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English Heritage celebrates 100 years of aerial archaeology - English Heritage is celebrating the centenary of the first aerial photographs of Stonehenge with a fully illustrated touring exhibition from August this year.
Stonehenge as it is now
Featuring dozens of historic and modern photos and illustrations, many of them from the National Monuments Record, Aerial Photography and Archaeology - 100 Years of Discovery tells the story of those first photographs, explores the world of aerial photography in Victorian, Edwardian and wartime Britain, and looks specifically at the contribution that the last 100 years of aerial photography has made to our understanding of 6,000 years of British history and pre-history.
In 1906, Lieutenant Philip Henry Sharpe of the Royal Engineers Balloon Section took three pictures of Stonehenge from a tethered balloon. Why he took them is not entirely clear but they are the first known aerial photos of the famous monument, and indeed of a British archaeological site.
These photos demonstrated the clarity with which even slight earthworks could be picked out from above and more easily understood. In the years following the photos publication in the journal of the Society of Antiquaries in 1907, archaeologists gradually came to realise the value of aerial photography as a key technique to discover, record and interpret traces of the past, culminating today in a more systematic usage of aerial photography for archaeological purposes.
Pete Horne, Head of Aerial Survey and Investigation at English Heritage, said: Today, aerial survey is the single most important tool for the discovery of archaeological sites in this country. Experts study new photographs as well as old ones, using interpretation, mapping and analysis skills to draw out the valuable information they contain. As a result of their study, we discover more about the past and gain a greater insight into the changes that have taken place.
Each year, hundreds of previously unknown sites, ranging in date from the Neolithic (late Stoneg Age, from circa 4000 BC) to the 20th century, are discovered through the English Heritages National Mapping Programme or by individuals whom it funded.
Aerial Photography and Archaeology - 100 Years of Discovery will be held at Stonehenge (1 7 August), Kelmarsh Hall for the Festival of History (12 13 August), and at Old Sarum (21 29 August). Afterwards it will travel the country to places including the Alexander Keiller Museum in Avebury, Salisbury Museum, Devizes Museum and the Royal Engineers Museum in Gillingham.
Weather permitting, a few lucky visitors to the Stonehenge exhibition may have a chance to ride on a tethered balloon provided by Virgin Balloon Flights and take their own aerial pictures of the site.