Arran’s Ancient Sites Revealed by New Technology

A thousand previously unknown archaeological sites on the Isle of Arran have been revealed using the latest technology by archaeologists with Historic Environment Scotland. 

Arran Historic Environment Scotland

Photo: Historic Environment Scotland

Airborne laser scanning, also known as lidar, recorded the land surface in 3D. The survey is the largest of its type so far in Scotland and has detected the remains of ancient monuments on the island.

Previously unknown ancient archaeological sites which have been discovered include prehistoric settlements and medieval farmsteads, as well as a Neolithic cursus monument – an exceptionally rare find on the west coast of Scotland.

The new identifications include nearly 100 prehistoric settlement sites, just under 200 shieling hut groups and a cursus monument (NR82NE36). 

Dave Cowley, Rapid Archaeological Mapping Manager at HES, said:

“This survey has shown us that there are double the number of ancient monuments on Arran than we previously knew about.

“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. We have been able to see how densely settled parts of Arran were, and the medieval and post-medieval shieling sites that were discovered have told us how upland areas were used by shepherds.

“This is an exciting time to be involved in the development of remote sensing and archaeological mapping. We are exploring the benefits of new technology and new datasets to record Scotland’s historic environment and inform our knowledge of the past. As a result, we are enriching the information through which we tell Scotland’s story. And Arran is just a first step. As this technology become 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.”

As well as the new sites discovered, ones already known about had their records upgraded and field visits took place to fill in gaps with 345 digital photographs taken.

The lidar data is available from the Scottish Government Remote Sensing Portal.

Shona Nicol, Head of the Geographical Information Science and Analysis team said:

“It is great to see HES making such exciting use of the increasing amount of remote sensing data becoming available which will help to play a part in keeping Scotland at the forefront in this field.”

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

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