultures and where I have the opportunity to tell the stories that are relevant within the framework of the project. It is talking to archaeologists who know a lot about the remote sensing and surveying techniques and learning a lot from them, it is talking to students to make them aware of the fantastic options of these techniques and it is talking to the public to share the fascination that I still feel when I look at a newly discovered site on an aerial image, on a landscape palimpsest on a LiDAR scan or on the hidden subsoil feature visible in the geophysical data.

I really feel very happy when I can see that the grants that our project provided helped students and young researchers to experience new techniques, to exchange knowledge and expertise with other people and to meet people from different areas of Europe to widen their (cultural) perspective. And I am happy to see that all these activities have always been a lot of fun for all those that have been involved.


ArcLand partners meeting in Amersfoort (NL) in 2013

Sure, it’s a EU project which means that there is a lot of administrational work to do. The EU is supporting us with a lot of money and I can understand that they want to make sure that this money is well spend. Still, I am swearing a lot over time sheets and lists of invoices and all that. But that is a very fair price for all the options this support offers to many people all over Europe and abroad! And it shows that Europe is more than a bunch of bureaucrats that only care about the bend of bananas to be imported into the EU! Seeing all these people from the Baltic to the Iberian Peninsula, from Ireland to the Balkan getting together, learning from each other , exchanging ideas and enjoying themselves at our workshops, at our conferences or when visiting our travelling exhibition really makes me feel the the idea of a joint and peaceful Europe is worth all that money.

So all in all, working on a webpage is not that bad, it’s raining outside anyway, so I am sitting in my dry office and I know that the work that I am doing is one tessera in the large archaeological mosaic. Watch out for our webpage to go live again hopefully soon!

A Day on the Ground for an Aerial Archaeology Project

APAAMEHello from the Research Assistant for the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East. To save my time and yours, we just call it APAAME. We are perhaps best known for the Aerial Archaeology in Jordan Project which has conducted a season of aerial reconnaissance in Jordan from a helicopter every year since 1997. Day of Archaeology has not caught us in the air however, but in the office.

I am writing this from our new office in New Barnett House on Little Clarendon St in Oxford. We are in the process of moving our entire archive to Oxford University from the University of Western Australia. Our large map collection is in mail tubes, and our complete collection of Hunting Aerial Survey diapositives of Jordan from 1953 are in 7 boxes against the wall, but the slides and printed photographs are unpacked – we just haven’t got shelving for them yet!

Fortunately, the majority of our collection is already digitised, and that is what I will be working with for the most of today. Glamorous I know – but flying in a helicopter taking thousands of photographs of archaeological sites for a month a year, and delving through archives to investigate collections with aerial photographs of the Middle East, leaves quite a bit of follow up work.

I have not even finished my first cup of coffee for the day and already I am fighting with Flickr. We use Flickr to host are on-line photographic database ( Flickr was chosen because it is relatively cheap and extremely accessible medium to host our ever-increasing archive. We have recently decided to upload our images with their full geo-referencing information, and so I am going through the backlog of updating around 61,000 images on Flickr with their geo-tags. I have to batch edit these photographs in Flickr, which is fine except the interface Flickr uses doesn’t seem to cope with handling too many images at once. *sigh* I’ll just get myself a cup of tea … Meanwhile, in the background, I have Adobe Light room where we catalogue all of our images updating the metadata in Flickr.

Why am I geo-tagging our Flickr images? Traditionally, you would search for a location by place-name, but this is extremely difficult for the Middle East due to variations in place names and transliteration from Arabic to English, let alone to other languages such as French and German. (The Graeco-Roman city of Gerasa – for example, has appeared (so far) with 13 different spellings of its ancient and modern name in various languages). If you know where a place is located on a map however, you can simply go to the map interface ( and zoom in on the area of interest, and you will see whether we have any geo-tagged photographs for that area and what site reference we are using. Alternatively, if you have found a site of particular interest on our archive but don’t know where it is, you can open the map interface and see its location on a map.

While I am working over in one corner of our office tackling the everyday issues of managing a digital archive, Professor David Kennedy is in the other using the archive as part of his ongoing research. The digitisation of our archive has opened up an increasing amount of time that can be dedicated to analysis and research, and has meant an increasing output of publications. Currently David is researching the Hinterland of Roman Philadelphia, which involves the search for historical photography, maps and early explorers accounts of a landscape that is now largely built over. He is putting the final touches to a lecture inspired by this ongoing research that will be delivered at the ARAM conference on ‘The Decapolis’ at Oxford University’s Oriental Institute on Monday: ‘Brünnow and von Domaszewski in the Jordanian Decapolis’. The research for this lecture involved time spent in Princeton earlier this year where the photographic archive of Brünnow and von Domaszewski is held.

Now that I seem to have Flickr happily batch organising my geo-tagged items to be accessible to anyone, I am doing a bit of research on Content Management Systems and digital archaeology projects. APAAME is looking to evolve the way in which we manage our content and related data, but exactly what system we implement for what purpose is currently under investigation. Everyone has their areas of expertise, and so we are contacting those that have computer database, data mining and CMS operating know-how that might have some good advice for us. I am also keeping an eye on our twitter feed, that is particularly active today with everyone’s #dayofarch posts, as well as updating our blog with info about our new publication.

So that is what APAAME were up to on this day, 26 July 2013.
If you would like to contact us or keep in touch– please feel free to use one of the following methods
Twitter: @APAAME
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