PhD surveys begin!

PhD surveys begin!

It’s the end of my very busy but absolutely fantastic first day (and first ever visit) in Shetland for my PhD fieldwork. Together with Andy from University of Bradford (who took the photo above of me pulling our equipment trolley!) and Lyn, James, Marta and Mike from Historic Environment Scotland, we crossed to Mousa with much kind help from the staff of the Mousa Ferry. Instantly we were greeted by Arctic terns and a curious seal! I’m crossing my fingers that we might spot an orca, dolphin or whale over the next few days on site, but the birds that nest within the walls of Mousa broch are delightful!

Island of Mousa from the Shetland mainland.

Nothing prepared me for the ridiculously dramatic landscape. As Mousa broch loomed ever closer, it’s sheer size and age really struck me. It’s an architectural marvel and the 3D data we’re collecting will be fascinating to investigate. We’ve already done quite a lot of scanning, which will continue over the next few days. Maybe with time to hire a Shetland pony to carry our scanning kit over the track to the broch! Fingers crossed the lovely weather continues too.

Mousa broch’s entraceway and west face being scanned by the Leica P40. Photo by James Hepher

One day more! (until I’m going up to Shetland)

One day more! (until I’m going up to Shetland)

The bags are all packed and the survey kit is charged up and ready to go! Tomorrow I’ll be setting off for Shetland with supervisor Dr Andy Wilson, catching the ferry from Aberdeen and due to arrive into Lerwick early on Monday morning. We’ll be meeting up with colleagues from Historic Environment Scotland on the ferry and begin scanning of Mousa broch together in two days’ time! After that, the plan is to visit the other two broch sites I’m surveying for my PhD: Old Scatness and Jarlshof, and to visit the Shetland Museum and Archive to explore the collections the Shetland Amenity Trust holds. Hopefully there’ll be time to see some more brochs (after all there are over 100 of them in Shetland according to Canmore)!

From then on, me and Andy will be travelling to Orkney, to visit the excavations at Swandro on Rousay to help survey. The Knowe of Swandro encompasses a Neolithic chambered tomb, Iron Age roundhouses and later Pictish buildings and is under constant threat of coastal erosion, so it’s very important the Swandro – Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust are recording the archaeology before it is washed away. This year’s excavation season just started this week. See for more details – they are blogging and tweeting every day from site! I hope there’ll be time for me to see more fantastic archaeology in the Northern Isles before I travel southbound to Lindisfarne, where a new season of excavations is starting soon… but I’ll save that for another blog post!

I’m aiming to keep track of our progress through daily blog posts or tweets (follow me @LZSou for Twitter updates), though I’ll have to see how good my internet access is first… Posts might end up shorter than my usual ones, as we’ll be busy checking and processing the data in the evenings, but I’ll see how things go.

Surveying the early medieval structure of the Parish Church of St. Mary, Holy Island

Surveying the early medieval structure of the Parish Church of St. Mary, Holy Island

Last week I travelled to Holy Island to record an early medieval wall within the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin (cover image). Situated next to Lindisfarne Priory, the  current church is stated to be largely 12th century in date, however Medieval Archaeologist Peter Ryder believes the fabric of the present walls could feature earlier building material. The present church stands on the site of a church built by St Aidan in the 7th century, followed by a small stone church (. By laser scanning the church interior with the help of Peter and Minnie Fraser, of Northumbria University, I will generate orthophotos that will help Peter to analyse the stonework of the church in great detail, so he can investigate this further.

Peter and Minnie with the FARO laser scanner, outside the church.

Many thanks to Peter and Minnie for organising the visit and helping with the survey, and for a very informative stroll around the island, discussing the history of some of its buildings and structures before the tides came back in!


Sunny skies on Lindisfarne.
Cairns built by visitors to the island, at its southern tip, looking out to sea.


Survey of Chysauster Ancient Village and Carn Euny site visit, Penzance, Cornwall

Survey of Chysauster Ancient Village and Carn Euny site visit, Penzance, Cornwall

26th-30th September. After an epic drive down south (in 7 and a half hours!) I arrived in Penzance with David and Fiona from Historic England’s Geospatial Imaging team, for a week of surveying Iron Age courtyard houses, unique to the Lands End peninsula and the Isles of Scilly, on the famous site of Chysauster. The houses all had a central open courtyard area, with several rooms attached. More information on the site can be found on English Heritage’s webpage:

We also visited Carn Euny, another Iron Age Romano-British settlement site, 30 minutes south (as seen on the cover image). Info here:

Taking some handheld shots of the prehistoric houses at Chysauster

The layouts of these very impressive structures are very complex – there’s even a semi-detached house! So they were quite challenging to record, but armed with plan drawings and context sheets, we sucessfully laser scanned three of the houses with the most upstanding, exposed stonework and took photographs for SFM photogrammetry, as a record of their current condition.

