3D Scanning Reveals Details of Ancient Scottish Standing Stone

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[Image: Wikicommons]

On the northeast edge of the town of Forres in Moray, Scotland stands a 21-foot-tall stone known as Sueno’s Stone. Experts have described the stone, which dates back to the ninth or tenth century, as the tallest and most complex piece of early medieval sculpture in the country. It features a narrative depiction of a battle as well as what has been interpreted as a royal inauguration. It would once have overlooked the floodplains of the rivers Mosse and Findhorn, and local legend says that it stands at the crossroads where Shakespeare depicted Macbeth meeting the three witches.

The stone has stood for a very long time, and though it will likely last for many, many more years, it will now also exist forever in digital form. The historical preservation organization Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has 3D scanned Sueno’s Stone, as well as about a third of the other Pictish standing stones, and plans to 3D scan all of the items in its care. The scanned images will not only preserve the objects in digital form, they will allow researchers to see details that aren’t easily visible on the physical objects. Such has been the case with Sueno’s Stone; the scan makes its details pop, even though they’ve been worn down over the years.

“We can digitally enhance the data and change light sources, which helps bring out detail on carved stones that is particularly worn,” said Dr. Lyn Wilson, Digital Documentation Manager for HES. “It helps us to interpret these stones better.”

[Image: HES]

Sueno’s Stone was 3D scanned over three days by surveyor James Hepher and digital documentation intern Marta Pilarska, using different techniques including photogrammetry and laser scanning.

“Its sheer size and level of preservation makes it very important. Steps have already been taken to preserve it, such as placing it inside a glass box with controlled temperature,” said Dr. Wilson. “The stone’s height makes it particularly challenging. And also the fact it is enclosed in a box, so we had to develop a novel telescopic camera system to be able to capture the highest details.”

HES is scanning the stone and other objects as part of the Rae Project, named for Victorian explorer John Rae. It was launched in 2011 and could take another decade to complete.

“We use the data primarily for conservation, but also to help us manage the sites better. They also enable virtual access,” said Dr. Wilson. “We can use the data to build virtual reality experiences and other immersive technologies. We can use 3D printing to create a scale model of the stones for school use. It allows pupils to handle a replica without… having to travel. One of things we plan to do with the scans is use them to develop interactive lectures so we can work with experts.”

It is unlikely that a 3D printed replica would allow for any travel through different periods of Scotland’s history; whether the original does will have to remain an open question as well, due to its preservation efforts.

[Image: HES]

Another project being undertaken by the ambitious HES is the Scottish Ten Project, which involves the digital documentation of all of Scotland’s World Heritage Sites and international heritage sites. This project was begun in 2009 and is being carried out in collaboration with Glasgow School of Art Digital Design Studio and nonprofit CyArk. Phase One of the project involved creating an accurate 3D record of each site, including geo-referenced registered point clouds, 3D images, animations and 3D models. Phase Two will involve the use of the data for research, dissemination, learning and engagement through mobile apps, augmented reality, virtual reality and more.

CyArk has been working around the world to preserve heritage sites, such as through 3D scanning the Easter Island Moai and showcasing Mount Rusmore in VR.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Sources: The ScotsmanThe Press and Journal]

 

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