Meeting Report September 2012
intrepid souls braved torrential rain to attend the first meeting of the
2012 winter programme. We were delighted to welcome back Eric Houlder
one of our regular speakers, who we knew would provide a good evening's
entertainment. With his many years of experience in both archaeology and
photography it was a foregone conclusion that his talk 'Looking down on
History' - the story of archaeological aerial photography would be both
informative and interesting.
Eric began his talk by saying that the history of flight and aerial photography
were closely linked, although photography was developed (pun intended!)
more than 50 years before the earliest flights. The first examples of
aerial photography were taken from a hot air balloon by a Frenchman named
Nadar. In order to take the photos he had to have a light proof basket
below the balloon and a red cover to go over the whole thing thus enabling
him to develop the plates whilst still in the air. A somewhat time consuming
and precarious exercise.
However it was the English who first realised the potential of aerial
photography to show archaeological sites. In 1910 aerial photographs taken
of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain revealed a filled in ditch around the
henge which was not obvious at ground level. And so it became clear how
much could be learned from photographs taken above sites. Both world wars
saw the rapid development of aeroplanes and the RAF were happy to film
archaeology from above during training flights. Thus a huge collection
of film was amassed and passed onto the Ordnance Survey department. Gradually
archaeologists were able to recognise ancient sites and structures from
marks and crop differences which showed up in the photographs. As well
as developments in the aircraft available, huge strides were being made
in the kind of cameras and film available to aerial photographers. The
use of digital cameras and different kinds of film such as infra red has
greatly enhanced the definition of the material evidenced in the photographs.
Eric shared some of his experiences of aerial photography with us and
we were amazed to hear his stories of hanging out of aeroplane windows
without a seatbelt in order to get the best possible shots. He also wryly
advised us of some of the pitfalls which can befall the over eager archaeologist
anxious to discover new sites from what appears to be evidence in aerial
photographs. To illustrate this he showed one of his photographs taken
at Oulton near Leeds which he had thought showed bronze age burial mounds.
In reality what we were looking at was the remains of an early 20th century
sewage works. He did however show us many examples of his craft and really
brought home to us how much archaeology is all around us, it is just not
recognisable at ground level. This talk was a fascinating introduction
to our winter programme and we look forward to the rest of the season.
Photograph courtesy of Eric Houlder
The next meeting on Monday 29th October 2012 will be an
illustrated talk by Donald Townsley entitled 'Matthew Murray in Context'