The weather also took a turn for the dramatic, and I was very thankful for my wellies as torrential downpours and sweeping mists arrived at the start of the survey. On a clear day, the views from the village are spectacular – you can see all the way to Penzance and the coast beyond, but then the fog was thick, I could barely see past the walls of the house I was recording!

Fiona and David surveying with the FARO Focus laser scanner on a misty day.

Luckily, the sun was out on the last day of the survey, and we ended with a site visit to another Iron Age village site, called Carn Euny, to see the fogou (an underground passageway with a large, central chamber). Chysauster also has a fogou, but this has been sealed up for safety. The purpose of these structures is not clear, but the main theories suggest they were either storage areas, places of refuge in times of warfare, or special religious places.

Me at Carn Euny. A smaller Iron Age settlement than Chysauster, but with an open fogou that you can explore!
The steps down to the fogou entrance (David for scale).
The exit of “the creep”, the fogou’s passageway, flooded after heavy rain.

Laser scanning Corgarff Castle, Aberdeenshire

Laser scanning Corgarff Castle, Aberdeenshire

Corgarff Castle is the former noble residence of the Forbes clan, and during the Jacobite Rebellion, it was used as an army base by Redcoats. It sits in a dramatically isolated location in rural Aberdeenshire (see cover image for views from its doorway!). It has a distinctive star-shaped perimeter wall, and as part of Historic Environment Scotland’s Rae project, the entirety of the Castle’s interior and exterior was laser scanned over two days.


I helped out on the second day of scanning, working with HES’ team of Mike Jack and Sofia Antonopoulou, to fill in areas where more detail was needed using the Leica HDS 6100 laser scanner.


I also used a Nodal Ninja (right) to take overlapping photographs that can be digitally stitched into a 360⁰ image. The one I used was specially calibrated to be complementary with the Leica 6100 laser scanner, so the high definition imagery can be overlain onto the scans generated in the same position.

I greatly enjoyed taking views of the surrounding countryside, and watching the Castle’s current residents (nesting families of swallows), swoop around while we continued with our survey.


Me and Sofia using the Leica C10 laser scanner to record the perimeter walls


Laser scanning Spynie Palace, Moray

Laser scanning Spynie Palace, Moray

On Wednesday, the dramatic weather in the north of Scotland forced us to delay the start of our fieldwork, as a very loud thunderstorm drifted overhead very soon after we’d set up the tripods! Luckily we heard the rumbles of thunder before it arrived.

The downpours led to me going down into the Palace’s basement to laser scan its interior using a Leica HDS 6100. It was only after I’d finished taking all the scans that the team cared to mention they thought the basement is haunted (though I didn’t see any spooky goings on while there… it was actually refreshingly cool compared to the humidity outside following the lightning)!

One of the spooky basement cells being scanned with the Leica 6100 (the bag wrapped on the tripod is a rain cover)

Luckily the weather improved over the day, so I went on to scan the courtyard area of the Palace, before helping James to complete his traverse around the exterior walls of the site. As the afternoon went on, the weather turned out to be glorious, and we ended the day with a scan taken from the very top of David’s Tower,the largest tower house to survive in Scotland (see image below). It’s on a publically accessible walkway, which gives amazing views  down into the courtyard and surrounding area (cover image). From up there, you can also see the remains of Spynie Loch from the wall tops – once a great lake that went all the way up to the edge of the Palace estate, which has silted up over time.

Leica HDS 6100 scanning around David’s Tower, Spynie Palace

It’s a very impressive site and well worth a visit! More information on the palace can be found here:

Laser scanning Fortrose Cathedral

Laser scanning Fortrose Cathedral

Fortrose Cathedral was originally the seat of the bishops of Ross. The current ruins date back to the 13th century, and only the south aisle and chapel and the older, two-storey north choir aisle currently survive standing to the present day. I travelled to the site from Edinburgh with James Hepher and Sofia Antonopoulou, of HES’ Digital Documentation Team, on Tuesday 19th July.

Interior of the south aisle – elaborate memorials decorate the interior walls

A clock tower, still in use, was a later addition dating to after the Reformation. It was a fun trip to the top (wearing PPE of course!), and James scanned the tower’s spiral staircase with a Faro Focus while me and Sofia took several high resolution scans of the interior of the south aisle using a Leica P40 to make sure all the fine details would be picked up with the scanner. We later helped to take record the cathedral’s windows, as fill in scans to complement the 360⁰ scans taken from a Leica C10 by Mike and Craig, of HES’ Conservation Group.

It was a very hot and sunny day, so it was fortunate we worked in the shade for most of the day, to stay cool!

The P40 in action. We set it to scan in high resolution to ensure all of the details of the carved stonework, like this effigy, were well recorded

For more information on the site, follow this link: