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Shadow SitesPhotography, Archaeology, and the British Landscape 1927–1955$
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Kitty Hauser

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199206322

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199206322.001.0001

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Revenants in the Landscape: The Discoveries of Aerial Photography

Revenants in the Landscape: The Discoveries of Aerial Photography

(p.151) 4 Revenants in the Landscape: The Discoveries of Aerial Photography
Shadow Sites

Kitty Hauser

Oxford University Press

In 1937 John Piper’s article ‘Prehistory from the Air’ was published in the final volume of the modernist art journal Axis. In it, Piper compares the landscapes of southern England, seen from above, with the modernist works of Miró and Picasso (Fig. 4.1). His interest in the aerial view is not, however, confined to its Formalist-aesthetic aspect; Piper also points out how flying and aerial photography have accelerated archaeological theory and practice. Aerial photographs, he writes, ‘have elucidated known sites of earthworks and have shown the sites of many that were previously unknown’. They are also, he continues, ‘among the most beautiful photographs ever taken’. The aerial view, it seems, could be both investigative and aesthetic. The use of aerial photography by archaeologists, known as ‘aerial archaeology’, began in earnest in Britain in the decade in which Piper was writing, although its possibilities were beginning to be suspected in the 1920s, after the use of aerial photography for reconnaissance purposes in the First World War. In the interwar period it was British archaeologists who pioneered the new methods of aerial archaeology. In his book on aerial archaeology, Leo Deuel notes that until the 1950s ‘no other European country had made any comparable effort to tap the almost limitless store of information consecutive cultures had imprinted on its soil’. As many commentators pointed out, the British landscape offered plenty of such ‘information’: the series of invasions, settlements, clearances, and developments that constitute British history have made the landscape a veritable palimpsest, the layers of which can potentially be revealed in an aerial view. Archaeologists became expert in deciphering aerial views of this palimpsest, as we shall see. But such views of Britain exercised an appeal beyond archaeological circles. Aerial photography showed Britain as it had never before been seen; it revealed aspects of the landscape hitherto unknown, or at least never before visualized in such concrete form. The aerial view ‘made strange’ long-familiar features: hills seemed to disappear, towns and cities might appear tiny, rivers and roads ran through the two-dimensional scene like veins.

Keywords:   Antiquity, Butser Hill, Cornwall, Hertfordshire, Lyonesse, Neo-Romanticism, Oxfordshire, Scotland, Tennyson, Uffington

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