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Air Reconnaissance in Northern France

  • J. K. St Joseph

During the last two decades discoveries of buried features of archaeological and historical interest have been widespread in south-east England, on many different soils supporting varying vegetation, the gravel terraces of the principal rivers and the chalk country yielding most information. Not the least productive area is the Isle of Thanet, where such ground as is free from the spreading housing estates of coastal resorts displays, for example, groups of ring-ditches of Bronze Age barrows, enclosures of the Iron Age, Roman villae, and even practice-trenches of the 1914-18 war. If discoveries of such variety and number could be made in Thanet, what of the other side of the Channel, where extensive tracts of chalk country are crossed by valleys with wide plains of alluvial gravel? Occasional discoveries made by members of French flying-clubs, for example, by M. Roger Agache in the Somme valley, had by 1961 shown that ‘crop-marks’ were to be seen; indeed it would be very surprising if they were not.

But to undertake abroad a programme of air photography involving widely ranging flights, planned for research, is not quite so simple a matter as in Britain. Maintenance requirements appropriate to aircraft operating abroad impose limitations on the work, while above all there is need to obtain permission for such photography from the responsible authorities. It was largely owing to the continued support of M. Seyrig and Professor Will that such permission was granted at all, and grateful thanks are due to them, to the Direction de l’Architecture of the French Ministry of State, under whose auspices the work was carried out, and to the British Academy, which made a grant towards the cost of the operation.

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1 For a brief discussion of the problems of air photography and archaeology in France, see R. Chevallier, Bull. Soc. Fr. Photogrammétrie, 5, 1962, 1-3.

2 For example, at Peuplingues and at Laize la Ville.

3 The French Cartes de France at a scale of 1 : 50,000 (sheets XVI: 12-13 ; XVII: 10-13 ; XVIII: 11 ; XIX: 10-12; XX: 7-12; XXI: 3-13; XXII: 2-12; XXIII: 2-10; XXIV: 2-8; XXV: 2-11; XXVI: 2-13; XXVII: 2-13; XXVIII: 2-13; XXIX: 13) were used for this reconnaissance, and the photographs have been plotted with reference to these maps. Only a few sheets in a new format bearing a kilometre grid are yet available, so it is not at present possible to give grid-references.

4 R. Agache, Bull. Soc. préhist. du Nord, 3, 1960, 30, and Bull. Soc. préhist. Fr., 58, 1961, 224. The site is known locally as ‘les ronds de Fées du Champ de la danse’.

5 K. V. Decker and I. Scollar, ANTIQUITY, 36,1962, 175-178, pls. xxii-xxiii. For a recent account of barrows in east Yorkshire having square ditches, with some analogies on the continent, see I. M. Stead, Antiq. J., 41, 1961, 44-62.

6 Compare the distribution map of sites revealed by crop-marks in the Somme valley, published in Bull. Soc. Fr. Photogrammétrie, 5, 1962, 16.

7 For a description of these hill-forts, see R. E. M. Wheeler and K. M. Richardson, Hill-forts of Northern France (1957), Res. Reports, Soc. Antiquaries, 19.

8 O. Vauvillé, Mem. Soc. nat. Antiq. Fr., 50, 1889, 314, pl.v.

9 For references see Wheeler and Richardson, op. cit., 129-130.

10 For example, in the valleys of the Ouse and Nene.

11 Previously observed by M. Agache: Bull. Soc. prihist. du Nord, 3, 1960, 29, item 5.

12 R. Agache, Bull. Soc. Fr. Pkotogrammétrie, 5, 1962, 17, and figs. 4-6 on p. 23.

13 D. Jalmain, Bull. Soc. Fr. Photogrammétrie, 5, 1962, 12-14. Cf. also H.-P. Eydoux, Résurrection de la Gaule, 1961, pl. ix, which shows a dense cluster of crop-marks such as might have been recorded in one of the valleys of southern England.

14 See, e.g., R. Chevallier, Etudes rurales, Paris, 3, 1961, 54-78, and especially the maps, figs. 2-3.

A year ago we published an illustrated report of air reconnaissance in Wales by Dr St Joseph, Director in Aerial Photography in the University of Cambridge (ANTIQUITY, 1961, 263). We now publish a few of the large collection of excellent photographs taken by Dr St Joseph in a reconnaissance of part of northern France in June, 1961. His article embodies a description of the main sites: he lays special stress on the reasom for the dtflertme in the nature and density of the distribution of archaeological sites in southern Britain and northern France. He begins with a brief history of the enterprise.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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