City in the Sand

As we were scanning a box on Roman sites around the Mediterranean this image of Leptis Magna sprang out at us. Located directly on the sea in what is now Libya, Leptis Magna rose to become one of the great cities and trading ports of the Roman Empire.

Economic decline and environmental change, including the progressive silting-up of its natural harbour, led to a decline of the city after the third century. Conquests and re-conquests added to the fate of the site, which eventually disappeared under sand.

Myres: Libya: Tripoli: Leptis Magna: Great apse SE of Forum from the west

Myres Collection: Institute of Archaeology, Oxford

This is the way ancient historian and photographer John Linton Myres (1869-1954) found it 1,000 years later, during one of his travels around the Mediterranean at the turn of the 20th century.

The image captures the magic and symbolism the site must have held for a European explorer: undisturbed and yet to be excavated, a visual incarnation of Shelley’s famous poem of Ozymandias, Myres being the traveller, recording his image in the full knowledge that his shadow would be as transient as the might of the once powerful rulers…

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HEIR loves Stonehenge!

One of the best parts about working on the HEIR project has been the opportunity to experiment with rephotographing sites in the pictures. On Thursday, 26th June I had the chance to visit Stonehenge. As well as seeing the new visitor facilities, which are excellent, I took time to take some pictures.

Stonehenge 2014Photo: Janice Kinory

On arriving back at our office, I realized that my photos don’t look much like those from the archive. In our oldest images, from c. 1870, we can see roads and footpaths, which no longer exist, including the one adjacent to the Heal Stone currently being removed by English Heritage (EH).

Approach to StonehengeLantern slide: H.M.J.U. Underhill, c.1870

In general, many of the viewpoints in our images could only be duplicated now by getting special permission from EH as they require entry to places, such as the centre of the stone circle or the rear of the Heal Stone, which are closed to general visitors.

Institute of Archaeology, OxfordLantern slide: H.M.J.Underhill, April 18th 1895
“From the ‘Altar’ looking ENE exactly”
You can’t stand here today without special permisson…

Most importantly, some of the stones were straightened in the 1950s and 60s to stabilize them, so the leaning stones in our modern images are now standing upright – but this is how Stonehenge looked in c. 1910 when photographer R.W. Wylie visited…

Photographer: R.W. Wylie Glass plate negative

Photographer: R.W. Wylie
Glass plate negative

The other major difference I noticed is the large number of tourists in my pictures compared to their virtual absence in the archival images.

One unexpected feature of my trip was the presence of a rook sitting on a fence post next to the visitor pathway near the stones, calmly allowing itself to be photographed. As rooks are usually wary of humans, I wondered about this odd behavior. Later, I recalled that the old visitor centre had been nearby, with its picnic area where rooks and seagulls had begged for food. I’m sure this “rook star” was a veteran of that era, hoping for a handout.

Photographer: Janice KinoryPhotographer: Janice Kinory

I’ll close with a note that anyone planning to visit Stonehenge can greatly improve their day there by taking the time to pre-book their mandatory timed entry ticket on-line at the EH website, You can still buy tickets at the site on arrival, of course, but the queues are long and you may have to wait for entry.

Dr Janice Kinory (

Research Assistant, HEIR


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Moving the Tchalenko Archive

Thanks to the volunteers and Dr Marlena Whiting for their help moving the Georges Tchalenko Archive to the Archive Room (7.50 m of boxes + 4 boxes of slides and card records transported down five staircases – this Georgian building has no lift!). There is increasing interest in this archive, so we have moved it to be more accessible to researchers.

Georges Tchalenko was a Russian-born archaeologist who carried out research and survey work in Syria between 1934-1975 on behalf of the French Institute in Beirut.


The archive includes research notes, photographs, letters and notebooks – a fascinating record of sites and monuments as they stood over half a century ago.

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Bridge ballet

Spain: Alconétar. N. abutmentWe are busy scanning images to add to the Historic Environment Image Resource, which will be coming online later this year.

Some of the lantern slide photographs are so good we want to share them straight away – like this one.

Its label reads “Spain: Alconétar. N. abutment”. We don’t know anything about the photographer or the women jumping on the ruined bridge. The clothing suggests a date in the 1920s…

Spot the donkey?


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“The shock of the old: glass plate negatives and photographs of late 19th century England”

We are delighted that HEIR’s “The shock of the old” proposal has been chosen as one of the 36 funded projects participating in the Being Human: A Festival of the Humanities 2014. The Festival will take place between the 15-23 November. We are planning several public events, including a Victorian “London to Constantinople” Lantern Slide Performance (with musical accompaniment)…

Coming to visit...

Coming to visit…

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Book launch party!

Celtic Art in Europe:Making Connections. Essays in honour of Vincent Megaw on his 80th Birthday

(edited by C. Gosden, S. Crawford and K. Ulmschneider)

Some of the contributors to the volume with JVS Megaw

Photographer: Ian Cartwright

Above: some of the contributors with the birthday boy at Friday’s party.

Thanks to all the contributors, friends and family who came to celebrate, and to Erin, Nikki, Helen, Joanne and Rebecca for helping!

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The case of the disappearing medieval buildings…

As we were scanning another box of late 19th century lantern slides, we came across this lovely picture of the Duomo in Florence (Firenze), Italy….

The Duomo, Florence, c.1890

Janice thought she had taken a very similar picture on a recent holiday, and brought her photograph in so that we could compare Florence then and now…

Janice's photograph

But when we put the two images side-by-side, something seems to be missing from the older picture – several medieval buildings have mysteriously disappeared!


The illusion of the disappearing buildings is created by distance and perspective. Although the images look similar at first glance, the modern picture is taken from very much further away from the Duomo than the original, and Janice was taking her photograph from a slightly different angle. Buildings which were outside the frame of the Victorian image appear in Janice’s photograph.

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