A central aspect of the documentation of any archaeological excavation is the photographic record. Both during the excavation itself, as well as at the end of every season, a constant photographic record is kept. Recent improvements in digital photography have made this process so much easier, facilitating quick development and control of photographic quality, and assurance that objects, features and other finds are properly documented.
One of the most important type of photos, particular at the end of the season, are the aerial photos. These shots give us a global, “bird’s-eye” view of the excavations, often providing views and angles unavailable from other media.
Over the years, we have tried several methods of aerial photography at the end of the seasons at Tell es-Safi/Gath. For several seasons, we used the services of a local pilot who had an “ultra-light” plane. He took up one of the more brave members of the staff in most cases, Brian Schultz), who zipped by the site on several low flybys, taking pictures of the various areas.
This was nice, but due to the fact that the plane moved so quickly, it was hard to control the photos, and they could not be checked until after it was on the ground (post facto …). Subsequently, we tried photography from a helipcopter, which was better, but still did not allow a slow, and deliberate planning and checking of the photos as they were being taken.
Also, we tried using a superhigh crane from the electic company, but that could not reach all parts of the tell.
This season, we tried a new system, which, I must say, worked VERY well. Using a company that works with a small hot-air balloon (SKYBALLONN INC.). The balloon, which is tethered to the two controllers, has a high-resolution digital camera.
As one walks on site, you can view what the camera “sees” thru a small screen. Using a “joystick,” the operator can move the angle of the camera, raise or lower the balloon, etc., until you get exactly the picture you want (and as many as you want!).
The results came out excellent, providing ample, accurate, and high quality photos, from various angles, heights, views, etc.
This is definitely the way to go!!