Opening August 20, 2022
Archaeologists use all kinds of tools to find out about the past–even top-secret images taken by spy planes. Declassified photographs captured by U2 aircraft in the 1950s and 60s are yielding new insights today, helping to recover lost histories.
Through large-scale printed images and a small selection of objects from the Penn collection, this exhibition offers a closer look at the United States military’s top-secret aerial reconnaissance during the 1950s and 1960s, the key geographic features and lost landscapes they captured accidentally, and the role of “aerial archaeology.”
Archaeologists use many more tools than just the shovel, pick, and trowel. Aerial and satellite images from this time provide researchers with a view of settlements and ancient environmental features that have since been altered due to urban expansion and agriculture. Many important traces of ancient societies—like road networks and irrigation systems—are only visible from an aerial view.
This exhibition stems from a larger research project by scholars at Penn and Harvard, who embarked on a mission to reconstruct the flight paths of the U2 planes and build a spatial index of images that is accessible to everyone.
The exhibition is curated by Dr. Emily Hammer, Assistant Professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and the Price Lab for the Digital Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences.