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Aerial Photography

Pyramids in Abusir, Egypt

Ancient pyramids and traces of a sinuous natural harbor at Abusir, Egypt operation in 2450 B.C.E as it appeared from J.H. Breasted's airplane in 1920. (click to enlarge)

Mary-Helen Schmidt

Mary-Helen Schmidt, wife of OI professor Erich Schmidt, with the plane "Friend of Iran." Her gift enabled the pioneering Aerial Survey of Iran.

Naqsh-e Rustam

Naqsh-e Rustam, site of the tombs of several Achaemenid kings and Sassanian reliefs as seen from above in 1936. (click to enlarge)

While many providers of spatial data such as Google Earth and Geoeye emphasize the most current information in order to enable people to make day-to-day decisions, there is an enormous amount of perspective to be gained from integrating historical representations of our world with modern ones. CAMEL offers extensive, archival collections of information for the Middle East, providing just such a rich, historical foundation for this region. Its collections of spatial data, including thousands of aerial photographs from the 1920s-1950s, are no less important or impressive than the most detailed satellite images captured just a few moments ago.

Our earliest photos were produced by the Oriental Institute’s founder, James Henry Breasted, in 1920. As one of the early, unrecognized pioneers of utilizing aerial survey for archaeological research, Breasted photographed Egyptian pyramids and temples from a Royal Air Force plane. His glass-plate and film negatives document now-vanished features such as the ancient lake at Abusir, Egypt.

Another significant collection of aerial photography was produced from August 1935 to November 1937 by Erich Schmidt, field director of the OI excavations at the ancient Persian capital of Iran, Persepolis. In 1935, Mary-Helen Schmidt presented her husband Erich with an airplane christened “Friend of Iran,” enabling him to direct an impressive series of flights over much of Iran. This mission included photographing excavations already in progress, documentation and mapping of sites being considered for excavation, and new explorations over archaeologically unknown areas of Iran. Over 1,000 images reside in our archives and will be precisely georectified thanks to Schmidt’s meticulous cataloguing. Digitization and georectification of these photos will greatly enhance Schmidt’s already valuable contribution to aerial survey, Flights over Ancient Cities of Iran (1940).

Other collections that we are in the process of making digitally available include balloon-mounted photos from the early OI mission at the Biblical site of Megiddo and some 4,500 aerial photos from J.H. Breasted, Jr.’s impressive series of flights in the Middle East. Breasted’s son flew through Egypt, Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Iran in 1933 and produced highly detailed visuals from the temples at Luxor and Abu Simbel in Egypt to the Classical walled city of Dura-Europos in Syria.

Our efforts will digitize a significant portion of the wealth of spatial data collected by the Oriental Institute over the past century, including its substantial collections of aerial photographs. This process will make these photos more broadly available and accessible, enabling the Oriental Institute to present original, profound perspectives on this important region and its vibrant, vital cultures.

Revised: November 21, 2008

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