Scanning on the Edge of the World

Well, first of all my apologies for taking my time to fill you all in on the last week of scanning on St Kilda! By the second week the thought of carrying my laptop down to the Factors House to use the internet after heaving scanners up hills, over streams and through muddy, sheep infested cleits all day was too much to take…also I was having far too much fun to sit on the computer all evening!

The Scottish Ten team recreate the famous ‘St Kilda Parliament’ shot (Photo by Mike Brooks).

To give you an overview of our work, the Scottish Ten project on St Kilda was approached with a number of specific aims and objectives in mind for the resulting data. Ultimately the work aimed to capture the vast majority of the structures within the Head-Dyke area of Village Bay as well as the prehistoric structures in Gleann Mor. In addition to this there were a handful of smaller very specific aims, for example to record at least one of each cleit typology present on the island.

These aims and objectives were identified with a view to using the data to facilitate remote access to the site via the internet or the proposed St Kilda Visitor Centre on Skye. As well as issues of remote access, the data generated can be used to assist the National Trust for Scotland in their conservation and management of this site.

Scanning on the edge of the world – Lyn, Chris and Doug pose for a shot overlooking Village Bay!

A specific methodology was employed from the beginning which adhered to the aims and objectives of the project as a whole. The Village below the Head-Dyke and the small agricultural area in An Lag were subject to an external C10 scanner survey using a series of carefully positioned, overlapping traverses utilising a GNSS global positioning system at a number of select stations to ensure the highest possible levels of accuracy. While structures deemed to be culturally significant were scanned inside and out using the 6100 scanner. Working in tandem with the laser scanners, Nodal Ninja camera rigs were used at each scan station to capture high-definition 360° panoramic views of the surroundings.

The traverses were outlined prior to the fieldwork by James Hepher (Historic Scotland) and were amended slightly following walkover of the areas during the first days of the survey. Once data had begun to accumulate the team began downloading and processing some of the point clouds in the evenings to assess where gaps were occurring due to shadows and team members were subsequently assigned to hole filling during the following days to ensure complete coverage of the survey area.

A first glimpse of ‘The Street’ point cloud data.

In addition to the wide-scale scanning of the Village with terrestrial scanners, an Artec hand-held scanner was used to record a number of culturally significant features in detail, including the three carved stone crosses. On a much larger scale, the long range mining scanner was brought in during the second week on the island which was used to capture the surrounding terrain in detail.

Scanning at very long, and very close range.

Furthermore, on behalf of ARUP‘s continuing work at the Digital Design Studio I spent a morning wandering all over Village Bay with 3D sound recording equipment popping balloons to the bemusement of visitors to the island! Using a 3D microphone to record the pop allows the ARUP team to understand the acoustic properties of the space and digitally replicate them back in the sound lab…at least I think that’s how it works, I won’t pretend to be an expert in that field!

The entire trip was a fantastic experience, I learnt so much in such a short space of time thanks to the brilliant bunch of people I was with, whose enthusiasm (and downright hilarious banter!) made for an unforgettable fortnight. On reflection it was once of those trips that really made me think “wow, I am definitely pursuing the right career”! On the more serious PhD side of things I think that having spent the previous months fussing over the theoretical implications of fieldwork methodology and issues of subjectivity etc was important, but actually working on a project of this scale and intensity really made me take a more practical mindset towards the collection of digital data in the field…but that’s for another blog!

Good times!


  1. Paul Chapman · · Reply

    Great work. Really interesting… The point clouds look amazing. I’m looking forward to seeing the final results.

    1. Thanks Paul! Will keep the blog updated as we start to process the data!

  2. I need to talk to you about doing a joint research paper on a facet of your work… grab me at some point!
    PS – I am jealous.

    1. Ace! I’ll come find you for tea shortly!

  3. John S. · · Reply

    Really interesting, Alice. You planning to do any other – not specifically digital – visualisations?

  4. Hi John! At the moment I’m focussing in a digital medium only, but I’m working on some data from Skara Brae at the same time as the St Kilda stuff – so should hopefully have some new reconstructions to post on the blog in the coming months.

  5. Wow, the balloon popping thing is fascinating. And you have a lovely voice and accent. Also, Soay sheeeeeep! I love them.

    1. Haha, thank you Grace! Yes, I loved the Soay sheep too until they started eating our survey flags and scratching themselves on the scanner tripods!!

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