Aerial Investigation and Mapping Projects

Aerial Investigation and Mapping (AI&M) methodology has been developed by English Heritage (now Historic England) for identifying, mapping and recording archaeological sites and landscapes from aerial photographs and other airborne remote sensed data such as lidar. It was previously known as the National Mapping Programme (NMP).

A colour photograph, taken from above, showing an aerial photograph interpreter seated at a desk, locating the position of 1940s black and white photographs on a modern map. Valuable potential historic environment information is contained within aerial photographs for periods from the Neolithic period to the Cold War. It can be seen above the ground as earthworks or structures and buried remains can be revealed as cropmarks or soilmarks.

Millions of aerial photographs are held for England by archives such as the Historic England Archive, Cambridge University and local sources such as the Historic Environment Record (HER).

A black and white aerial photograph of the shoreline, with a fish trap visible as a low V-shaped structure . The AI&M methodology and standards developed by English Heritage (now Historic England) provide the means for expert aerial photograph interpreters to interpret and record this information to a consistent standard. Each AI&M project examines all readily available aerial photographs and remote sensing data for a specified area. Depending on this size of the project area, this can easily number into the tens of thousands of aerial photographs.

The best way to provide a synthesis of such a large amount of archaeological information is in the form of a map, with accompanying descriptions of all recorded sites and landscapes in the HER.

A colour ground photograph of a ruined agricultural building in a flat landscape of reclaimed fields. In this way, the AI&M projects enhance  our understanding of past land use through identification and analysis of previously unrecorded archaeological landscapes and improving the information held for monuments already recorded on the HER. This information can then be used by Devon County Council Historic Environment team for research and management of change in the historic environment.

Several AI&M projects have surveyed areas of Devon and highlight reports can be downloaded from Historic England webpages.

A ground colour photograph of a concrete Second World War pillbox in grassland.
WWII Pillbox south-west of Axminster

The Historic Environment team has recently been working with Historic England and AC Archaeology on a project between the South Devon Coast and Dartmoor. Two areas have been completed, and you can read a summary of the results on the Haldon Ridge and the Dart Valley and Plymouth to the Avon Valley page. The information generated by these projects is on the HER which can be accessed via Heritage Gateway and the Devon Environment Viewer.

The most recent project, in collaboration with the University of Exeter’s Understanding Landscapes project, has just concluded. It covered the Tamar Valley, and focused on interpretation of lidar data to supplement the sites previously mapped from aerial photographs, and incorporates data from the Understanding Landscapes volunteers. You can read a summary of the results on the Tamar Lidar page.

More information on Aerial Investigation and Mapping can be found on Historic England’s webpages.