Aerial Photography and Visualisation for Built Heritage - PhD Portfolio by Kieran Baxter
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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Terrain, Territory and Tentsmuir KAP

When thinking about how ancient sites would have looked from the air we can consider that the surrounding context may have been more unrecognizable than the site itself. Modern farming methods leave a graphic impression on the land, often a patchwork of straight and parallel lines which make it hard to visualize a site as it's first inhabitants may have found it.

It will be important in my reconstruction project not just to look at sources of untouched land but to think about the impressions which early settlers would have left on their surroundings. In communities who spent a lot of their time living and working outside we can assume that the unused land around ancient settlements would have been a web of paths, well worn by people and animals.

I took these kite photographs yesterday at Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve, a site largely undeveloped by human forces although it's many visitors have traced a network of paths in the dunes and flat land behind the beach. While exploring the landscape these visitors have caused a transformation reminiscent of what William Fox describes as "...converting land into landscape, or terrain into territory" (Fox, 2009). I found this a strong description of how our regard for a particular area can make a clear impression on the land as well as on the people who have interacted with it.

A fascinating aspect of Jarshof in Shetland is that people have been drawn to settle on the same site for over 4000 years. For whatever strategic advantage the location had it has been firmly claimed as territory time and time again. By reconstructing these changes using aerial perspectives I hope to enable the modern day visitor to build a familiarity of the site and ultimately their own claim to territory.

The dangers of using new media to present real history to an audience can be summed up by the arguments of the French theorist Jean Baudrillard. In fitting with the subject Baudrillard used the analogy of a map, or simulation, which is meant to represent a terrain, or reality (Baudrillard, 1994). The danger is that the "map" can become departed from the real, and while the audience accepts the simulation the reality can become obscured.

Interpretive reconstruction, while perhaps a contradiction of terms, is at the very least surrounded by issues of integrity. While it is tempting to use whatever imagery will instill a strong atmosphere in my film, it is a little pointless if not representational of the evidence and facts which have been established around the site.

While these photographs of Tentsmuir might provide a visually strong part of a backdrop to the bronze age settlement, it will be important to study the forces at work at the current day site as well as what can be interpolated about both geological terrain, and human territory, in the time of these ancient settlers.


Baudrillard, J., 1994, Simulacra and Simulation, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.

Fox, W., 2009, Aereality, Berkley: Counterpoint.

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