archaeology and aerial reconnaissance
4. The West and East
5. Bohemia, Czech Republic: current priorities in two leading aerial archaeology projects
5.2. Common characteristics and differences
5.3. The north-west Bohemia project
5.4. The Prague programme
brings a set of information on principle aims, strategy and results of aerial
archaeology in Bohemia, Czech republic, with special respect to its meaning in
the study of past landscapes and settlement patterns. Principal characteristics
of landscape archaeology and aerial photography in the introductionary part are
followed by brief comparison of different level of aerial archaeology in western
and eastern Europe ten years ago - when this discipline started to be
effectively applied by countries once hidden beyond the Iron Curtain – and
today. The main part of the paper brings thoughts on current development of
aerial archaeology in Bohemia as represented by two country’s leading projects, one in the Institute of Archaeology, Czech Academy of
Sciences (Prague) and one in the Contract Archaeology Unit for North-West
Bohemia (Most). A short notes on strategies
and a review of the most important results achieved in these projects are also
Aerial photographs, as they have been evaluated by archaeologists since the 1920’, constitute a foremost set of information for the study of past landscapes. The use of both obliques and verticals has shifted the mainstream archaeology from cultural history and studies of single sites toward the cognition of space and processes inside cultural landscapes. Aerial reconnaissance perspectives as they emerged in central/eastern Europe after the decline of the Iron Curtain have so far been uncovered slightly by a few archaeologists. Bohemia is one of the countries where the meaning of aerial archaeology has been recognized both by specialists and by academia officials. In the first half of the 1990’ the attention of most archaeologists in this country tempted by aerial survey was focused on the identification of as many cropmark sites as possible and partly also on methodological aspects. Currently two main aerial projects in Bohemia are incorporated into large-scale settlement studies of assorted landscape units. The set of information assembled from air reconnaissance is considered to be one part of the whole database to be collected and analysed. Thus, aerial archaeology is now integrated into the solution of principal theoretical problems as they have been defined by Czech settlement archaeology recently. At the same time it is the non-destructive character of air reconnaissance which is currently appreciated. Actually the combination of different non-destructive methods of survey complemented by test excavations on sites of special interest are applied as a standard field methodology.
landscape approach to archaeology is the alternative to the central European
tradition of the so-called settlement archaeology in at least three points:
Its interest in large territorial units makes it possible to study
settlement processes in either areas of ineterest (limited oeither by
geomorphology, hydrology or administratively) or in analytical units of former
community areas. It is one of the primary tasks of current archaeology to bring
models - and to test them in the
field - of how social structure have shaped the space – the landscape – in
which past communities lived, how the ideas and practice of our ancestors have
In the analyses of cultural landscape not only sites and monuments, but
also components of the past living
culture which have not been preserved (or which are not traceable by traditional
approach) are taken into account by landscape archaeology.
It applies non-destructive methods of data collection. With respect to
the objectives of landscape archaeology (e.g. a diachronical development of
settlement activities in a defined area, the reconstruction of settlement
patterns, continuity/discontinuity of settlement areas, etc.) the use of these
methods brings results hardly available by traditional ways. This kind of data
collection is much more careful to archaeological heritage and may contribute to
the protection of sites and monuments.
Aerial archaeology’s aim is to perform reconnaissance of landscapes (large spatial units) from bird’s eye view, to record and archive new data, to make photographic documentation of buried (or semi-buried) and standing monuments of cultural landscape, and to process the data for further application in both theoretical work and heritage management (protection). The information on buried landscapes extracted from aerial photographs constitute a specific evidence on the character and distribution of settlement activities from prehistory through to the modern period. Most of the sites recorded by means of non-destructive landscape survey techniques (i.e. remote sensing/air photography, field walking/surface collection, geophysical measuring) have not been excavated, and therefore they must be treated accordingly.
No issue in the world of archaeology has been so
symbolically reflecting the once divided Europe as aerial archaeology. Huge
libraries of air photographs with innumerable quantity of oblique images taken
for the purpose of archaeology and landscape studies in countries like UK,
France and Germany, a long-standing tradition of transforming
interpreted data from images to maps, and finally methodological
development have been in a sharp contrast to the poor state (or better
non-existence in most cases) of aerial archaeology in the world behind the Iron
Curtain. Although there were some few scholars who in the former soviet
countries had been trying to open this forbidden world of cognition (see e.g. Bálek
Visy 1997), the proper challenge
came at the beginning of 1990’ when communist
regimes ceased to exist in Europe.
question is how far the ten years that elapsed since the challenge was raised
changed aerial archaeology in Europe. Is one decade long enough for a discipline
such as aerial archaeology to enable the pioneers to catch up on specialists
from the West who have had a seven-decade advantage. Obviously not. It would be
misleading to come with a general comparison of how far the progress in
central/eastern Europe reduced the distance between the former counterparts. The
discipline is too wide and includes many sub-disciplines. It would be more
effective to evaluate them separately and analyze the quality and intensity of
air survey, the
post-reconnaissance procedures, archiving etc., and also issues such as
teaching aerial archaeology at universities, publication- and exhibition
activities. Perhaps most important is to pass judgement on how far aerial
archaeology in countries in both halves of Europe has been accepted by
professional communities, whether the discipline has been integrating into the
common agenda of prehistoric and medieval studies and whether the data generated
and offered by aerial archaeology are used in a similar way and frequency as
are, for instance, the plans of excavated sites, photographs and drawings of
features or objects.
