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Cutting-edge Technology Helps Reveal Ancient Sites on Isle of Arran

Ross Kelly


Isle of Arran

Some of the sites discovered through the project include prehistoric settlements and medieval farmsteads.

Researchers have used state-of-the-art technology to identify previously unknown ancient monuments on the Isle of Arran.

Led by archaeologists at Historic Environment Scotland (HES), the project used airborne laser scanning techniques, known as ‘lidar’, to document the Arran land surface in 3D.

In total, the survey has helped reveal 1,000 archaeological sites – giving researchers an unparalleled glimpse into the island’s ancient past and how some of its inhabitants lived.

Some of the sites uncovered through the project include prehistoric settlements and medieval farmsteads, as well as a Neolithic cursus monument. Archaeologists described the discovery of the ceremonial structure as an “exceptionally rare” find given its location on the west coast of Scotland.


Dave Cowley, rapid archaeological mapping manager at HES, said the use of lidar mapping has helped find sites that otherwise would have remained undiscovered.

“This new 3D technology has allowed us to undertake a rapid archaeological survey, over weeks rather than months or years, and allowed us to discover sites that might even have been impossible to find otherwise,” he said. “We have been able to see how densely settled parts of Arran were, and the medieval and post-medieval sheiling sites that were discovered have told us how upland areas were used by shepherds.”

Cowley noted that this is an “exciting time” to be involved in the development of remote sensing and archaeological mapping, which could help uncover thousands more ancient sites across Scotland.

“We are enriching the information through which we tell Scotland’s story,” he said. “And Arran is just a first step. As this technology becomes more widely available, we expect to find tens of thousands more ancient sites across the rest of Scotland – working at a pace that was unimaginable a few years ago.”

The survey results are available to view on Canmore – Scotland’s National Record of the Historic Environment.

Shona Nicola, head of the geographical information science and analysis team, commented: “It is great to see HES making such exciting use of this increasing amount of remote sensing data becoming available, which will help to play a part in keeping Scotland at the forefront in this field.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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