Vanishing Heritage: Digital Documentation at Kilmartin Glen

This is the last blog post from Historic Environment Scotland in our current British Science Week 2020 series. 

Written by Bonnie (Nicole Burton) 

Since starting my Trainee position in August with Historic Environment Scotland, I have worked with the Digital Documentation team on various sites, ranging from Neolithic chambered cairns at Kilmartin Glen to Iron Age Brochs at the Isles of Lewis.

These projects were undertaken as part of the Rae Project, involving both the Digital Documentation and Digital Innovation team at the Engine Shed. The focus of the Rae Project is to digitally record all historic sites in Historic Environment Scotland’s care across Scotland, as well as their large array of collection items. The aim of this project is to have a full database for sites that are vulnerable or at-risk, using the datasets for management and monitoring.

The largest project I have been involved with was at Kilmartin Glen in August. The teams spent two weeks digitally documenting 15 sites and 30 collections items. Kilmartin Glen is located in Argyll and Bute, western Scotland and is enriched with prehistoric monuments and historical sites.

HES Digital 1
Laser scanning at Kilmartin Glen. © Historic Environment Scotland.

The documented sites range from chambered cairns, historic buildings, rock art, stone circles and stone artefacts. After the initial documentation had taken place the processing of the data had to be carried out using a wide range of software packages to create accurate 3D models that can be shared with the public [https://sketchfab.com/3d-models/cairnbaan-west-kilmartin-glen-7b63521779c440c19bd7079ba2d5842f].

Terrestrial laser scanning

Laser scanning is a straight forward process: the instrument has a rotating laser beam that reflects off a given surface, creating billions of points in 3D space representing the shape of a surface. Whilst scanning, multiple factors are needed to be taken into consideration, including the need for overlapping scans is to ensure a complete 3D model can be created, the terrain and environmental conditions. Our team uses a variety of laser scanners– some used for overview scans and others for the finer detail.

HES Digital 2
Using a laser scanning to digital document cup and ring marks at Achnabreck. © Historic Environment Scotland.

Photogrammetry

Photogrammetry is a technique of using a camera to take overlapping photographs ensuring all areas of the subject has been captured to create a 3D model. While simple in theory, the better the pictures, the better the model, so we make sure to use a colour checker and a good lens.

HES digital 3
Digital Innovation trainee Kieran Young using Photogrammetry at Achnabreck. © Historic Environment Scotland.

Heritage in Scotland is becoming more and more at risk due to increased flooding and the changing climate. The work our team is doing not only at Kilmartin Glen but on other sites like Skara Brae is aiding in the management and monitoring of significant cultural heritage.

If you use twitter and would like to keep up to date with our projects, then follow the #Raeproject and @Burton1495

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