Bohemia from the Air: Seven Decades after Crawford

Article excerpt

It is more than 70 years since O.G.S. Crawford, founder of ANTIQUITY, was given air photographs from southern England which led him to realize their potential for archaeology. Leo Deuel's book Flights into yesterday was translated into Czech in 1979, providing a first impetus to the new programme of work in Bohemia presented here, a programme made possible by the new freedom to fly and photograph that followed the revolution of 1989.

Until recently only very few scholars in the former Czechoslovakia had more than a basic idea about the general substance of aerial archaeology. With the exception of a couple of flights organized by archaeologists and art historians between the two world wars, which resulted in a small collection of oblique photographs documenting sites (Bohm 1939-40), and a few scarce attempts to do the same during the post-war communist period (1948-89; Sedlacek & Vencl 1975), no conceptual programme in respect to aerial archaeology appeared in Bohemia until after the 1989 revolution.

It is fair to note that in Moravia (eastern part of the Czech Republic) M. Balek, a colleague from the Brno Institute of Archaeology, has been active in the field of aerial archaeology since the mid 1980s. He had to combat the state authorities in order to obtain flying permission, money and equipment for aerial archaeology. Comparing the results achieved by him during the pre-revolution period and then after 1989, one can imagine how difficult it was to attain a high European standard in the discipline of aerial archaeology prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain and how nowadays this situation has been changed (cf. Balek et al. 1986). Such a situation existed within all of the Soviet-bloc countries that were placed in the eastern half of the then divided Europe. After the fall of the Curtain in 1989, conditions with regard to many aspects of life were substantially changed within these countries. Eventually this change enabled us to introduce methods of aerial reconnaissance into archaeology and to begin to consider its conception in the context of the prehistory and medieval history of Bohemia.

The year 1992 became, in a sense, a milestone for Bohemian archaeology because since that time a systematically performed aerial reconnaissance has been carried out over the Bohemian landscape, aimed at the prospection and documentation of buried features and visible monuments (Gojda in press).

For various reasons we decided to focus our attention in the first aerial campaign on crop marks. This resulted in the choice of the lower Vltava (Moldau) and Labe (Elbe) river basins in central Bohemia, where we repeatedly flew between early June to late July. The results achieved so far are summarized below.

During this initial period, as we began to collect information for study and consulted with domestic and foreign experts, we realized that the newly opened programme of aerial archaeology must have its own clearly defined conception which would constitute this discipline as an independent branch of archaeology. At the same time we were aware that it should be fully integrated within archaeology throughout the whole of Bohemia. This led us to propose a programme which promoted a broad approach towards aerial archaeology, i.e. including field-walking, geophysical prospection and other non-destructive methods, which might immediately provide information on the dating and distribution of material and features on, or under, the surface of sites detected and documented by aerial photography. In addition we felt there should be a close link between aerial prospection and the study of landscape history, and this means that we have preferably observed the territories which are systematically studied by special landscape projects. Aerial reconnaissance was immediately included within the international landscape project 'Ancient Landscape Reconstruction in North Bohemia' (ALRNB) which is being currently performed by the Prague Institute of Archaeology and by the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory of the University of Sheffield (Benes et al. …