Group History

The Aerial Archaeology Research Group (AARG) began life in 1983 after some earlier seminars were called to discuss ideas raised by Paul Ashbee (then of the University of East Anglia) and David Wilson (of CUCAP). (See AARGnews 28 and 47).

The critical issue was to examine ways of obtaining archaeological information from existing aerial photographs – problems that now tend to fall within ‘post-reconnaissance’ work. Meetings of that group then continued to be held at least once a year – and those were exciting times.

Computer rectification had become available and allowed, for the first time, rapid mapping of complex features and large areas. This was used by a small number of research students to study different areas of Britain, and many of the early AARG meetings were spent discussing ways of illustrating different kinds of features (see Aerial Archaeology 11) and of methods of classification of the mapped features and their results. The latter is a never-ending quest and recurs at intervals and as new areas (each of which has its own specific problems) are studied or new methods applied (see, for example, papers by Duncan and Redfern in AARGnews 14). More recently we have examined ways of using machine intelligence to find and classify archaeological information (for example, De Laet and Lambers; Trier et al in AARGnews 39) and to assist some of the technical problems of image manipulation (e.g., Verhoeven et al; Cantoro in AARGnews 44; Vletter in AARGnews 50)

Present day annual AARG meetings have become slightly more formal presentations of finished, or ongoing, projects, although we have introduced sessions which have more open discussions. Presentations have included some of the results from the National Mapping Programme for England (HE), and integration of different survey methods (such as comparing results from AP interpretation with geophysics, or adding field-walked data to AP-derived maps). Use of satellite images was initially pursued as the special interest of one member but, with the increasing resolution now publicly available, this media is becoming a useful source of archaeological information (see Fowler in AARGnews 9-15, Comfort in AARGnews 14; Danelli in AARGnews 54).
As AARG enlarged in size, so it attracted aerial photographers as members and topics have arisen which pursue their interests. The merits of different types of hardware (cameras, films, filters, etc) have been discussed (see Crawshaw AARGnews 8-10; Jones in AARGnews 16) and our early meetings included an informal session at which members showed a selection of their latest photographs. Current interest, raised as an important post-reconnaissance question, asks whether the traditional archaeological oblique photographs provide reliable data on which to base archaeological survey. This continues to form part of discussions at the annual conferences.

Our meetings also include displays and discussions about new technology. Since 2000, we have observed the ways in which Airborne Laser Scanning (ALS) can help answer archaeological problems and can produce three-dimensional images of features and landscapes that are covered by woodland. ALS has revolutionized the way archaeologists can see and understand topography in many previously-hidden parts of the world (see Occasional Publication No. 5).  More recent additions to aerial methods have been smaller scale – the use of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) and the accompanying Structure from Motion methods that allow us to recreate three-dimensional views from a series of overlapping photographs. 

Extending into Eastern Europe

Dropping of flying restrictions in eastern Europe, let us welcome many members from ex-soviet bloc countries and AARG has played a prominent role in helping to establish programmes of flying and recording. A conference was held at Kleinmachnow, Berlin in 1994 and was followed in 1996 by a training week in Hungary. That week provided airborne experience for more than 20 ‘students’ who were also introduced to the basics of photo interpretation, mapping and analysis of those results. Since 1996 AARG, assisted by various EU grants, has helped run more than 25 training schools and workshops in Europe, plus others in Near Eastern countries.

AARG has a small, but increasing, number of members from, or working in, other parts of the world and AARGnews has included summaries of work in Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Armenia, Egypt, Afghanistan, and New Zealand as well as updates from work countries in Europe such as Croatia and Serbia.