U2 Aerial Photography

Aleppo, Syria on 11 November 1959 (U2 Mission B8652 frame 40)


Historical aerial and satellite photographs are powerful tools for reconstructing past landscapes. Early images can predate destructive late 20th century developments like urban expansion, agricultural schemes, and hydroelectric dams. Film from the U2 aerial surveillance program in the Middle East (1958-1960) have proven to be especially useful for archaeological research. These photographs have been available in the National Archives (NARA) for almost two decades, but official finding aids are limited or non-existent. To expand scholarly access, Emily Hammer (University of Pennsylvania) and Jason Ur (Harvard University) have created a spatial index to the declassified Middle Eastern missions in NARA. Click the missions on the menu for web maps. Geospatial data for the spatial index is downloadable from the Harvard Dataverse.

For a detailed overview and case studies, see Hammer, Emily L., and Jason A. Ur. 2019. Near Eastern Landscapes and Declassified U2 Aerial ImageryAdvances in Archaeological Practice.