Latest blog update: Surveys continued at Old Scatness! Some fantastic help from local Archaeology Shetland volunteers @ArchShet @ShetlandAmenity #PhD

Latest blog update: Surveys continued at Old Scatness! Some fantastic help from local Archaeology Shetland volunteers @ArchShet @ShetlandAmenity #PhD

This weekend the HES survey team returned home after a hectic and busy week in Shetland, having completed recording Jarlshof and ticking off a few more Rae Project sites on the way. My supervisor Dr Andy Wilson joined me in taking things a bit easier with just one laser scanner on site at Old Scatness over the last few days, and we’re happy to have completed all our scan surveying on site just in time for his Loganair flight back to Bradford!

Some more disgruntled starlings being interrupted by our survey work. I think they’ve got used to us being on their patch now!

With just my lone self still here in Shetland (but enjoying it all thoroughly!), I needed some help to complete my fieldwork, so my PhD supervisor Dr Val Turner from Shetland Amenity Trust helped put me in touch with the group Archaeology Shetland, and two of their members kindly offered to help me conduct a photographic survey of the wall tops of Old Scatness – as these areas were tricky to reach/impossible to laser scan.

Over a day and a half we had the best weather for photography (no wind and mostly overcast!). It was great working with local archaeology enthusiasts who are so keen to be on the site and learn more about how it is being researched. Both picked up on the best ways to stabilise, angle and position mast-mounted DSLR cameras very quickly to take photos over the structures (it’s aerial photography without flight!). I hope it was a useful and interesting new experience for them to conduct this kind of survey! We really got through all the structures and features at an impressive rate given the number of complex features we had to record!

Janet holding the camera mast steady on site ready for SFM photography!

Well over 1500 shots after (!), we’ve now got very good coverage of all the areas that terrestrial laser scanners can’t reach, as well as high quality colour images of much of the site. I hope to use the photos in combination with the scans to create a far more comprehensive 3D dataset than just the scans alone.


Shetland survey 2018 days 5 and 6: back to Old Scatness!

Shetland survey 2018 days 5 and 6: back to Old Scatness!

I didn’t get round to blogging yesterday as we were so busy getting laser scanning underway at Old Scatness again! It was really windy so heavy duty tripods were used as they are extra sturdy, to avoid the risk of any kit blowing over. A mix of howling winds, glaring sunshine, calm breezes and cloud cover just about sums up the typical Shetland weather experienced in a single day! Today it’s been more overcast and it actually rained this morning, giving the hire car a much needed wash…!

Overcast but bright weather at Old Scatness today. Spot the laser scanner! It’s hiding!

Overcast but bright conditions are ideal for laser scan imaging, as scanners have on board cameras to take photos to colourise the point cloud. As such, bright even lighting, not too sunny, is best to get decent shots without too much contrast, just like taking exterior shots for photogrammetry. Some scanners have HDR, but this takes longer than regular imaging, so we’ve managed to get more scans done as a result.

This year I’m focusing on getting detailed scans of the key Iron Age structures at Old Scatness. My supervisor Dr Andy Wilson arrived last night so we had a quick catch up meeting with two of my other PhD supervisors Dr Val Turner and Dr Lyn Wilson this morning. All seems well so it’s time to get more survey done here over the next few days!


The Sumburgh Hotel does the best (and biggest!) cheesecake…


Later in the evening some of the survey team went across to the Ness of Burgi, the site of a prehistoric blockhouse, which had been scanned earlier in the week by HES’ team for their Rae Project. It’s a beautiful and remote place, and quite a dramatic walk to get there with some precarious steep sheer cliffs to walk across!


Sunshine and waves walking to the Ness of Burgi



The path is steep and a tad uneven in places! Impressed the survey team got laser scanners and equipment across and back!


The entrance and rampart of the Ness of Burgi blockhouse

Overall it was a really good day. We got lots done and I’m pretty tired now (though all photos are backed up and the scanner batteries are charging as I type!). It’s the HES team’s last day in Shetland tomorrow though me and Andy are staying on to work on Old Scatness over the weekend. We’ve got a lot done and I’m already looking forward to seeing all of this data registered and how it looks put together!


