Beauty of Archaeology
Britain's Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty∞ (AONBs) have now been going for over 50 years. In addition to their natural beauty, they often host a wealth of archaeological sites, too. A small grant by the CBA has helped one project highlight the importance of history within the AONBs.
Pixaerial, a team of two from Anglesey, have been photographing all the Welsh AONB's since 2005, and have now put together a vast collection of some 45,000 images taken over Anglesey, the Llyn Peninsula, Clwydian Hills and, recently, the Gower peninsula.
The project began when John Rowlands, Pixaerial's Projects Director, wanted to survey Anglesey for archaeological remains from the air. The Anglesey AONB unit∞ unit heard about his idea, and offered to help through the Sustainable Development Fund (SDF). Part of a small grant from the CBA helped further the projectâ€™s development.
John says â€œtaking the photographs from the air and presenting them on a new web site was our free contribution to the project. The CBA grant allowed us to pay for mapping software to manually grid reference and plot each image taken'. He added, 'the deal with the Councils was that we took photographs of the AONBs for them, as well as our archaeological photographs. It was the perfect solution. The two aims of 'pretty summer shots for the Council, and deep-winter shots for the archaeological survey' came together nicely to provide a unique record of the AONB's at opposite seasons.
Indeed, the solution was so good that when Anglesey had been completed, receiving much acclaim, successful applications were made to the Llyn Peninsula AONB unit. David Roberts, Pixaerial's hardy photographer says, 'The landscape of the Llyn is very special to me, as it's where I grew up. The contrast of hilly Llyn with coastal lowland Anglesey is striking, but of course all the AONB's are stunning in their own way.'
John, flying a Cessna 172SP 'plane out of Caernarfon Airport enjoyed the work, but says it wasn't all an easy life. 'People say what a wonderful life we have, flying around such beautiful places. That's true, but David has had to hang out of the open 'plane window with a 120mph, minus 10 degree Celsius wind blasting into his face for long periods of time. David doesn't even like flying all that much! And after 30 minutes in the air (having once survived a burst tyre on touch down!) we had the soul-destroying prospect of sitting for over a week full-time, identifying the location of each of the 1000 or so photographs and then assigning a six-figure grid reference. Those bits were not quite so enjoyable!'
John found some surprising responses from more established figures in archaeology: "We clearly put some people's noses out of joint with pixaerial. We received a lot of press coverage, and were managing to highlight the archaeology of these areas much more effectively than some institutions have done. Being entirely independent, we could try whatever we thought would work and could afford to do. I'm personally happy to have blown the argument about the usefulness of oblique aerial images out of the water; there is no argument - it works!" That said, pixaerial did attract formal notes of appreciation from bodies like CADW∞ and Gwynedd Archaeological Trust∞.
A highlight of the pixaerial project was when one of their images revealed a large settlement earthwork∞ near Amlwch, Anglesey. They found that no archaeological work beyond a single undergraduate project had been undertaken on it, so they decided to take a novel approach; they invited "Time Team"∞to the site. Less than a year later, about £40,000 worth of digging and TV production was spent over the usual three days at Amlwch.
The programme unearthed a long history of occupation at the site, yielding a still-unexplained prehistoric arced ditch feature, a Bronze Age burial cist and a couple of Roman As coins. When the Time Team helicopter arrived, dry weather and crop marks revealed a whole Iron-Age landscape in adjoining fields. 'I had ever-so-slightly damp eyes at that moment', said John. Attracting that level of funding to a single site would normally be unthinkable, even for the most accomplished archaeological professional.
John and David's online database www.pixaerial.com∞ - provides completely free access to about 45,000 images taken all over Wales.
With the recent completion of photographing every inch of the Gower AONB, John and David are now hanging up their headsets. A lot of work remains to be done in analysing the vast archaeological survey photographs, but at least the CBA's grant allowed the pictures to be made available to all far more quickly than otherwise would have been the case.
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