One of the important activities to be evaluated is the communication among scholars throughout Europe. In this respect aerial archaeology stands perhaps on the foremost position. Just a few examples: The British Aerial Archaeology Research Group (whose website has symptomatically been compiled in, and operated from, Vienna) was gradually transformed to international forum numbering many scholars from both the West and East, and organizing its annual meeting 2001 – for the first time in its history - out of the British soil, in Austria. An international project From the Air – Aerial archaeology in central Europe supported by the European Union through its program Raphael (Czech Republic, 1997), two training summer courses in aerial survey and data processing (Hungary 1996, Poland 1998) and finally the 2000 NATO conference/workshop in Poland – they all were organized by a group of scholars who are promoting the introduction and development of aerial archaeology into the practice of their national archaeologies.
Since the beginning of 1990’
two centres of aerial archaeology have been established in Bohemia, one in The
Institute of Archaeology, Czech Academy of Sciences (Prague) and one
in the Contract Archaeology Unit for North-West Bohemia
(Most). The programmes of both these
institutes have been developing in a similar way due to close contacts between
the present author (responsible for the Prague project) and Z. Smrž
(responsible for the Most programme). In the first years the priority was to
learn how to indentify sites from the air (especially crop-marked, but
soil-marked as well) and, specifically, how to distinguish archaeological
evidence from geological marks and also from imprints of modern cultivation
techniques. We neither had experiences in taking photographs from aircraft, nor
training in map navigation. The primary directive of those times was to collect
images of buried sites as much attractive as possible. In other words, recording
of enclosures such as ring- or rectangular ditches was the best way to persuade
the public that principles of site detection work in this country in the same
way as elsewhere. Let me stress that most importantly we had to submit positive
results to scholars (archaeologists and different social scientists) who have
been members of state commissions deciding upon funding research projects. In
this respect we did a good job and the Prague Institute’s aerial
program has been financially supported since 1994 continuously. On the other
hand the Most project is almost completely financed by coal mining corporations
and construction companies as most
of flights have been performed in threatened territories. This is an excellent
example of how theoretically based landscape study can be linked with rescue
There was a positive moment in both programmes at
their beginning, namely the fact that their heads had been involved in landscape
regional and settlement study before aerial archaeology was introduced to
Bohemia. Z. Smrž performed an extensive rescue project (1970‘-1980‘; less
intensively the survey has been continued until now) in the territory of
large-scale destruction of stream valleys in the area of open-cast brown coal
mining in north-west Bohemia and used the data he collected in the field for
modelling the settlement pattern and for reconstructing prehistoric landscape of
those valleys (Smrž
1987 and 1994). M. Gojda was working on the reconstruction of early medieval
settlement pattern in the vicinity of important hillforts in central Bohemia (Gojda
1988). A significant constituent of his project in its field part was the
application of ploughwalking. The potential of this prospection method for
regional landscape work, including general thoughts upon the effectivness of
ploughwalking in archaeology, was published (as one of the first on this theme
in Bohemia) in a separate work (Gojda 1989).
Consequently, it is the utility of aerial survey in landscape studies of micro-
to mezorigional level which was evaluated as the most important by leading
representatives of aerial projects in Bohemia.
Common characteristics and differences
The following characteristics can be traced in both
Czech leading projects:
of aerial survey as one of the most important data collection methods in
landscape- and settlement pattern study;
Data on aerial images are to be evaluated not as
such but in respect to how useful they are for the solution of theoretically
defined problems current archaeology deals with; consequently the way primary
data are to be processed and handled is not formal but depends on a strategy and
type of analysis such a problem is solved; data must be pre-processed. i.e.
interpreted, and basic facts - such as the site topography and morphology, date
of photography, archive No. of slides and negatives, etc. recorded in a database;
A combination of results from air survey with
data gathered by other methods of prospection in large spatial units, such as
fieldwalking, and the application of geophysical survey in selected sites
are of primary importance; the meaning of these methods, apart from the fact
they are irepleacable for landscape research,
consists in their non-destructivity;
Geographically both projects are determined to regions in the most
fertile lowlands (middle- and lower basins of main Czech rivers) which during
prehistory were the most intesively inhabited territories.