A very pretty sunset from the Sumburgh Hotel tonight, at 10.30pm!




Return to the Island of Mousa! – personal blog post day 4. Also a comment about respecting personal space during fieldwork (please!) after a visitor jumped me on site today…

Return to the Island of Mousa! – personal blog post day 4. Also a comment about respecting personal space during fieldwork (please!) after a visitor jumped me on site today…

Tuesday evening (I should say night since it was 10.30pm when we departed!) I headed back to Mousa Island to see the island’s tiniest birds, storm petrels, descend on the broch they call home at sundown. This being Shetland in the summer this started around 11.30pm! They have a very eerie, croaking chirrup of a song, and hearing this get louder throughout the night was a surreal experience. What draws the visitors in to head to a deserted island at midnight and walk a few kilometres with just torchlight to see is the spectacular swirling, swooping display these birds perform as they return home to their nests after fishing afar for a few days, to swap places with their mates to guard their eggs. HES’ Digital team brought along 3D audio and video kit to capture some of this magic.

Inside Mousa broch at night, a bit spooky!

Seeing hundreds of tiny flitting shadows flying up, down and around the broch is quite a show, but nothing can capture the live experience of standing close enough to the broch walls to be literally swarmed by them from all angles, as they brazenly and nimbly swoop past you, only inches away. I tried video and photography and it doesn’t have the same awe-inducing effect!

Scanning Mousa brochs exterior with the Z+F 5016

After getting home at 2am(!) I was back across to the Island 9 hours later to complete my 3D laser scan survey of Mousa broch’s exterior with Al and Sophia from HES, who also brought along their 360° camera and video kit to capture the site in daytime. Weather conditions were perfect, low winds and bright but overcast for great texture photography. Many thanks for your help! This blog is about my personal experience as an archaeologist doing survey work, and while I generally focus on the positives as I really enjoy what I do, I think it’s important to share and talk about issues and problems when they come up. For example, I’m getting a bit bored of the cheese and cucumber sandwiches I’ve been making for lunch over the last few days… glad I also bought peanut butter!

But to be serious, while it was a good day of work overall, I had an uncomfortable experience with a visitor to the site who grabbed me “jokingly” when I asked him to step away from being scanned and to stay behind me. I think he took the message too literally and jostled me which was not nice…

I really don’t mind members of the public being interested and having questions about the work they see taking place and certainly don’t want to deter them (see my blog post from Monday 2nd July!) and fortunately this was just a one off incident, but it’s worth remembering researchers, archaeologists and surveyors are carrying out professional work and to respect us and our personal space! I was too surprised to speak out when it happened so suddenly, but now I feel it’s an important thing to raise and bring to attention.

On the bright side I came across Emma’s Cake Cupboard – an honesty box system cake shop in Hoswick! A scrumptious piece of tiffin for tea 😁

Cakes and treats in a bright little cupboard! So quirky and fun!

Shetland survey day 3 blog post – Jarlshof wildlife!

Shetland survey day 3 blog post – Jarlshof wildlife!

Today was a really busy day on site as we had five different laser scanners on the go across Jarlshof, and many different tour groups came to visit. It was really misty early in the day, but as the haar drifted away it was nice and overcast (making it easier to photograph the site as HDR isn’t needed!). It was nice to see how interested visitors are in our work, and to meet a few Bradfordians and university alumni who keenly spotted the university logo on my hi vis!

Scanning selfie! I’m a bit windswept!

I continued to scan the Late Iron Age structures with Bradford’s FARO X330, this time focussing on the central wheelhouse close to the sea wall edge. After this I concentrated on the eastern structures. We got a lot done but I didn’t get much of a chance to take photos during work today!

I think for this blog post I’ll write about some of the wildlife we’ve been seeing around Jarlshof as we’ve been surveying over the last few days, especially considering I saw quite a few disgruntled starling parents who didn’t seem to be keen on the laser scanners while trying to feed their chicks!

