On Friday November 8th 2019, the Edinburgh Earth Observatory (EEO) and Hutton Club welcomed Dr. Lyn Wilson of Historic Environment Scotland (HES).
Dr. Wilson presented on the work of the Digital Documentation Team, which is focused on using modern digital resources to record and conserve the properties that HES manages and other historic properties in Scotland.
The mission of HES is to enhance the knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s cultural heritage in order to protect and conserve it, both now and for future generations. Dr. Wilson argued that at the very heart of this vision is digital documentation and that modern technologies, such as laser-scanned point clouds and photogrammetric models, can be used to record more thoroughly and learn about heritage sites. Scotland first became committed to digital documentation after a successful partnership with CyArk led to the complete documentation of ten world heritage sites. Following this project, HES started work on Project Rae, with the goal of digitally documenting all items and properties in their care. The Digital Documentation team is involved in other projects, all of which help satisfy three main goals.
The first goal is to understand and enhance knowledge of sites and objects. One way of accomplishing this goal are to use tools developed by Dr. Wilson’s team that allow the public to help crowdsource information for heritage monitoring. The Monument Monitor project is an HES collaboration that aims to use visitor photographs to monitor damages to 20 heritage sites, with submissions made via email, WhatsApp, Twitter, or Instagram.
Second, the team aims to use digital resources to protect, conserve, and manage historic properties and monuments across Scotland. This includes using documentation for disaster management, as was done after the 2014 fire at the Mackintosh Building in the Glasgow School of Art. With digital documentation techniques, teams accurately estimated the volume of rubble, volumes of the building’s rooms, and even the amount of movement on the building’s west façade. Similar techniques have also been used to detect and predict climate change related hazards at Skara Brae and to monitor potentially destructive conditions in the crypt at Skelmorlie Aisle.
Finally, digital documentation can also be used to value, share, and celebrate Scotland’s incredible heritage sites and objects. As such, hundreds of 3D models from the Rae project have been published by HES and can be viewed for free on the website SketchFab. Additionally, the models produced by the digital documentation team have been used to make HES sites more accessible to all. At the Orkney site of Maes Howe, visitors unable to fully access the burial cairn can use virtual reality headsets to explore the site while standing still. Dr. Wilson noted that further “gamefication’ and uses of augmented reality can help all visitors explore the rich history that Scotland offers.
With teams such as the HES Digital Documentation Team, it is possible to fully utilize the digital innovation of the future to record, conserve, and share our past.
Author: John Sheffer, MSc in GIS & Archaeology, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh