Highlights of the British Collection:

Aerial Photographs - Derrick Riley's Life and Work (1915-1993)

Derrick Newton Riley was born in Matlock in Derbyshire on 15 August 1915. He developed an interest in archaeological aerial photography during his time in the Royal Air Force (R.A.F). At the age of 52 he then started a career in archaeology, undertaking pioneering programmes of aerial photography.

The Ashmolean Museum has a collection of around 250 photographs taken by Riley in 1943 of Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties.

Derrick Riley joined the R.A.F. on 1 July 1940 and began flying on 25 August 1940 at Marshall's Aerodrome in Cambridge. While in Bomber Command, Riley flew in a twin engined Whitley. Then in January 1942 he was posted to Abingdon in Oxfordshire, taking his first archaeological aerial photograph in April that year. The photograph was of a ring ditch which had first been seen by Major George Allen. His interest in aerial archaeology was born and developed while he was in the R.A.F.

Riley visited Edward Thurlow Leeds, the then Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum. In 1942 he was given leave, by the R.A.F., to give a lecture using aerial photographs to the Royal Archaeological Institute at Burlington House.

After he was demobbed from the R.A.F. in 1945, Riley went to work at British Steel. During these years he obtained a private pilots licence. Then in 1977 he took early retirement and returned to aerial archaeology. He joined the Faculty of Archaeology at Sheffield University and in 1981 received an honorary Ph.D.

In 1982, at the age of 75, Riley carried out a pioneering programme of aerial photography with Ben Isaac in Israel. There was a brief report in Levant (25 (1993) 213-4) and an article in Current Archaeology (136 (1993) 139-142).

Riley died on 22 August 1993. A bursery for aerial photography was set up by University of Sheffield as a memorial to Riley and his work.

Riley's publications include:

  • 'Archaeology from the Air in the Upper Thames Valley', Oxoniensia, 8/9 (1943-1944), 64-99. (Available online from the Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society)
  • Early Landscape from the Air (1980).
  • Aerial Archaeology in Britain (first published in 1982 by Park West Publications).
  • Air Photography and Archaeology (1987).
  • D. Kennedy and D.N. Riley Rome's Desert Frontier From the Air (1990).
  • Aerial Survey of Sites and Roads in Israel (carried out 1990-1992).
  • D. Kennedy and D. N. Riley Into the Sun: Essays in Air Photography in Honour of Derrick Riley(1989, Dept. of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield).
North Leigh Roman Villa, Oxfordshire (Album Ref 2,49)

Roman Villa at North Leigh, Oxfordshire taken 12 August 1943 (Album Ref 2, 49)

Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire (Album Ref 2,25)

Stone Circle and King Stone at Little Rollright, Oxfordshire taken 28 July 1943 (Album Ref 2, 25)

Roman Enclosures, Latton, Wiltshire (Album Ref 1,16)

Double Ditched Roman Enclosure, Latton, Wiltshire taken 26 June 1943 (Album Ref 1, 16)

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Christine Edbury
January 2012