There’s a thriving population of starlings onsite who have made the most of their landscape by using the drystone walls as their nests and foraging for food on the shoreline. I even saw some chicks who were chirping behind a particularly large orthostat!

The common and arctic terns (I’m not an expert in birds to distinguish the two in flight from a distance!) are beautiful and elegant as they swoop across the shore and dive for food in the water, though not quite as dramatically as the great skua I spotted on Sunday that divebombed into the water like a torpedo!

Yesterday I was lucky to quickly see a seal pop it’s head up from the water, but it dived back quickly before I got a photo! Luckily other members of the team were quicker!

Grey seal spotted yesterday! It has a pointer nose than a common seal! A great photo by Al Rawlinson.

I’m still hoping to see orca some time on this trip. This time of year is the best time to see them, and there were sightings early this afternoon from Sumburgh Head, just 5 minutes away (but on the other side of the island!). Here’s hoping I’ll still have a chance!

I’m guaranteed to see more wildlife this evening as the team is going to be on the Mousa Boat to watch storm petals return to their homes in the Broch of Mousa late this evening. I missed this event last year and it’s meant to be spectacular, so I’m really looking forward to being back on the Isle of Mousa!

Not quite wildlife but I was really happy to meet a friendly Shetland pony up close, who lives in the field opposite Jarlshof this morning. He loves being scratched under his chin!

Me and Sophia say hi to a pony! It has fabulous hair.

Jarlshof survey day 2 – the Iron Age structures and how to spot a laser scan survey (and what to do during one!)

Jarlshof survey day 2 – the Iron Age structures and how to spot a laser scan survey (and what to do during one!)

On our second day on site I continued to laser scan the Iron Age structures to the south east of the archaeological site of Jarlshof. Here, there is a mix of buildings and features dating to different times, all seen at once. Archaeologists refer to such mixes as palimpsests. In this area of the site, the broch, which dates to the Middle Iron Age in the north Atlantic, is the central focal feature. I used the University of Bradford Visualising Heritage group’s FARO X330 laser scanner to survey inside the intramural gallery between the broch walls as it’s nice and portable, using our sturdy but sleek carbon tripod. A bigger scanner and tripod wouldn’t fit in such a small space! It was helpful to have experience of surveying and processing point cloud data of such galleries from the Broch of Mousa last year, as I had a good idea of how close together the scans needed to be to get good coverage all the way around. HES’s tiny “milking stool” tripod was also handy to perch the scanner in the little drystone window at the end of this passage.

Three different survey drawings of Jarlshof, one by an archaeologist, one by an architect and one hastily scribbled by me today as the other two were printed out too small to write the scan positions on!



During the Late Iron Age extramural buildings were constructed around the broch. Some even directly made use of the sturdy walls of the broch itself to build onto. The most famous and impressive of these are the wheelhouses, so named as the shape of these buildings in plan view is like a wheel, with radial piers jutting into the central area like the spokes of a wheel. James surveyed the wheelhouse with an intriguing medial wall that sits to the west of the broch, whilst I tackled the building to the east. Sofia and Alan used the Leica P40 scanner to survey the Norse longhouses at a long range, while the rest of the team scanned another site in the care of HES – the Ness of Burgi, just across the sea from Jarlshof on a little peninsula! Our radios could reach each other!

It was nice to see so many visitors interested in our work and my research and I’m always happy to tell people more – and direct them to this blog of course 😉

You can tell a laser scan survey is happening as you’ll often spot many large yellow tripods standing up around a site – these are our heavy duty ones that are sturdy and can face most extreme weather conditions! Sometimes these have black and white checkerboard targets mounted on them, or the laser scanners themselves, which you’ll notice rotating around. We use smaller, lighter tripods too, as I did today (see main photo), when the ground conditions are safe enough to do so and in confined spaces. Some of our scanners, like the FARO X330, beep while they’re scanning, so you know it’s doing it’s job, though they stay silent when taking photos!