A significant element of both projects is the application of excavation
on carefully assorted sites, with preference to threatened ones. Excavated are
primarily types of features (usually enclosures of varied size and date)
which have not been recorded (nor excavated consequently) yet in this
country. By now 5 sites in the Most territory have been rescue-excavated in the
1990’ and another ten are on
the list to be excavated soon. All these field activities have been performed as
contract performances. This is perhaps the main focus of the Most project: data
recorded from the air are to be explored on the ground by money of those whose
construction activities destroy them. The Prague programme has included
excavations at 5 sites between 1997 and 2000 and the activity in this respect
will increase in close future.
The projects tend to consider methodology as their important
component and to define principal strategies of air survey with respect to
experiences as achieved during air-reconnaissance campaigns, and to evaluate the
effectivness of this special prospection method in general terms, and
particularly in Czech landscapes.
The north-west Bohemia project
Since 1992 when the aerial archaeology project was
launched the view of past settlement patterns in areas selected as potentially
favourable for air survey radically changed. These areas are situated in the
basin of the main north-west Bohemia river, the Ohře, and in its tributary
stream valleys. This is a typical sand/gravel region in which extraction
have accelerated since the early 1990’. The
situation can be compared to what happened in UK in 1950’ when sites on river gravels started to be destroyed at an alarming
rate (Royal Commission…1960; Gates
1975). For example, almost 12% of landscape in one of the most
intensively surveyed areas have been destroyed completely by gravel/sand
The Prague programme
programme of aerial survey and photographic documentation of historic landscapes
is one of the themes defining the work of the Institute of Archaeology, Czech
Academy of Sciences (IoA in the following text), Prague. It is part of a strategy of matching non-destructive
techniques in archaeology to the needs of theoretical research and protection of
the cultural heritage. This strategy has been applied to spatial archaeology
since the early 1990’.
Three primary aims of the aerial archaeology
programme in IoA are discernable in its agenda:
Theory. To further to the theoretical formulation of questions regarding
landscape and settlement archaeology – the resolution of which is one of the
basic tasks of Ioa – to conduct aerial surveys, to identify new settlement
areas of prehistoric and/or medieval age, and to both map and process
information about settlement topography. Apart from supporting archaeological
theory it is also the protection of cultural heritage which is of importance.
Methodology. To generally deepen the
methodological relationship between aerial archaeology and other non-destructive
Archiving. To gradually create a central record of aerial discoveries and
documentation of sites and landscapes. This record is managed under the general
name of the Aerial Photograph Archive, which comprises a library of aerial
photographs together with archive of negatives, compact discs and digital video
recordings, and textual & image
Following is a short overview of main achievements to
date: 1. A substantial increase in the number of known settlement locations,
particularly in central and eastern part of north-west Bohemia. This relates in
particular to those parts of landscape with well-formed terraces of light, sandy
soils, specifically along the middle and lower basins of great Czech rivers such
as the Vltava, the Labe, and the Ohře, and their tributaries. By today about
six hundred sites have been identified through crop- and soilmarks. 2. The
discovery of new types of features, the existence of which in the Czech historic
landscape was virtually unknown. These are enclosures, or ditches (both single
and multiple) and palisade trenches that demarcate a particular area (usually
round or oval in plan), often with interrupted entrances. The diameters of such
features vary from several metres to several hundred metres. 3. The
identification of new (unknown before) fortified upland locations (hillforts).
4. The management and permanent enlargment of an archive of aerial photographs
and digital video recordings of Czech historic landscapes, or individual
categories thereof (buried settlement areas, traces in relief of prehistoric
features, castles, fortified manors, chateaux, historic town centres, villages,
monasteries, solitary churches, etc.) and landscape settlement zones/ecozones.
The archive contains images of more than one thousand sites.
In 1997 the IoA published a monograph book on aerial
archaeology in Bohemia, its history and results of the 1992-1996 campaigns.
The integration of aerial survey to the practice of
Czech archaeology has brought new dimension to archaeological prospection and,
consequently, to the understanding of prehistoric settlement and landscape
structure. Most important is perhaps the fact that in Bohemia new types of
features have been identified, the existence of which remained unknown to Czech
prehistoric and ancient/medieval studies until 1990’.
Apart from quality of archaeological sources it is also a huge increase in
number of sites in particular areas, namely in those belonging to the
traditional settlement regions in basins of main Czech rivers. These are closely
watched through a currently performed long-term project on settlement patterns.
The results of continuous aerial reconnaissance contribute decisively to the
solution of principal problems on the evolution of settlement forms and
structures in prehistoric Bohemia, and – at the same time – are used for
photographic documentation and heritage protection throughout the country.
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