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Soaring in the skies – “…aka archaeology isn’t boring after all”

What better way to find buried treasure than to climb high for a good view of the scenery?

Susann and Kenneth did just that. They took to the sky from the Spitzerberg airport in a beautiful Cessna 172S Skyhawk accompanied by a eagle-eyed professor and a steady-handed pilot. The quest: to find traces of Europe’s Iron Age.

The early Iron Age, 800-400 BC, was when people in Europe were mining iron and salt, lived in hillfort settlements and erected monumental burial mounds. It came to an abrupt end, but today’s landscape is still shaped by its graves and defensive walls.

From the air it’s possible to spot these things even when at ground level you could trip over them without noticing. Shapes are formed by crops that grow taller or shorter, variations in soil colour, shadows cast, frost that appears along the lines of buried features… Landscape archaeology owes a lot to airplanes, cameras and new sophisticated low-cost techniques that help the gaze penetrate the subsoil.

After spotting mystery complexes, traces of settlements and viewing the Roman site of Carnuntum, Susann and Kenneth headed back to Vienna to the Aerial Photography Archive. Aerial archaeology is detective work that comes in 3 stages: flying and taking pictures; examining previously taken pictures; and mapping, that is, interpreting the information in the photographs. So the Archive is where things really come together, and our travellers were duly amazed by what all the photographs revealed.

This was all in a day’s work for the professor, Michael Doneus, Director of the department for Prehistoric and Historical Archaeology at the University of Vienna. He is part of the Iron-Age-Danube project in which 20 partners from Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia research early Iron Age landscapes in the Danube river basin. The idea is to preserve them for the enjoyment of future generations instead of letting them be razed and built over.

The project’s genius lies in the fact that it looks at all these “monumentalised” landscapes together instead of just individual sites. Having located them, the partners will come up with strategies and tools to protect, present and promote them as a touristic offer. There will be an app offering interactive visualisations and augmented reality features. That’ll be something to experience!

This project is a finalist for the RegioStars Award 2018 in the category of investing in cultural heritage. The winners are still to be chosen, so find your favourite and cast your vote! And by the way, talking about cultural heritage, 2018 is the European Year that celebrates it.

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