FARO X330 in action. I stood by the sea wall during this scan so I wouldn’t be in the way of it recording the Iron Age archaeology (bottom of photo)

If you see a scanner on it’s own without an operator, it’ll most likely be recording its surroundings. This is because the surveyor doesn’t want to be in the way of the scan – we’re trying to record all of the amazing archaeology, not ourselves, after all! Because of this, it can really help the surveyor if visitors do not approach a scanner while it’s on it’s lonesome (like in the above photo), so they don’t accidentally get caught in a scan or get photographed by the scanner!

It’s fantastic if they can be helpful by exploring a different part of the site while the scanner’s there. Scans are usually done in 15 minutes and we move the scanner to a new position after that, so there’s time for visitors to return to the part of a site they missed. It’s also important to never touch or be too close to our equipment for safety reasons (scanners and tripods are heavy!) and for accuracy of our data capture! Even a teeny nudge can cause massive problems for us in processing the data, which can take many hours to fix, so understanding this is massively appreciated by surveyors. We had some wonderfully understanding visitors today. I hope the above info is useful to those who are new to laser scan surveys, and a massive thanks to you all for making our jobs a bit easier! 😀

Scanning in Sumburgh! The 2018 Shetland PhD survey begins

Scanning in Sumburgh! The 2018 Shetland PhD survey begins

Today I safely arrived on Shetland after a really pleasant ferry crossing from Aberdeen. The cabin was very cosy and comfy! Driving on and off the ferry was a fun first experience (I’m enjoying the hire car a lot!) and from catching that first glimpse of Lerwick harbour, literally sky blue sky and rolling green hills in the distance I couldn’t help but grin!

After a quick look around Hay Dock (we heard rumours of a bearded seal lurking around Lerwick but no luck today!) I stocked up on essentials at the supermarket and drove on to Sumburgh, where I’ll be based for the next week and a half. A spectacular drive down Mainland Shetland (waving hi to Mousa broch on the way!) and after getting settled into accommodation kicked off the days survey.

I spent the day with James Hepher taking detailed scans of the surviving broch structure at Jarlshof using Historic Environment Scotland’s Z+F 5016 laser scanner, along the cliff edge. Beautiful blue skies and glorious sunshine couldn’t distract from the fact it’s been really windy all day long! Tomorrow I’ll bring more layers, though I’m quite grateful for my wooly Shetland hat that I bought last year!

Some evening puffin spotting just before tea makes it an excellent first day overall!

Gallivanting around Glasgow! AHRC CDP 2018 historic environment residential course

Gallivanting around Glasgow! AHRC CDP 2018 historic environment residential course

For the last few days I’ve been on the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) consortium’s historic environment field course. This year Historic Environment Scotland (HES) Survey and Recording team have been guiding us CDP PhD researchers around the big city of Glasgow, which, as we’ve learned over the last few days, is steeped in multi-faceted history. From Pictish and early medieval stone monuments at Govan Old Parish Church to the industrial booms and it’s influences on the architecture and layout of the city over the 18th to 20th centuries, we’ve really swooped through the city’s past by looking at it’s upstanding buildings!

We began the course on Tuesday with a walking tour of the city’s architecture, highlighting the different styles and influences present, including the famous Glasgow style associated with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his peers. With the terrible fire that took place two weekends ago, we sadly couldn’t get up close to the Glasgow School of Art as we had planned to, but the HES staff, particularly Iain, did an amazing job of finding last minute alternative activities for us. We visited The Lighthouse, which has a good display of some of Mackintosh’s architectural designs and some stunning views of the city from up high.

Dramatic architecture in downtown Glasgow

Afterwards we were given a guided tour of the Glasgow Britannia Panopticon Music Hall, the oldest surviving music hall in Britain, which is being kept open and running by a team of enthusiastic volunteers. It was interesting to hear over the last few days the relationship such community groups have with the owners of such buildings, which are private, and the challenges of keeping places that have such significance to people maintained and open. Fingers crossed they can get funding to restore the upper floors.

The stage of the Britannia Music Hall – with a live rehearsal!

