Monday, 15 June 2015

Aerial Photographs of the Middle East in the 1930s

The expedition team from the Oriental Institute in Chicago.
Olley expedition photographs, Croydon Airport Society
One of the best aspects of working in archives and with museum collections is the unexpected things you can find. Peter Skinner, archivist for the Croydon Airport Society, knowing my interest in archaeology and the Middle East pointed me to some photographs in a file named 'Expeditions'. I was amazed to find photographs of excavations at Khorsabad and Persepolis as well as a number of aerial photographs of the area of (to use the names used then) Palestine, Trans-Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Persia from 1932 or 1933.

These photographs were taken by Captain Gordon P. Olley when he was chartered by Charles Breasted and then his father James Henry Breasted through Imperial Airways to take them on two special expeditions. Olley was at that time working for the Charter Service of Imperial Airways and in Cairo, after a trip along the Nile with Mr. Willie Vanderbilt, picked up: 
a party of scientists from Chicago, who were making a tour of inspection of a number of sites where archaeological researches were in progress. (Olley, 1934: 141)
These scientists were from the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and the chartered flight took place over two weeks 16 March to 2 April 1932.
Jerusalem, Olley Expedition photographs,
Croydon Airport Society

These photographs were taken then and the year after, when Olley was chartered to take James Henry Breasted and a party to Baghdad and Persepolis in February 1933. At the time filming was taking place for what would become The Human Adventure, the first bespoke film on archaeology which was released in 1935. The film on archaeology in the Middle East was produced by the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and uses some of the aerial shoots in the collection of Croydon Airport Society. The Charter section of Imperial Airways was based at Croydon Airport and Olley's own aviation company, Olley's Airlines, was based at Croydon only a few years' later.

I hope that future posts will explore the excavations at Khorsabad and the filming and excavations
taking place at Persepolis. However, for now, here are some examples of aerial photographs of sites and land in then what was known as Palestine, TransJordan, Iraq and Persia. Images that it would be hard to take today due to the conflict and suffering of the people (and the archaeological sites) in the area.

It is also testimony that you never know what you might find in an archive and the richness of those of Croydon Airport Society!

British Residency, Jerusalem, Olley Expedition Photographs, Croydon Airport Society
Arch of Ctesiphon, Olley Expedition Photographs, Croydon Airport Society

Baghdad, Olley Expedition Photographs, Croydon Airport Society
Mosul, Olley Expedition Photographs, Croydon Airport Society
Gaza, Olley Expedition Photographs, Croydon Airport Society
Haifa, Olley Expedition Photographs, Croydon Airport Society
Plane Wing, Olley Expedition Photographs, Croydon Airport Society

1 comment:

  1. The last photo (wing marked NC14279) is a bit of a mystery as NC14279 was an American Airlines DC-2 so not built till after 1934 and sold to the British in Africa in 1941where it crashed (destined for BOAC as G-AGCH but not received by them)


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