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13 November 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > Places > Stonehenge > Solstice > The shot that changed history

Stonehenge Aerial Shot

The shot that changed history

A new English Heritage exhibition celebrates the centenary of the shot that changed archaeology forever...

Stonehenge, today, is one of the most photographed landmarks in the country but just 100 years ago a snap was taken of the 5,000-year-old stone circle that was to completely revolutionise archaeology.

Stonehenge Aerial Shot - Taken in 1906

Stonehenge Aerial Shot - Taken in 1906

Up until the early 1900s Stonehenge had been snapped, etched, painted and drawn but all from ground level.  In 1906 all of that was about to change when Lieutenant Philip Henry Sharpe took to the air in a tethered balloon and snapped just three shots of the Neolithic monument.  The photographs were not only the first ever aerial pictures to be taken of Stonehenge but of any archaeological site in Britain. 

Inadvertently, or not, the Royal Engineer's images pioneered the use of aerial photography in the study of ancient monuments.

100 Years of Discovery

To celebrate the centenary of this 'strangest of scientific breakthroughs' English Heritage has launched a touring exhibition.

'100 Years of Discovery' not only tells the story of those first photographs but digs deep into the archives of aerial photography from the Victorian and Edwardian periods through to wartime Britain:

Stonehenge Aerial photo

Stonehenge Aerial Shot - Present Day

"Today aerial survey is the single most important tool for the discovery of archaeological sites in this country," says Pete Horne, Head of Aerial Survey and Investigation at English Heritage.

"As a result of their study, we discover more about the past and gain a greater insight into the changes that have taken place."

The changes that have taken place since Sharpe’s day are a case in point.  In the original aerial shots, taken just 100 years ago, there are only a few tracks cutting across the monument today however the monument is skirted on two sides by the busy A344 and A303

Stonehenge Aerial Shot - Taken in 1906

Stonehenge Aerial Shot - Taken in 1906

Also, it seems, in 1906 the henge was in a more dilapidated state than it is today.  Not only were a number of stones in the outer ring being held up by long wooden poles but inside the circle many stones had actually fallen down completely.

The new exhibition, 100 Years of Discovery, will be on display at Stonehenge from August 1st to 7th 2006 and will then tour other English Heritage sites around the country including:

  • 7 October – 6 January 07: Salisbury Museum
  • 16 January - 18 February 07, Wiltshire Heritage Museum, Devizes

last updated: 03/12/2008 at 15:38
created: 08/08/2006

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