In the afternoon we travelled to Govan to have metric survey demonstrations from HES’s Surveying and Recording team inside Govan Old Church. The church houses the third largest collection of early medieval stone sculpture in Scotland and I even had time to take photos for photogrammetry of one of the famous hogback stones – Viking grave markers so-named as their curved profile looks like the slope of a wild boar’s back. It was nice to give a demo to the other researchers of how I’m recording data for my PhD, and to have a low-res 3D model generated and up on Sketchfab by tea time! Link here for the model:

HES Surveying and Recording team explaining their approaches to recording stone sculpture such as the Sun Stone at Govan Old Church

I had a whistle-stop walk through the Riverside Museum, hopping over on the ferry from Govan! Such a striking design by Zaha Hadid (below).

I think we were all grateful for the slight drop in temperature in the evening as we embarked on a graffiti tour around the local area. Really interesting to hear about the ideas and reasons for the different types made by artists, and to look at graffiti through a cultural lens rather than as vandalism.

A graffiti masterpiece located behind a main road in the city. Note all the different colours and motifs, which would have taken the artist a long time to complete

On Wednesday the temperatures soared to way past 25°C, so it was nice to be out and about strolling through Kelvingrove Park, hearing about the development of the area in the 19th century and how the surveying and recording teams have worked on various areas of the park, helping with regeneration of the band stand. We explored Kelvingrove Art Gallery too during lunch time, which houses an impressive collection of Mackintosh furniture (I didn’t have time to see the exhibit though)!

Kelvingrove Park’s band stand in the glorious Glasgow sunshine!

Later in the day we travelled to the east side of the city, to Bridgetown, to visit Glasgow Women’s Library. It sounds like the venue has some great events to engage with the local community and encourage its resources to be used by anyone. It’s location, in an ex-Carnegie library, is very appropriate too, and striking when comparing the sizes of the original separate mens’ and womens’ reading rooms (unsurprisingly, little space was dedicated for women in the past…).

Powerful messages on display at the Glasgow Women’s Library

Afterwards we explored more of the east end, passing old tenement buildings and dropping in to Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, which has a striking 1960s design with a deep sloping roof and ceiling. We were glad to be in the shade as the temperature climbed in the afternoon!

I’m going to start mentioning some of the highs and lows of my PhD research so it paints a better picture of how things are going (rather than appearing like a glorified holiday album!) so one of the main lows of the day was definitely being bitten by a horsefly as we headed for dinner… I thought I’d be safe from the bugs in the middle of a city!

Tea was in a German-style brewpub located in a former carpet factory, which has a lovely Venetian façade! Nice to have authentic tasting currywurst after visiting Tubingen earlier this year! The apple strudel portions were on the generous size too!

Ice cream and strudel – just what’s needed after a long day’s walking (and to compensate for bug bites!) I won’t show a photo of that 😛

Despite the soaring temperature (30°C!) me and a few other brave and keen students decided to plough on and also visit Glasgow Necropolis. Feeling very vampiric as we hopped between the tallest, shadiest tombs and monuments to keep out of the sunlight, we had a very informative tour from the Chair of the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis group, and it was good to hear about all the conservation work organised by this volunteer group to preserve the monuments.

The Neo-Norman 19th century Monteath Mausoleum at Glasgow Necropolis

On our last day we visited The Napiershall Centre, headquarters to the West of Scotland Regional Equality Council (WSREC) who work with diverse local communities to support people in all sorts of activities. Though the centre isn’t listed, it is historic, being based in an old school building with a large open central hall. The large spaces are ideal for various group activities and offices, but the building is in need of much TLC. As the building is owned by a private company it is under threat, and there is uncertainty for where WSREC will be based in the future.

The lovely community garden in full bloom at the Napiershall Centre

Phew – a lot packed into such a short space of time! I think I’ve walked over 50,000 steps in the last three days alone! Once I made it to Stirling, for the next leg of my Scottish summer adventures, it was nice to head to the castle just to sit in the shade of a big tree in the Queen Anne Gardens and read for a while! A little bit of calm before travelling onwards to Shetland in the coming days. I’ll experiment with adding some shorter blog posts over the next week (to connect to Twitter) as my summer PhD fieldwork goes underway. Let’s see if I can keep it up!


Reaching my destination at the end of (this part) of the trip in Stirling 🙂