An Aerial Archeology Training Week, 15-22 June 1996, Held near Siofok, Lake Balaton, Hungary

By Bewley, Robert; Braasch, Otto et al. | Antiquity, December 1996 | Go to article overview

An Aerial Archeology Training Week, 15-22 June 1996, Held near Siofok, Lake Balaton, Hungary


Bewley, Robert, Braasch, Otto, Palmer, Rog, Antiquity


From the onset of the Second World War until 1990, archaeologists in most of the countries behind the former Iran Curtain were unable to take aerial photographs for record or research. During these 50 years, the contribution of aerial reconnaissance to the discovery of archaeological sites in central and eastern Europe was negligible - in contrast to its tremendous impact in western Europe. As a consequence, there is a serious imbalance in our understanding of Europe's archaeological heritage. With the continuing removal of political and military obstacles to general aviation and aerial photography, these countries' archaeologists have become aware of the potential of aerial reconnaissance as a good and cost-effective means of finding and recording new sites and landscapes.

Through annual meetings of the Aerial Archaeological Research Group and other contacts east and west (such as the Potsdam conference in 1994: Kunow 1995), a growing number of archaeologists have set up successful aerial archaeological programmes (Gojda 1993). Other countries have invited experienced aerial archaeologists to undertake surveys; such as Rene Goguey, who has been flying over Hungary since 1990 (Goguey & Szabo 1995). Since 1992, Otto Braasch has also been flying in Hungary where, accompanied by the late Professor St Joseph and by James Pickering, he has produced some superb results [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURES 2-6 OMITTED]. In Hungary, the main areas surveyed have been the Danube and Tisza rivers and the low-lying areas of the Hungarian plain. The large fields, which were created as a result of co-operative farming, and the wide areas of the Puszta, where the last relicts of steppe in Europe retain their ancient relief [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED], facilitate the identification of settlement and burial complexes. The soils, combined with hot and often dry summers, have already shown the potential for continuing aerial survey in Hungary.

Facilities at Siofok-Kiliti airfield and the lack of other air traffic, as well as the potential for good conditions for aerial photography in June, made Hungary a good location for a seven-day aerial archaeological training course. This course was aimed at all interested archaeologists from former eastern bloc countries. Its 24 participants represented 10 countries: Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, former East Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakian Republic, Slovenia and Romania. The instructors, from 5 countries Austria, England, Germany, Hungary and Wales volunteered their time and gratefully acknowledge the financial assistance provided from a variety of sources, listed below.

Three Cessna 172 aircraft, able to carry four people each, were flown out from Germany and England; in the week they flew 41 sorties, totalling 103 hours and 50 minutes of flying time for training in aerial photography and reconnaissance [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED]. On average each student was given 14 hours in the air, considerably more training than most aerial photographers in the west have received. The students underwent a steep learning curve, having to cope with a new and noisy airborne environment in which they had to handle their cameras and identify archaeological sites from various angles, under different lighting and changing meteorological conditions. The resulting photographs are being assessed and catalogued by Dr Zsolt Visy and his students at the host university, Janus Pannonius University in Pecs. The striking features of the sites revealed by cropmarks in Hungary are their variety and their extent. Apart from a number of easily recognizable Roman sites there are many other sites which may be prehistoric but which may also be of much later date [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURES 4 AND 5 OMITTED]. Although the large fields make it easy to recognize and record landscapes, their size introduces difficulties when transferring this information to a map; the optimum flying height to observe and record archaeological features is usually too low to include sufficient modern reference points. …

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