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RÉSUMÉ | LOOKING AT HISTORY FROM THE AIR [Flygspaning efter Historia]
Including the catalogue of Esse Ericsson’s archive of Aerial Photographs

LOOKING AT HISTORY FROM THE AIR [Flygspaning efter Historia] LOOKING AT HISTORY FROM THE AIR [Flygspaning efter Historia]
The volume includes contributions by Scandinavian archaeologists with specialist knowledge in aerial photography. Each chapter is based on the work of airforce major and archaeologist, Esse Ericsson (1921-1996). Ericsson, who was renowned for being unconventional, introduced systematic aerial photography to Scandinavia in the 1950s and 1960s; it was during this period that he documented the known, and hitherto unknown, cultural and topographical aspects of the landscape of southernmost Sweden. A large section of the book – published in the Swedish language by The IK Foundation in 1992 – has been devoted to an illustrated catalogue, topographically arranged, of Ericsson’s photographs. The photographs show thousands of objects related to culture, nature and the environment.

A historical view of this multidisciplinary branch of archeology introduces the book via the late Dr Gad Rausing’s research into the continuous added knowledge over time, which such photographs may reveal of a geographical area from a multitude of aspects. In particular he focused on the importance of aerial photographs – as an additional tool to traditional excavations – by having the unique potential to give a general impression over a larger area of a cultural lanscape and show details otherwise invisible for the human eye. His chapter begins with a photograph from a hot air balloon taken on 7 April 1894 and ends with a description of a digital database. Other milestones in the development of this discipline include;
  • The first aerial photograph was taken from a hot air balloon in France by G.F. Tournachon in 1858.
  • S.A Andrée took the first such pictures from a hot air balloon in Sweden in 1893.
  • The first aerial photograph with an actual archaeological aim, was taken from a hot air balloon over Stonehenge in 1906 by P.H. Sharpe.
  • The first pictures taken from aeroplanes, took place in the 1910s.
  • O.G.S. Crawford and G.W.G Allen were the first to make long-term prospecting of cultural landscapes via aerial photography during the 1920s and 1930s in England.
  • From a Swedish perspective, Esse Ericson’s work within aerial photography was pioneering and his documentation over more than four decades became of great importance for the understanding of historical monuments and everyday life over time.
Gad Rausing published several books from the 1950s to 1980s, including Arkeologien som naturvetenskap [Archeology as natural science] which is regarded as a pioneering work within this field.

This chapter is an abridged version of the late airforce major and archaeologist, Esse Ericsson’s scientific article ‘Plant ecological phenomena and their use for localisation of archeological and historical objects via looking from the air and aerial photographs’ [title in translation from Swedish], written in 1968. Observations made by Ericsson in this text include in-depth studies and calculations of the significance of various nutritious substances, and which effects these may have for tracing crop-marks from different crops/plants via aerial pictures. Additionally he emphasised a multitude of factors for how and to what extent plants are visible from a fixed altitude when taking aerial pictures; like the bedrock, soil and vegetation, bogs, new cultivations, land elevations and draining. Topography, climate, waterways, geology, hydrology, previous roads or grazing cattle being some of the other considerations that had to be taken into account when interpreting aerial photographs.

The late archaeologist Jan Norrman at the Swedish National Heritage Board wrote in his chapter about past and present work from the air – leading up to the early 1990s in Sweden. Including thoughts on problems due to wide-stretching forests making it difficult to interpret pictures from many geographical areas, but foremost focusing on achievements and positive aspects over the years for aerial photography in Sweden lead by several individuals. Esse Ericsson’s extensive and long-lasting work in the southernmost part of the country, was also emphasised as a turning point for this multidisciplinary working methods – in learning more about the cultural landscape. Furthermore, Norrman put weight on how important such regular and frequent flying hours have been to cover and overlapping a regionally limited geographical area, to get a comprehensive picture as possible of traces from the past. His view being that Swedish aerial archaeologists during decades had done too limited a number of hours in the air to reach the full potential, compared to British research teams for instance within this field. First in 1983, the Swedish National Heritage Board allocated funds for aerial photography of historical monuments, traces after grazing cattle, crop-marks, circles of stones, ruined buildings and other terrestrial features of interest.

The fourth chapter is a brief biography of the late Esaias (Esse) Ericsson; it was written by the archaeologist P.U. Hörberg who first met him as a student during the 1960s at one of Esse’s inspiring talks about aerial photography and its multidisciplinary possibilities. Esse was born in 1921 – in Robertsfors, northern Sweden – after his exams in 1942, he became a flying cadet in Ljungbyhed in the southernmost part of the country, where he already later on during his military carrier in the 1940s started photographing from the air. An interest he kept up and strengthened over the years with his unique expanding collection of photographs. Esse retired from the airforce in 1971 and continued with full-time academic studies, including Nordic archaeology, ethnography and natural geography. He also had plans to deepen his studies even further based on his extensive photographic material and knowledge linked to aerial pictures with a PhD in Nordic and comparable archaeology. However, for some inexplicable reason the material was seen as insufficient by the institution at Lund university at the time. Esse continued up to the late 1980s to be active with aerial photography, frequent talks and in 1991-1992 his work was honoured with two Royal medals.

The Esse Ericsson’s aerial photograph archive is one of the world’s finest collections of a limited geographical region – in this case Skåne in southernmost Sweden – with additional pictures from other areas. Lars Hansen, naturalist and Head of The IK Foundation, gives a brief presentation of the historical significance of the archive as a chapter introducing the catalogue in the book. The archive was donated to IK in 1988, besides thousands of aerial photographs taken between 1953 and 1972 it additionally included: maps, notes, correspondence, literature and educational material from Esse Ericsson’s several decades long work. To get an overview and making the archive available to the public, an extensive project divided into three phases took place between 1988 and 1992.
  1. Sorting and documenting the status of the archive.
  2. Cleaning and reframing of dia slides, together with other necessary conservation work. In the next step, the editorial board of Esse Ericsson, P.U. Hörberg and Lars Hansen pinpointed the exact geographical provenience for each photograph, assisted by economical and topographical maps. Due to this, only a minor part of the thousands of images have an unknown place of origin.
  3. The finalising of an in-depth catalogue, building an archive system for long-time keeping and the publication of this book to ensure future accessibility of the unique aerial photographic archive.
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Should you wish to experience the printed volumes, they can generally be purchased with an iFellow discount in The IK Bookshop or are available in major libraries around the world.

[Flygspaning efter Historia]
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THO The Thora Ohlsson Foundation, Lund, Sweden

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