Interpreting Air Photographs

On Wednesday 20th March, Roy and Sophie led an Aerial Photography workshop for volunteers on the Ancient Landscapes project.  For those of you who aren’t actively involved with the project but like to keep up-to-date on its progress, here’s a brief explanation of how we will be using air photographs to supplement the LIDAR data.

Aerial Photograph, mid-1970s Ordnance Survey map, 1889 Tithe Map, 1841

You can click on the photograph / maps to see a larger version.

The Ancient Landscapes project will include analysis of aerial photographs. This is a source that often reveals archaeology, sometimes in the form of early patterns in the landscape which have been removed by modern farming techniques.

The aerial photograph (shown above left) shows the land to the north of Hartley Farm, 1 mile west of Bradford. The photo was taken in the mid-1970’s, a period when field boundaries were being removed in much of our countryside to facility more efficient farming. Many features can be seen in the freshly-ploughed soil of the large field, in particular a large dark patch in the centre.

The aerial photograph is oblique, not vertical, so you need to work hard to compare this to the Ordnance Survey map of 1889 (shown above centre) – Haugh Potticks Farm towards the top of the photo is a good starter point. With care you will see that our dark feature appears to have been a pond – or perhaps a small quarry that became a pond.

Do the same comparison with the Tithe Map of 1841 (shown above right) – and no pond! A nice bit of archaeological detective work using three sources and proving that the pond was dug between 1841 and 1889.

But there’s more work to do here. Some of the lines showing in the large field are clearly boundaries seen on the two early maps. But not all of them – note the set of parallel lines running towards the field boundary closest to camera. We recognize these as ‘ridge and furrow’, the strip fields set out and cultivated in the Middle Ages, perhaps from 1200 AD or thereabouts. We have few signs of the Medieval landscape surviving around Bradford so this is a useful discovery. We are hopeful that further research with aerial photos will give use more insights like this, adding to the data we get from the LIDAR images.

Get involved!

There are many ways to get involved with the project: looking at aerial photographs, field walking, helping to plot the findings on maps, to name but a few.  For those interested in helping with the project, we will also be running training sessions on identifying earthworks, and other skills.

If you are interested in getting involved with this exciting project, please contact Roy Canham on 01225 866748 or at

If you’re not sure what you could do to help, read our How To Get Involved blog post.

If you aren’t able to help, but you want to keep up to date, then please follow our blog.  We’ll be holding public talks and other events throughout the year, so look out for announcements here.

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